Former Norwich MP is still a great raconteur
09:51 20 February 2013
Archant © 2013
It was not a propitious time to meet former city MP Dr Tom Stuttaford. Just days before he had fallen at his home and spent a night in hospital. But he was still charm personified, as reporter DAVID BALE found out.
The opportunity to interview Dr Stuttaford came up thanks to a chance encounter at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
My colleague, photographer Bill Smith took a picture of Dr Stuttaford just as he was leaving the hospital earlier this month.
He had spent a night in hospital after falling at his home in Elm Hill.
When he returned to the office, Bill suggested to me that I call Dr Stuttaford and ask him if he would be up for a chat, and we arranged to meet the next day.
The former Conservative Norwich South MP – from 1970 to 1974 – and author lives in a splendid house in Elm Hill, parts of which date back to the 13th century.
His daughter-in-law Jo and wife Pam greeted me and took me into the room where Dr Stuttaford was sitting.
One of his four grandchildren was also in the room, with her head buried in a book.
The family admitted that Dr Stuttaford was still not too well, and he could not spare that much time, on doctor’s orders.
However, it turned out that Dr Stuttaford was very keen to talk about his life and career, and is, in fact, writing his own memoirs.
He has lived in this house in Elm Hill with his wife of 55 years, Pam, for about 20 years.
“I never thought I would live in the city,” he said. “I always thought we would end up living in a rectory with white fences and a labrador on the lawn.
“But my wife Pam has coined the phrase – “One foot in the grave, one foot on the pavement” – which is very sound advice. Having a labrador on the lawn and living in the countryside would not have got me quickly to the hospital, which I could from Elm Hill.”
Having been born in Horning, he studied at Town Close independent school in Norwich, and Gresham’s School, where he was head boy – he’s a Norfolk man through and through.
He was captain of the rugby side at Gresham’s and went on to captain the Norfolk and Suffolk schoolboys’ rugby teams, eventually playing for the Eastern Counties schoolboys’ team.
He was evacuated from Town Close during the second world war but said he had memories of visiting Elm Hill as a boy to buy sweets.
“There’s no longer a sweet shop in Elm Hill, and they don’t have a pet shop anymore, but it has not changed that much. Perhaps there was a greater village atmosphere then, but people here have been very kind to us. It’s still a wonderful community.
“The treat on Saturday afternoon was to go to Norwich Castle, to see the birds in the museum, and go down to the dungeons.”
We sat in his study talking and he offered me a glass of whisky, which I accepted – it was only a small one, by the way.
As a reader of The Times, I remember Dr Stuttaford as its former medical correspondent and columnist. The Times always seemed to use the same photograph with the column.
Some of our more mature readers will remember him as Norwich South MP between 1970 and 1974. Before that, he was in general practice in Norfolk for about 11 years. He also ran drugs clinics in Norwich and said that helped change the way addicts were treated.
During his time as MP and on Norwich council, where he served for about two years, he said he lost many battles, including making the Monastery car park underground instead of surface. And he wanted the UEA to be built in the city centre rather than where it was eventually built, on the southwestern outskirts of the city.
“I wanted it to be like Oxford and Cambridge, both of whose universities are in the city centres. Having said that, I think the university has done extremely well where it is.”
After his stint as an MP, he worked at Queen Mary’s Hospital for the East End for several years, and despite his privileged background, said: “I have always tried to do my best for the underprivileged, underpaid and elderly.
“And I always resented it when it was implied that I was always about to nip in to some London club.”
Off the record, he started telling me about his time as an MP. He talked about Margaret Thatcher – “I was very pro,” he said. He also talked about former PM Ted Heath, who Mrs Thatcher replaced as Tory leader.
Unfortunately, he did not want any of the comments to go in this article. One story he was about to tell, which ignited my interest, he said would have to wait until Mrs Thatcher died.
The family has strong Norfolk connections.
While he married Pam in London, her two favourite aunts and an uncle lived in Norwich.
And his daughter-in-law Jo Stuttaford is the great-granddaughter of Maria Pasqua, the little Italian peasant girl, who was sold by her father for two wash-leather bags of gold to an eccentric English-born aristocrat, and met and married a Norfolk landowner and doctor. And she’s related to the Norfolk Shepheard family from Erpingham Hall.