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Anthony J.C. Kerr "A Man of Letters"
Chapter Two

March 1987

Anthony Kerr

As another product of the "absurd stable" of independent school and Cambridge, I write about Anthony Kerr.

I met him first one evening in the autumn of 1948 as I was leaving the hall of the Cambridge Union, after a session of the University debating society. He said he had seen me playing cricket. We started talking, and went on doing so for forty years.

Some people mocked him, his eccentric ways, his persistence. He seemed not to hear them. He ploughed his own furrow, and ignored the contours.

One summer vacation he asked me to stay with his family in their chalet in the Swiss mountains. I had bought a record of a Swiss mountain song, which he knew. It started "Quand je pense a mon village, Labas au Val D'Anniviers, au lire don de." It was about the yearning of a townsman for the mountain village of his birth. I put it on his gramophone and played it. That evening Anthony asked me not to play it again at the chalet. "It makes my mother weep", he said. But later, when he would come and visit us in London, he would play the song on the piano and sing it, all three verses, and I would join in.

For many years we performed this ritual together. Then, one year, we stopped doing so.

Another memory is of Anthony's bicycle ride across the Sahara. He started off from Tunis, arrived at the end of the desert and was told by the local police to go no further. Ignoring the order, he bicycled out in the desert. The police heard about it, chased after him in a truck, arrested him, brought him back, and put him into jail. After being cautioned by the magistrate and released, he promptly resumed his bicycle journey, without further hindrance from the Tunisians.

The journey was an arduous exercise. He lived off Marmite, slept under canvas, had numerous punctures and finally reached Nigeria, a journey of some thousand miles. He wrote about these adventures in a book, as yet unpublished, called 'The Great South Road.’

For a few years Anthony was a school teacher and lived near Wells. I went to visit him there once. When we entered his house we saw a mouse on the kitchen table, eating some left-overs. Anthony remarked that he was quite friendly with the little mouse, and that it was evidently rather hungry that evening.

It was while teaching in Somerset that Anthony won the Hughie Green, Double Your Money show, answering questions on history, but his school authority regarded TV games as beneath them, and he was sacked.

Anthony was our twentieth century Don Quixote. In the most courteous manner he fought for his faith, his freedom and his friends. His horse was a scooter, his defence a motor cycle helmet, his sword was his typewriter. Across Europe he waged his crusade, for this ideal and for that ideal, magnanimous in victory, unperturbed in defeat. He was a man who would say what others dared not say, a person who, not afraid of being called a fool, made others wise.

He died in February, the month of the water carrier. Forty years before, in February 1947, he wrote these lines:

"I have no use for principles that change,
For truths that stand as long as they suit you.
My backward mind thinks, though it may seem strange,
That Truth and Right are every right and true.
This is my Faith, whatever others say.
I mean to hold it to my dying day."

15th October 1964 -The Southern & Border Standard

Speaking at the Victoria Hall, Selkirk, on Monday evening, Mr Anthony Kerr, candidate for the Scottish National party said that the advice given to Liberal supporters by their leader Mr David Steel, to use Tory cars to drive to the election, was despicable.

Mr Kerr was referring to a statement made by Mr David Steel who said that you could take a horse to water but you could not make it drink: similarly, you could take a voter to the poll in a Tory car but you could not make him vote Tory. He asked all Liberals to make as much use as possible of the Tory cars on polling day because if they were busy carrying Liberals to the vote, - they could not be carrying Tories at the same time.

Mr Kerr said that he thought that this was a despicable idea. Mr Steel was trying to deprive Tories of their right to vote.

Speaking of the once beautiful Selkirk Cauld, which, said Mr Kerr, had been a great attraction to many people, it had now been knocked down to suit selfish requirements. Because of an act forced upon Scotland by an English majority, Selkirk had lost its beautiful cauld.

Speaking of an instance where an Englishman had sold 1500 acres of Scottish land to a Belgian, Mr Kerr first of all denied that this land should have ever belonged to an Englishman and secondly it should never have been sold to a Belgian. The whole thing should never have happened he said. Year by year the substances of the country were being whittled away and year by year 35,000 people left their homeland never to return except perhaps for a Common Riding or a holiday.

"This country should provide a welcoming for all its people and we want those ones who have left to return. This is our country and we are not going to put up with this any longer said Mr Kerr, so, for this reason we seek your support at the election."

Outlining the candidates, Mr Kerr said that the Tory candidate was an extremely nice man, but had done little for Scotland. The Liberal candidate he had liked until he had suggested that the Liberals should use Tory cars to drive to the election. As for the Labour candidate, Mr Kerr said that he was slightly better than the Liberal, but he had made a great mistake in saying that there should only be Labour and Tory parties in this election.

