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Former MP and rural campaigner Sir Richard Body dies

Private Eye's 'original Muckspreader' has gone to ground'

Former MP and rural campaigner Sir Richard Body dies

TRIBUTES have been paid to West Berkshire farmer, conservationist, author and former MP, Sir Richard Body. 

Sir Richard died at his home in Stanford Dingley, aged 90, on February 26.

Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News, Sir Richard’s daughter, Jane Body, said that her father would be remembered locally for his keeping of Berkshire pigs. 

“He had small farm here in Stanford Dingley and he kept Berkshire pigs. He was very interested in rare breeds.

“He started breeding them and was one of only three [Berkshire pig breeders] in the country.

“He worked to get them off the rare breed list and some he exported as far as China.”

Sir Richard was a regular at the Royal County of Berkshire Show and his pigs won prizes at the annual event, where he was later a judge.

Miss Body said that her father owned a “proper” pack of bloodhounds.

She said: “They hunted humans, which usually meant wife, children or any willing runners were sent off into the landscape and they hunted just the scent of somebody’s shoes or sock, not like they do in drag hunts.” 

Miss Body said that her father’s deep love of the countryside, fishing and chalk streams led him to buy the family house by the River Pang “on the strength of seeing a trout in the river, but it eluded him for years”. 

She went on: “He had a split cane rod – what I call proper fishing – that belonged to his grandfather.

“Between writing books he attempted to go fishing. He taught me, but we usually seemed to catch trees or trousers.”  

“He loved the chalk streams of England. The Pang is a chalk stream and he very much wanted to try and conserve the river and did quite a lot of work on it and started, with others, the conservation project.

“He was 90 last year, but he was still carrying on conservation work on the river.

“He was very much a countryman at heart.” 

Sir Richard was president of the William Cobbett Society and chairman of the Ruskin Society.

Born in Eton, Sir Richard was educated at Reading School, following family tradition – the family have owned Hyde End in Shinfield since 1720 – and later qualified as a barrister.

An author of several books on agriculture, Miss Body said that her father’s works were “a bit controversial”.

“The stuff he was writing about, pesticides and modern farming particularly, was considered quite controversial at the time,” she said.

“A lot that he has written about has now been taken up by the Government.

“He was somebody who was a bit of a rebel. He was the original Muckspreader in Private Eye – for years they kept it a secret, but now the original Muckspreader has gone to ground.” 

Sir Richard was first elected as Conservative MP for Billericay in 1955 and later served as MP for Holland with Boston from 1966 until 1997.

Following boundary changes, he was then MP for Boston and Skegness, until he stood down in 2001. 

During this time, he put through legislation to stop the chaining up of pregnant sows in confined spaces. 

Miss Body said: “It’s a very rural constituency and he was an MP who really wanted to look after it. He had no aspirations to be a minister.

“He had huge energy and determination, which I think you need to have when you go into politics, but he understood how it worked.

“He was fascinated by politics and critical thinking and how people have a view and over time that view can change.

“He was extremely good at public speaking. He would speak and he would electrify the whole room.” 

Miss Body described her father, who co-chaired the Great Britain Out movement against Britain joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1970s, as “a maverick and anti-Maastricht”.

“He liked to think about doing things smaller and not larger,” she said.

“He was against the EEC after reading the Treaty of Rome and questioned just how sensible it was going into the EEC and how rules and sovereignty would be changed.”  

The former MP, author and barrister suffered from a degenerative eye condition after he was punched by muggers in Hyde Park and went blind towards the end of his life. 

Miss Body said: “Despite having a degenerative eye condition, it didn’t stop his political career and writing and going on to do publishing. 

“As a family we had to deal with my father going blind. 

“When he went to vote he would come home late and he would walk through Hyde Park.

“It turned out the attackers were bank robbers from Glasgow.

“They punched him in the eye and head.

“His father’s gold watch was stolen, but we found it in an alley; but for £5 he lost his sight. It took 20 years to lose it.”

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