From the papers of L.R. Reeve*. His account of a major figure, much chronicled elsewhere, but with some unique insights as Reeve saw him speak many times, even in parliament.
DAVID LLOYD GEORGE
In some ways Lloyd George is a difficult subject, as so many people have heard the same stories from various sources, there is always the possibility that many have been heard on previous occasions.
I heard him first, in the House of Commons during the First World War, and unexpectedly the topic under discussion was an increase in the charges for alcoholic drinks. I remember little about the speeches except that prices would be increased for the miner who wanted to wash down the coal-dust with many libations, and that for the purposes of the Act Guinness would be in the same category as beer.
Lloyd George was unhurried, spoke well without interruption, to a small attendance of quiet members who were later on somewhat roused, when a Scottish brewer Sir George Younger**, rose and made a really fluent speech which interested me more than any other contribution during that session. After my visit I never saw Younger's name in a newspaper, or on a label without recalling his superb oratory, and regretting his name was not more widely known to the general public. He deserved to be a national figure.
On another occasion in the House when few members were present, the great Welshman arrived late, and walked along the empty back row to his seat, towards the strangers' gallery, which gave me a perfect view of him. Within half an hour the Speaker called on the "Right Honourable David Lloyd George!” There followed a steady, slow ruminative speech, until Neville Chamberlain intervened with a sarcastic remark. Immediately the old warrior was galvanized to action: he made an apt reply in a strong voice, speaking faster, more clearly, and the house was electrified into an atmosphere of intense interest. No doubt Chamberlain regretted his interruption.
I recall an assembly of London Liberals at the National Liberal Club. The meeting was sedate and uninspiring. Sir John Simon had spoken; Dr Macnamara, M.P. for Camberwell, had made a sound speech, but aroused little enthusiasm. Then Lloyd George walked in quietly during another speech. He looked weary, even shy; but his entrance immediately animated the delegates and excitement was in the air. Such is the power of eminence.
Especially in middle-age he was an extremely attractive-looking man, always with a ready twinkle in his eye when a humorous situation arose. Nothing gave a cousin off mine more delight than to be informed that he looked like Lloyd George; which in fact he did. We all know he had a way with him, especially at election time. My sister-in-law, an amazing mimic, takes a delight in telling the story of an open-air meeting at a by-election in the Midlands. Having given a very fine account of the Sankey Report, he had just ended his speech. The first question was:
"What about the Sankey Report?" The statesman raised his hands helplessly towards the heavens.
"There'" he complained, "I have, I think, given you all a very fair and lucid account of the Report, and now my friend has just arrived, and evidently expects me to go through all those details again (laughter among the miners). I'll tell you what I'll do. If you'll come round tonight and call for a copy of the Report, I will leave instructions for it to be given to you." And evidently everyone thought a generous offer had been made.
At a conference of the National Union of Teachers at Llandudno, reminiscences of early education was one of the keynotes of his address, when he related how he read books left by his late schoolmaster father. He is the only national figure I can remember, and I recall such men as R. A. Butler, Donald Maclean and Eustace Percy, who congratulated teachers at an annual conference on their wisdom in refusing to be affiliated to any political party.
"Take my advice," he urged, "and maintain your neutrality; then, no matter which party is in power you are more likely to receive unbiased treatment." Now his advice has been rejected. Refusing to permit a referendum recently, Conference has decided to affiliate with the Trades Union Council. It is to be hoped that such a short-sighted affiliation will be rescinded in the near future.
The BBC infuriates me at times, but I have to thank television for giving me one of the most enjoyable episodes I have witnessed in Lloyd George's career. The eminent parliamentarian exercised his wit at its greatest. He was in his beloved Wales on the platform with Dame Margaret who was presented with a token of appreciation and thanks. Her modest husband of course had to make a speech. The way in which he deprecated himself as a very junior partner, in a steady subdued voice for ten minutes, brimful of wit, deceived nobody but delighted everybody. Although speaking in English he was Wales personified, and because nearly all his hearers were Welsh, all were witnessing a memorable evening, rare in its uncomplicated joy. Jung might have called it an instance of collective, emotional inspiration, and for once in my life I had a glimpse of the soul of Wales as expressed without the enormous help of song. I never expect to witness such an enthralling national evening again, but am very glad to have had such an experience.
Soon after he had moved to Criccieth he walked into a cottage.
"I have come to visit my neighbours." Such an incident suggests that he could really adapt himself to any company he might encounter, and more important, that he enjoyed a gossip with people untroubled by too much introspection, but who were witty, contented with their lot, and eager participants in the social activities of their environment, and envious of nobody. It is an education sometimes to sit in a bus on a market day, and listen to the cheerful badinage of the passengers.
I suppose many of his admirers at times discuss their favourite picture of him, and mine is the photograph taken when he and Lord Balfour introduced Lady Astor to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He stands erect, looks authoritative, and his frock coat must have come from Saville Row.
Veterans will remember when Lloyd George was Prime Minister of a coalition government that he had a number of consistently loyal Conservative supporters such as Arthur Balfour, Lord Birkenhead and Austin Chamberlain; and one of the most impressive features, also graces, of political Iife is when members of opposing parties ignore politics and declare exactly what they believe about the stature of eminent men. Lady Astor thought that Lloyd George was the greatest of them all during her membership of the House of Commons; Herbert Morrison, asked on television whom he judged to be the most eminent statesman in his experience, named the great Welshman; Sir Douglas Home was asked who had influenced him more than any other member and said it was Lloyd George.
"He was a superb, dynamic figure."
** Later Viscount Younger of Leckie (1851 - 1929)
* The papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5 - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.
L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers, H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that many have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."
Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…