Entitled to Choose

"We are entitled to make our choice of the person we think will be fit to represent this constituency." Mr Kerr said that if voters wanted Scotland and the Borders raised in the House, then they could do worse than to vote for him as the representative of the constituency.

Asked if the Scottish National party would do anything about widow's pensions, Mr Kerr replied that he proposed to raise them, as well as the old age pensions.

Replying to a question about nuclear deterrents, Mr Kerr said that there was no urgent need to abandon it. It was the one which was the most effective and it was the least likely to be used. When Scotland had her own government, they would not have a deterrent. It was not necessary for a small country to have one.


To a question on the Scottish National party views on private schools, Mr Kerr said that they did not intend to abolish such schools but they proposed to bring the level of state education much higher so that parents would not want to send children to private schools.

Speaking of conscription, Mr Kerr said that if Scotland could get enough volunteers, then there would not be conscription. If there had to be, then it would only be for probably two months - not two years.

September 1964 – The Southern Reporter


Neither Mr Steel nor Colonel Smiley have put up a convincing case; at any rate it fails to convince me.

Mr Steel’s argument, roughly, is, "The Government have decided to close down the line - vote Liberal and make them change their minds." Colonel Smiley's argument is, "No decision has been announced, therefore it is wrong to assume one has been taken."

First to dispose of the Colonel: The Government appointed Dr Beeching at a very substantial salary to reconstruct the British railway system. They have received his Report, have published it and generally approved it, and have continued him in his job. It is therefore a fair assumption that they will carry out most of his recommendations in due course, unless a very strong case is made out in any particular instance. At the same time they find it unwise to close our line during a General Election campaign, or even to announce a firm closing date, and they will probably change their minds if their overall majority falls to less than 30 or so.

Secondly there is an obvious answer to Mr Steel. Neither of the big parties will take the Liberals seriously unless the overall result is fairly close. Even if he wins, this will only be treated as an interesting but harmless local incident, due to local causes and unlikely to have serious repercussions elsewhere.

A Nationalist gain would be a much more serious matter, wherever it occurred. Out of three and a half million Scottish voters, two million at least are in general sympathy with our aims and likely to back us once they see we can win. This is a terrifying thought to all those who have England's interests at heart, because we are worth a lot of money to our neighbours. We help them to bear the enormous overheads of central government (we could run ours far more cheaply); we give them a bonus of 100,000 jobs which ought to be in Scotland but are in London and the English Midlands, and we help them to redress a permanently adverse balance of trade, by contributing more than our fair share of exports (very largely from the neglected Borders and Highlands) and taking less than our fair share of imports.

The English know what control of Scotland is worth to them, and when they see this country slipping from their grasp they will suddenly begin to take a very serious interest in our prosperity, as they have already done wherever the National party have obtained a good by-election result.

But a few Liberals are no threat to Labour or the Tories, while a lot of Liberals will be mainly English and therefore useless to Scotland. The Liberal party must, by its very nature become more English as it grows (and if it grows).

Mr Steel has been trailing a shoal of red herrings across the map. It is not enough to draw attention to grievances, real though they are. The Liberals can do nothing about them because, in the last resort they are not prepared to make Scotland a free country again without England's consent, and therefore all England has to do is to refuse. Their attitude is like that of men saying to their employers, "Please give us a rise, but we shall not go on strike or leave if you don't." This may be very nice and friendly but it is not the way to get on.

S.N.P. Candidate, Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles


My father put Scotland first at the top of his agenda in both election campaigns. He was not helped by the emergence of tactical voting against the Tory campaign. Nor was he helped by the relatively weak organisation in the General Election which hampered his ability to meet the voters on the scale he would have wished.

My father was fearless in the face of adversity. He was not interested, as he made clear during the by-election campaign, in seeing the votes of those who had supported the S.N.P. in October 1964 abandoned for whatever reason.

His judgement, during the by-election, has proved to be remarkably accurate. A Liberal victory did more to sustain Labour's tiny thread majority in the Commons than it did anything for Liberalism. Mr Steel no longer plays the Scottish card as he did with such obvious enthusiasm. The S.N.P. has never failed to contest a by-election since that time.



4th March 1965 – The Southern and Border Standard

The four candidates in the By-election in the Borders attended a meeting in St Boswells Hall on Monday afternoon when each stated his party's policy in regard to agriculture. All were afterwards bombarded with questions on various aspects of agriculture.

The candidates were heard individually and each was allowed eight minutes in which to speak, followed by 22 minutes for questioning.

