The catalogue of the papers of Roy Jenkins is now online and the archive is available for readers in the Weston Library. On 5 November 2014, the Bodleian Library will be celebrating the lives and archival legacies of Roy Jenkins and former UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan with a discussion between their biographers John Campbell and D.R. Thorpe and current Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten. This event is free and tickets can be booked online.
Who Was Roy Jenkins?
Roy Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead (1920-2003) was a British politician, author, and latterly Chancellor of Oxford University. His father Arthur was a miner’s agent and mine union leader who in 1935 became the Labour Party MP for Pontypool in Wales and later parliamentary private secretary to Clement Attlee (whose archive is also in the Bodleian Library). Steeped in Labour politics, a parliamentary career was Jenkins’ ambition from a young age. He studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, and served during World War II as an artillery officer and Bletchley code breaker. He didn’t wait long, though, before seeking a seat in Parliament – succeeding in 1948.
Member of Parliament and President of the European Commission
Jenkins’ career was illustrious. Under Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Jenkins became Minister of Aviation (1964), Home Secretary (1965-7, 1974-6), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1967-70) and deputy leader of the Labour Party (1970-2). A reforming Home Secretary, he oversaw the liberalization of the laws on divorce, abortion and homosexual activity, as well as abolishing theatre censorship.
After Wilson announced his resignation in March 1976, Jenkins failed in a campaign to become Labour Party leader and resigned to take up a position as President of the European Commission (1977-81). Upon return to the UK, and estranged from the Labour Party, Jenkins was a founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was elected as SDP member for Hillhead, Glasgow in 1982, losing the constituency in 1987 and leading the SDP into a merger with the Liberal Party – renamed the Liberal Democrats.
Life peer and Chancellor of Oxford
No longer an MP, Jenkins was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1987, a position he held until his death. He was given a life peerage and was, from 1987, leader of the Lib-Dem peers in the House of Lords. Jenkins continued to exercise political influence, including as a mentor to Tony Blair.
Author and public figure
Alongside his political work, Jenkins had a distinguished career as an author, particularly of political biographies, including those of Sir Charles Dilke (1958), Asquith (1964), Gladstone (1995) and Churchill (2001), as well as his own autobiography A Life At The Centre (1991). Labelled the ‘last of the whigs’, he also led an active social life, was a prolific and well-regarded speechmaker, and held positions on numerous boards and committees, not least as President of the Royal Society of Literature.
Roy Jenkins’ archive
Jenkins’ archive reflects his working life as a politician in the UK and in Europe, as an author and journalist, and as Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Important sources which are now available to researchers include not only Jenkins’ own detailed daily appointment diaries – which, if you can read the handwriting, make it possible to find out where he was (and who he was dining with) at just about any given moment – but also the diaries of his father, Arthur Jenkins.
Also available are 59 boxes of Jenkins’ meticulously ordered speech notes; his literary papers, including the drafts of many of his books and his journalism; and a rich collection of personal ephemera, including three boxes of orders of service for funerals, weddings and other commemorations which comprise a “Who’s Who” of British public life in the twentieth century. The archive also includes numerous photographs, including multiple boxes of press photos from Jenkins’ stint as President of the European Commission.
The archive is a rich one, and will be invaluable for students of modern British and European politics, political life, and the social history of the twentieth century generally.