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Blue plaque in Eaton Square, London

Robert John Graham Boothby, Baron Boothby, KBE (also known as Bob Boothby, 12 February 1900 – 16 July 1986) was a British Conservative politician.



The only son of Sir Robert Tuite Boothby, KBE, of Edinburgh and a cousin of Rosalind Kennedy, mother of the broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Boothby was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford. He became a partner in a firm of stockbrokers.

He was an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for Orkney and Shetland in 1923 and was elected as Member of Parliament for East Aberdeenshire in 1924, holding the seat until 1958. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill from 1926 to 1929 and held junior ministerial office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food in 1940–41. However for not declaring an interest when asking a parliamentary question, he had to resign his post and go to the back benches. During World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, retiring with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Boothby advocated the UK's entry into the European Community (now the European Union) and was a British delegate to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1949 until 1957. He was a prominent commentator on public affairs on radio and television, often taking part in the long-running BBC radio programme Any Questions. He also advocated the virtues of herring as a food.[1]

He was Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Economic Affairs, 1952–56; Honorary President of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, 1934, Rector of the University of St Andrews, 1958–61; Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1961–63, and President, Anglo-Israel Association, 1962–75. He was awarded an Honorary LLD by St Andrews, 1959 and was made an Honorary Burgess of the Burghs of Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Turriff and Rosehearty. He was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1950, a KBE in 1953.

Boothby was raised to the peerage as a life peer with the title Baron Boothby of Buchan and Rattray Head in the County of Aberdeen, on 22 August 1958.

There is a blue plaque on his house in Eaton Square, London.


Private life

Boothby had a colourful, if reasonably discreet, private life, mainly because the press refused to print what they knew of him, or were prevented from doing so. Woodrow Wyatt – whose reliability has been questioned[2][3][4] – claimed after the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother that she had confided to him in a 1991 interview that "The press knew all about it", referring to Boothby's affairs, and that she described him as "a bounder but not a cad".[5] He was married twice: in 1935 to Diana Cavendish (marriage dissolved in 1937) and in 1967 to Wanda Sanna, a Sardinian woman, thirty-three years his junior. The writer and broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy has asserted that Boothby fathered at least three children by the wives of other men[6] (two by one woman, one by another)."

From 1930 he had a long affair with Dorothy Macmillan, wife of the Conservative politician and later Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.[5] Boothby is thought by many to have been the father of Sarah Macmillan, who was raised by the Macmillans as their own daughter.[5][7] This connection to Macmillan, via his wife, has been seen as one of the reasons why the police didn't investigate the death of Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire, who died in the presence of suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams.[5] The duke was Lady Dorothy's brother, and it is thought the police were wary of drawing press attention to her while she was being unfaithful.[5]

Boothby was a promiscuous bisexual,[5] in a time when male homosexual activity was a criminal offence. While an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, Boothby earned the nickname "the Palladium", because "he was twice nightly".[8] He later spoke about the role of a speculated homosexual relationship in the drowning of his friend Michael Llewelyn Davies (one of the models for Peter Pan) and fellow Oxonian Rupert Buxton.[9][10] He did not start to have physical relationships with women until the age of twenty-five.[8] From 1954 he campaigned publicly for homosexual law reform.[11]

In 1963 Boothby began an illicit affair with East End cat burglar Leslie Holt (d. 1979), a younger man he met at a gambling club. Holt introduced him to the gangster Ronald Kray, the younger Kray twin, who supplied Boothby with young men and arranged orgies in Cedra Court, receiving personal favours from Boothby in return.[8] When Boothby's underworld associations came to the attention of the Sunday Express, the Conservative-supporting paper opted not to publish the damaging story.[12][13] The matter was eventually reported in 1964 in the Labour-supporting Sunday Mirror tabloid, and the parties subsequently named by the German magazine Stern.[14]

Boothby denied the story and threatened to sue the Mirror, and because his close homosexual friend, Tom Driberg, a senior Labour MP, was also involved in the criminal ring, neither of the major political parties had an interest in publicity, and the paper's owner, Cecil King, came under pressure from the Labour leadership to drop the matter, to protect Driberg.[8] The Mirror backed down, sacked its editor, apologised, and paid Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Consequently other newspapers became less willing to cover the Krays' criminal activities, which continued unchecked for three more years.[8] The police investigation received no support from Scotland Yard, while Boothby embarrassed his fellow peers by campaigning on behalf of the Krays in the Lords, until their increasing violence made association impossible.[8] Journalists who investigated Boothby himself were reportedly subjected to break-ins and other harassment, directed by Arnold Goodman.[15]

After his death in Westminster aged 86, Boothby's ashes were scattered at Rattray Head near Crimond, Aberdeenshire.


  1. ^ Referred to in passing during Face to Face, BBC Television, 27 May 1959.
  2. ^ David Sexton, "Don't believe all those diary droolings", The Evening Standard (12 October 1998), A 11: "Robert Rhodes James, the editor of Chips Channon's entertaining diaries, advised caution in believing them. 'Even if the diarist is not attempting to give a deliberately false version, a talented writer can easily over-dramatise...' There is plenty of internal evidence that Wyatt should be approached with a similar caution."
  3. ^ Stephen Lomax, Valentine Low, "Did he drool? What a horrible thought", The Evening Standard (19 October 1998), p. 15.
  4. ^ Petronella Wyatt, "All of a tremble", The Spectator (31 October 1998), p. 71.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Cullen, Pamela V, "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9. pages 617–8
  6. ^ Matthew Parris & Kevin Maguire Great Parliamentary Scandals: Five Centuries of Calumny, Smear and Innuendo, Robson Books, 2004, p116
  7. ^ Beckett, Francis, Secrets and lies, New Statesman, 16 January 2006
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Lords of the Underworld", Secret History, Channel 4 (23 June 1997).
  9. ^ Andrew Birkin's site about J. M. Barrie and the Davies family
  10. ^ Robert_Boothby at
  11. ^ Robert Rhodes James, Bob Boothby: A Portrait (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991), pp. 369-71, 442.
  12. ^ David Barrett "Letters shed new light on Kray twins scandal", Sunday Telegraph, 26 July 2009
  13. ^ "Reggie Kray: Notorious gangster", BBC News, 1 October 2000
  14. ^ "The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms" on truTV
  15. ^ The Gangster & the Pervert Peer, Channel 4 (16 February 2009).


  • The New Economy, 1943;
  • I Fight to Live, 1947;
  • My Yesterday, Your Tomorrow, 1962;
  • Boothby: recollections of a rebel, 1978.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Frederick Martin
Member of Parliament for Aberdeen and Kincardine East
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Aberdeenshire Eastern
Succeeded by
Patrick Wolrige-Gordon
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Kilmuir
Rector of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
C. P. Snow


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