Roy Jenkins was my father’s oldest friend. They first met when they were both at Oxford. When, afterwards, they both decided to go into politics, my father pipped him to the post. Much later, when I was growing up in Wiltshire, where we had a house, two of our neighbours were Roy and his pearl-pretty wife Jennifer.
I don’t remember much about Roy in those days except that he was a highly competitive tennis and croquet partner. My father played tennis rather as a drunkard attempts sex. There was not much bounce to the ounce. He raised his arm to serve, rotated it several times, all the while emitting loud and fantastical noises, and hit the ball into the net.
One Saturday, Roy visited us with a young man who had a job as a researcher at the BBC. As they arrived my father was fumbling through a game of tennis with another neighbour.
‘Do you know Mr Wyatt?’ asked Roy.
The young man was arch. ‘No, Mr Jenkins. I never watch Wimbledon.’
Croquet entailed even greater preparations than tennis. The croquet lawn was on the right side of the house. To touch it was verboten. After lunch, Roy would be taken to the lawn and a tremendous battle would begin which often ended with my father throwing down his mallet in a rage. Invariably, he blamed nature for his own lack of talent and would curse some harmless dandelion for throwing him off balance.
Now that Roy is dead, a few writers have brought up the old matter of ‘the permissive society’. The more extreme blame him for legalising homosexuality, while others say that his 1967 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act produced abortion on demand. Another was the ending of the Lord Chamberlain’s right to censor plays, which might be blamed for the rapid growth of pornography.