Mr W Andrew Biggar, Magdalene Hall, St Boswells, President of Roxburgh County Executive N.F.U., president over a company of more than 60 farmers drawn from a wide area of the Borders.

Mr A.J.C. Kerr

First speaker was Mr Anthony J. C. Kerr, Jedburgh, who is standing as an Independent Scottish National. He said that agriculture was a more important part of the Scottish economy than of the British economy as a whole. A higher proportion of their people lived in the country and were employed on the land; Scotland produced a higher proportion of all the food they ate and could produce still more if farmers were given a fair chance. He believed that a Scottish Government - any Scottish Government - would pay greater attention to the needs of the farming community than any Government based in London and depending mainly on the votes of English townsmen.

There was, however, much that could and should be seen to now, he said. A survey should be carried out by well-qualified scientists to determine where land was not being properly used, and to make recommendations for its better use, and reclamation where necessary. This was a problem which concerned the Highlands more than the Borders.

Another point was that where land-owners refused to farm their land or allow it to be farmed, this land should be taken over by the State and sold or leased to competent farms. In all other cases, however, he was opposed to the nationalisation of land as he thought it was unhealthy for the State to have more power than at present.

Mr Kerr also said it should be made easier for tenant farmers to buy their farms, through a Land Bank (such as they had on the Continent), or in some other way. Some, however, might always prefer to be tenants, but they must have security of tenure for themselves and for their heirs, so long as the land was properly farmed.

In National Interest

It was in the national interest that we should not be dependent on foreign supplies; it was in the interest of the human race as a whole that this, and every country, should produce as much food as it could. For this reason, the Government must continue to subsidise both cultivation and stock-farming in places where it could never be fully profitable from a financial point of view. It should also help the farmers by restricting foreign imports, so that they could get a fair price for their products on the home market, and he preferred the second way to the first where there was a choice between them.

A determined effort must be made to improve the amenities of life in the country and he wanted to see a much better public transport service. More houses must be built in the country: maintenance of the village schools, and where a very small primary school had to be closed down the pupils should be transferred to another country school, not to a town.

Farm wages must rise to a level comparable with that in other industries, but this was only possible if the Government guaranteed the farmers a higher and steadier income than at present. On the other hand, if farm wages and rural amenities remained as they were, depopulation would inevitably continue.

11th March 1965 – The Southern and Border Standard

Notwithstanding the fact that only a "Southern" Press photographer and reporter turned up at Anthony J.C. Kerr's meeting in Selkirk High School last night the independent Scottish National candidate expressed himself as being not in the least perturbed. "The by-election" , he said, "is just getting heated up and I know I will get attendances at my meetings nearer the polling day."

Mr Kerr said that at the last General Election in October, he stood first and foremost for an independent Scotland, with a Government and Parliament competent to do all the things which Governments and Parliaments were normally expected to do. On that and most other issues his views were identical with those of the Scottish National Party. The Party was not backing him this time because they did not think the last result justified a second attempt. He was standing again because he thought otherwise. In his view 1,100 votes were a reasonable beginning under very difficult conditions. They laid a foundation and they must build upon it.

Unique Opportunity

Furthermore that was the first Scottish by-election since the present Government came into power - it could well be the last before they went out. It thus provided them with a unique opportunity to press the Scottish case again.

Mr Kerr in regard to Border problems, said there were not enough jobs for men and basic wages were far too low. Transport facilities and roads in the Borders were completely inadequate, and Border and Scottish farmers were not given nearly enough encouragement.

The Borders needed a fighter as their M.P. and they could count on him to fight. He might not win this time but he certainly would improve his vote and that would be enough to make the present Government think more seriously about Scotland and the Borders.

4th February 1965 – The Southern and Border Standard

"No Punches Pulled" Forecast in Border By-election

There is every indication that political fervour will reach white-heat in regard to the forthcoming by-election in the Roxburgh, Peebles and Selkirkshire constituency and that no punches will be pulled on the hustings. At the moment it would appear that it will again be a four-cornered fight, as at the General Election in October, and several of the candidates have already commenced their campaign in different parts of the constituency.

The Scottish National Party have officially announced that due to lack of funds they will not be putting forward a candidate and further stated that they are not issuing any advice to their supporters as to how to vote in the contest.

However. Mr Anthony J.C. Kerr, who contested the constituency in October as a Scottish Nationalist, and forfeited his deposit, has stepped into the breach, and has announced that he will stand on his own, provided he can afford to do so at the time. In a personal summing-up of the situation, Mr Kerr stated that a Conservative vote is a vote for English lairds and a Labour vote is a vote for English workers, while a Liberal vote in the present state of the parties will have the same effect as a Labour vote, and in this constituency might even be more useful to Mr. Wilson.



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