Sir Frederick Arthur Bishop, (1915–2005), civil servant and director-general of the National Trust.
Joined the Inland Revenue in 1934.
1 Jan 1940 he married Elizabeth Finlay Stevenson (1915–1999), a fellow civil servant; they had two sons and a daughter.
RAF from Feb 1942.
"An ab initio pilot who immediately made steady progress and made great efforts to fly well ... he can be assessed as a natural pilot of average ability"
Macmillan kept Bishop on when he took over as prime minister in 1957. Over the next four years Bishop played a key role in the policy process, exercising influence out of all proportion to his formal responsibilities. With a weak foreign secretary in Selwyn Lloyd, Macmillan relied heavily for advice on international affairs on his civil service private secretaries, whose primary loyalty was increasingly to him personally, treating them as a virtual ‘kitchen cabinet’ (Aldous, ‘Family affair’, 14), ‘more akin to American national security advisers than mere private secretaries’ (McNamara, 67). Working closely with his colleague Philip de Zulueta, Bishop did not hesitate to disagree with, and brief the prime minister against, the official Foreign Office line. He and de Zulueta have been described as the ‘“change agents” essential to any process of [policy] redefinition, [giving] access to ideas that had not been dulled by slow passage through the bureaucratic machine’ (Aldous, ‘Family affair’, 15). When in 1957 Macmillan wanted to ensure American collaboration in resisting communist infiltration into Syria, it was Bishop whom he sent to Washington for talks with the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. Dulles was charmed and impressed by Bishop, declaring that there was ‘genuine, intimate and effective co-operation, stemming directly from Macmillan’ (McNamara, 100). Bishop often travelled with Macmillan, for instance to the Bermuda conference in March 1957 and to Moscow in 1959, the scene of a celebrated row between Macmillan and Nikita Khrushchov. His role and his influence were openly resented by the Foreign Office and the foreign secretary.
Bishop became deputy secretary to the cabinet in 1959. Although in principle he should now have been impartially serving the cabinet as a whole, he remained very close to the prime minister; he has been described as acting at this time in some respects as though he were still Macmillan's principal private secretary, advising him on European matters. During the protracted debates about Britain's relations with the European Economic Community (EEC), pro-Europeans used Bishop as their direct link to the prime minister. He was appointed CB in 1960, having been made CVO in 1957.
Bishop returned to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food in 1961. Even there he continued to be influential in international affairs, especially in relation to the EEC. One historian, Jacqueline Tratt, has described him as a leading member of the small group—including Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, and Sir Frank Lee, permanent secretary to the Treasury—that connived to bring about a major change of policy orientation, almost surreptitiously planning and putting into action the ultimately unsuccessful first approach to the EEC in 1961. He also played a significant part in creating the National Economic Development Council. He intended this in part to rival a department he disliked, the Treasury, arguing that there was a need for ‘a more planned approach to the national economic problem … a partnership with employers and unions’ (Ringe and Rollings, 342–3). His draft terms of reference were reproduced largely verbatim when the creation of the council was announced by the chancellor of the exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd.
After three years in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Bishop's government career seemed to be moving towards a climax when, in 1964, he was appointed permanent secretary of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, newly created by Harold Wilson. Wilson's aim was to speed up the planning process by removing it from what some saw as the dead hand of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Others felt that the new department, with a remit to bring forward more land for development by taxing landowners and developers, never had a chance. It was doubly unfortunate for Bishop both that his new minister, Fred Willey, was out of his depth and that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was led by one of the most formidable civil servants of the post-war period, Dame Evelyn Sharp. She was determined that her department should lose no important responsibilities. Exploiting the access of her own minister, Richard Crossman, to Wilson, she fought ruthlessly to ensure, first, that the new ministry was given no real powers and, second, that it was wound up as soon as possible. Willey's complaints and Wilson's resentment were unavailing. Bishop, who had no illusions about either his ministry or his minister, found himself in a non-job. By June 1965 he had let it be known that he wished to resign from the civil service and Crossman was exulting in his diary, ‘He should be sent off as soon as possible. Let's get rid of him this summer’ (Crossman, 261).
Bishop was an able and well-liked public servant who, in his most senior Whitehall post, was unlucky to be frustrated by such fierce bureaucratic and political in-fighting. He left the civil service in 1965 and took a number of part-time posts, most notably on the board of S. Pearson & Son. In 1968–9 he was a member of a group of former senior officials set up to advise Edward Heath, then leader of the opposition, on reforms to the machinery of government. The Pearson board brought him into regular contact with Patrick Gibson, a committee member (and later chairman) of the National Trust. One result was that in January 1971 Bishop took up his final full-time position, as director-general of the National Trust. He succeeded another former senior official, Sir John Winnifrith, whose name he had suggested himself.
The National Trust, whose ethos Bishop was to describe as ‘amateurism, in the real and best sense of the word’ (Jenkins and James, 258), was trying to bring its style more into line with modern needs; it had opened its first shop in 1970, and during Bishop's tenure enlarged its professional staff and saw its membership double (to 500,000). Described by a former colleague as ‘by nature a manipulator and negotiator’ (Gaze, 235), Bishop used his Whitehall experience and contacts assiduously on behalf of the trust, in particular helping to secure valuable changes in the rules governing the tax treatment of bequests and gifts. Not all was smooth sailing, however: the 1975 annual report noted that ‘a high level of inflation will make it impossible to maintain the high standard of conservation which both members and the general public have come to expect’. When Bishop that year outlined to staff the executive committee's proposals for a 20 per cent cut in real expenditure, the need for this was hotly questioned and tempers ran high. But in general Bishop was popular, both with members of the trust's committee and with staff, for whom he obtained better salary levels and pension arrangements. His management style was described as ‘unobtrusive’, without undue intervention in matters of detail (Gaze, 244).
Bishop (Fred to his family, but Freddie more widely) took early retirement for health reasons from the National Trust in May 1975, having been knighted in January that year, and he and his wife moved to Cornwall. He had already been a member of the BBC's general advisory council (1971–75), a director of Pearson Longman (1970–77), and chairman of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee (1966–73); in Cornwall he took up directorships with English China Clays Ltd (1975–86) and Lloyd's Bank (1976–86). He continued to practise his skills as an amateur painter and his gift for friendship, not only with the Gibsons and others but also with Harold Macmillan, who visited the Bishops several times and remained in close touch until his own death. In 1987 Bishop and his wife moved to Hampshire to be closer to their grandchildren. He died at his home, Manor Barn, 65 Church Road, Bramshott, Hampshire, on 2 March 2005, of an acute transformation of chronic lymphatic leukaemia. He was survived by his three children, his wife having predeceased him."