She Came up Trumps

A year after the death of Baroness Trumpington, her son Adam Barker pays tribute to the Conservative peer, cigar smoker, Boisdale patron and national treasure

By Adam Barker

September 23 2019

On 25 November 2018, my mother passed away. Only two weeks previously she had received the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest order of merit, from the French ambassador, for her work as a wartime code breaker at Bletchley Park. It was a moving ceremony: Bletchley Park was very important to her, and she campaigned hard to get recognition for those who had worked there. She would be thrilled to know that Alan Turing will be appearing on £50 notes in 2021. I recently gave all my mothers’ awards – Order of Merit, Légion d’honneur, DCVO, her Bletchley medal and papers – to the Bletchley Park museum.

My mother left me with detailed plans in her will of what to do after her death and in scribbled notes I found throughout her flat. First there was the funeral at Mortlake crematorium, which I almost missed after getting stuck on the M25 – she would have been amused by that.

I read out letters I’d received from Clare Balding, from George Morley – the editor of her memoirs, Coming up Trumps, and from Lord Dodds, the House of Cards author, who wrote: “She was a joy, she was courageous, she was inspirational, she was fun. She was a man-of-war under full sail, firing broadsides in every direction. Thank you for letting us share your mother for so long.”

He went on to describe an event that occurred when he was newly in the Lords. “I found her filling the corridor ahead of me. ‘I am told,’ she said in her magnificent voice, ‘that there is a character in your latest novel, who looks and sounds a lot like me?’ I was aghast in agony, how to respond? But before I could get a word out, she continued: ‘It better bloody well be me. I’ve told my family so!’”

The next day we scattered her ashes in Kew Gardens near the tree where my father’s ashes had been scattered. There is now an Alan Barker tree and a Trumpington tree. The next instruction was to have a party for the staff of the House of Lords – with no peers invited. She explained, “It’s so that all my friends who have been so good to me over the years know that I appreciated the fun and many kindnesses we shared. This means a lot to me and nobody has ever done it!”

In her robes at the State opening of Parliament in 2014
In her robes at the State opening of Parliament in 2014

At this great event there were speeches from Black Rod and the Senior Doorkeeper, who recalled my mother being very pleased to have been invited to be a special guest one year at the Doorkeepers’ Christmas dinner. During the dinner the Senior Doorkeeper asked her to say a few words. My mother turned to him and said, as only she could, “You never told me that, you little shit!” There were many other amusing stories, including how the doorkeepers had to ensure the TV was turned on for her favourite programme, Neighbours, even during a Test match, much to the dismay of other peers.

The final event was her memorial service at St Margaret’s Westminster. Lord Elton and Lord Deben were tasked over 20 years ago with speaking, and the entire wonderful service had been choreographed by my mother. Present were two former prime ministers, five Royal Representatives, 200 peers and 400 friends. Lord Deben started his address by noting: “There can’t be many memorial services filled with the unfettered warmth that we all feel here today. Even if Trumps hadn’t told us to be joyful and not to mourn or wear black, but to sing out loud and be merry – we should want to.” It certainly was a joyful event – I kept control until the end, when the trumpeter played her favourite song,the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

With Clare Balding
With Clare Balding

Being my mother’s business manager during her later years was made easy since the media were always so kind. My only argument with a reporter was when she was quoted saying she had neither written her memoirs, nor read them. Well she dictated them, and because she was nearly blind, I had to read her the drafts about ten times!

She loved cigarettes and cigars, and thoroughly enjoyed her time with Arnold Schwarzenegger when she received her Lifetime Achievement Award at Boisdale’s Cigar Smoker of the Year event in 2014. In fact, she kept a copy of the picture of her with Arnold in her handbag until the end.

My mother was a huge character. While she clearly enjoyed her late-inlife media career, it’s ironic she became a star thanks to the now-infamous V sign she flicked to her friend Lord King, which was caught on camera and went viral. While “doing a Trumpington” may become a long-lived term, Lord Deben in his address explained what actually went on: “For all the outspokenness and constant humour, she had a real sense of decorum,” he said. “Indeed, it was only because she knew what was proper that when she decided to act improperly, it was so effective. The two fingers to Tom King worked because of the wonderfully wicked look on her face and the fact that you knew, that she knew, just how naughty she was being and just how considered it was.”

I will end by remembering the day my mother jumped into the pool on sports day at the Leys School in Cambridge, where my father was headmaster – he was extremely angry! A staff member penned the most brilliant poem about the event. It hung in her kitchen, and read as follows:

I was by a chlorinated pool
(Where Stan had almost lost his cool),
The pensive Jeanie now reclined
And gazed on the lagoon.
Her beaming smile, her joy declared
To hear how all about her shared ,
Her anniversary;
She tossed her shoes at Barkie’s feet
And nymph-like now, she ran to meet
The lilo-littered sea.
Presumptuous maid! Without a care
For pretty force and new-set hair
Or Barkie’s panic fright,
She sprang aloft, and poised on high,
She smiled one final fond good-bye
And disappeared from sight.
But now, in petticoats marooned
With hair bedraggled, skirts ballooned
She bobbed about serene;
One little step into the deep,
But this was mankind’s greatest leap,
O Chlorinated Jean!

The Daily Mirror recently identified 40 people Brits would like to come back from the dead. While there were the obvious ones, Princess Diana and Sir Winston Churchill, I was proud to see my mother on the list. If only...