By Patrick Bishop
September 20, 2019
Athenaeum Book Club selection 2019
Soldier, Escaper, Spymaster, Politician – Airey Neave was assassinated in the House of Commons car park in 1979. Forty years after his death, Patrick Bishop’s penetrating and action-packed biography examines the life, heroic war and death of one of Britain’s most remarkable twentieth-century figures.
Taken prisoner by the Germans in 1940, Neave was the first British officer to escape from Colditz, and using the code name ‘Saturday’ became a key figure in the IS9 escape and evasion organization that spirited hundreds of Allied airman and soldiers out of Occupied Europe. A lawyer by training, he came face to face with many architects of Nazi terror at the Nuremberg war trials, serving indictments on Goering, Hess and Ribbentrop, among others.
In peace he turned to politics and in 1953 was elected Conservative MP for Abingdon. He went on to become the man who made Margaret Thatcher, mounting a brilliantly manipulative campaign that in 1975 won her the leadership of the Tory Party.
His death was as dramatic as his life. On 30 March 1979, a bomb planted beneath his car exploded while he was driving up the ramp of the House of Commons car park, killing him instantly. The murder was claimed by the breakaway Irish Republican group, the INLA. His killers have never been identified.
Patrick Bishop’s fast-paced and deeply researched biography, published to mark the 40th anniversary of Neave’s death, sheds new light on the mystery of who killed him and why their identities have been hidden for so long. It is also sympathetic portrait of a vanished breed: a public figure shaped by the experience of war and driven by duty, patriotism and honour.