Obituary: Lord Charles Lyell, popular Tory Peer, government whip and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Charles Lyell - Lord Lyell (3rd Baron Lyell)  on the Panel of Lords sitting on the Parliamentary Commission on the Burrell Collection  at the Parish Hall.
Charles Lyell - Lord Lyell (3rd Baron Lyell) on the Panel of Lords sitting on the Parliamentary Commission on the Burrell Collection at the Parish Hall.
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Lord Charles Lyell, born 27 March 1939, died 11 January 2017, age 77

Charlie Lyell was an extremely popular hereditary Tory Peer and owner of Kinnordy Estate near Kirriemuir.

From 1979 to 1984 he served as government whip in the House of Lords before being appointed Parliamentary under/Secretary of State for Northern Ireland till 1989. A cheerful, humorous and engaging individual, his easy and approachable manner allied to an astute mind facilitated the resolution of difficult and delicate problems. Devoid of airs and graces, he was equally at home chatting to Estate staff as dealing with high-profile politicians. An enthusiastic sports lover, he enjoyed skiing, swimming and cycling but his main interest was football and he was a passionate fan of his local team Forfar Athletic as well as Everton.

He succeeded to the peerage aged four in 1943 on the death of his father, also Charles, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross while temporary Captain in the Scots Guards in Tunisia in the North Africa campaign. He led a successful attack on two heavy guns posts but was killed during it.

He was educated at Eton and thereafter studied politics, philosophy and economics at Christ Church, Oxford. National Service followed between 1957 and 1959 as 2nd Lieutenant in the Scots Guards. He then qualified charted accountant with the firm of Brown, Fleming and Murray in Glasgow after which he worked for a spell for Greenwells, a stockbroking firm in London.

Once he was 21 he took his seat in the Lords where he made his maiden speech in 1972 on the subject of stock piles of chemical weapons worldwide. In 1975 he was appointed by Ted Heath as opposition whip in the House of Lords speaking also on trade and industry and later that year became a member of the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguard in Scotland. In 1979 Mrs. Thatcher appointed him Lord-in Waiting, government whip in the upper house and in 1984 under/ Secretary of State for Northern Ireland where he served with distinction and was highly regarded across the spectrum. On one occasion when the Reverend Ian Paisley was particularly agitated about an issue, Charlie ‘threatened’ him that if he did not calm down, he would arrange for a priest to sprinkle holy water on him. The number of messages of condolence received from both sides of ‘the divide’ attest to his effectiveness in the role. He was also secretary of the Lords’ defence group.

Since taking his seat in the Lords he effectively split his time between his political duties and overseeing the running of Kinnordy Estate which in total extends to almost 10,000 acres. His routine was to spend Monday to Thursday in London staying in his mews house in South Kensington and the rest of the week at Kinnordy. Following the 1999 legislation he was one of 92 hereditary peers elected to retain their seats. He enjoyed participating regularly in ‘shoots’ on his Estate. Cousin Patrick Gifford recalled one memorable occasion a few years ago when a syndicate guest at a shoot was the North Korean ambassador to the UK. “Charlie bounced up to him at 9 in the morning and began singing the praises of footballer Pak Doo Ik who scored North Korea’s goal to beat Italy at the 1966 World Cup. The ambassador was delighted to share the memory of this national hero and the two of them then really hit it off! This was an example of Charlie’s amazing memory for detail.”

When younger he was a keen cyclist round the country roads in Angus and was Chairman of the Lords and Commons skiing club. Noted for his daredevil style on the slopes, he was a frequent visitor to Davos and a prominent member of a parliamentary British-Swiss skiing club. He also swam for the Lords in contests against the Commons. But his greatest sporting passion was football. From an early age when home from Eton he went to watch Forfar Athletic at Station Park and remained a lifelong fan. His favourite Loons player was Archie Knox, later their manager and then assistant at Manchester United and with Scotland. Charlie was deeply honoured when made club Patron in the early 1980s and his support never wavered. He always sponsored the last home game of the season when he would bring gifts for staff and officials, leaving referees bemused. Everton was another of his passions and when Forfar celebrated their 125th anniversary, he was instrumental in an Everton team coming up free of charge to play Forfar. He instructed his ashes be spread over Station Park and Goodison.

Last October he was proud to attend the opening of the Lyell Centre for earth and marine science and technology at Heriot-Watt University, named in honour of his forebear Sir Charles Lyell. very grateful to him for aiding research into Sir Charles.

A well-rounded gent, Charlie was friendliness personified, had no side to him and spoke freely to anyone and everyone. He led a fulfilling, rich and colourful life and is survived by cousins and their families.

JACK DAVIDSON