Top Secret

He had one of those strangely forgettable faces neither handsome nor ugly, but certainly not striking. His mannerisms were entirely to match. Tony Newton never stood out in a crowd. In the British Parliament, where egos come in giant sizes, Newton's was barely visible. His speeches were unmemorable. His style was usually devoid of passion. You could walk into a room and not really notice him. Yet politics, without any of the trappings of glamour or fame, was his life.


The other week, after a long illness, this quiet kindly faithful public servant died. Anthony Harold Newton served as a Conservative Government Minister in several important roles that most people in Britain can no longer recollect. It wasn't that he was an inferior Minister, on the contrary. Nobody had a bad word to say about him. But then nobody had very much to say about him at all. His personal trademark was being unremarkable.

You could rely on Tony. He didn't make waves and rock the boat - always efficient and totally loyal. Newton served two Prime Ministers. Margaret Thatcher had confidence in him. Her successor, John Major, depended on him even more - for one top secret, highly personal reason. Something that, if it had got out, would have brought down his Government overnight. It may be very hard to believe, but back in 1984, John Major was not the grey boring indecisive Prime Minister he later became, but a bit of a lad.

Margaret Thatcher appointed him a Government whip, with the job of keeping her Members of Parliament in order - among them, a raven-haired young Minister by the name of Edwina Currie. Before you could say 'Newt Gingrich', the pair shared a great deal more than political ideology. Both were married. So they were risking careers and families too. This torrid affair went on for four years. Only one other human being knew. John Major deliberately told someone he felt he could trust. Someone who could find the couple if they were ever needed urgently for a vital vote back in Parliament. Someone who would never talk, never give them away.

If Edwina Currie hadn't brazenly published all the gory details in her own rather sleazy kiss-and-tell memoirs a few years ago, the late Tony Newton would certainly have carried their secret to his grave. Today, that brand of loyalty is very rare indeed. This is Ed Boyle for CBS News in London.

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