The Lord Armstrong of Ilminster
Official portrait of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster
|Member of the House of Lords|
26 February 1988 - 3 April 2020
|Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister|
|Permanent Secretary of the|
|Sir Arthur Peterson|
|Sir John Hunt|
|Sir Robin Butler|
|Head of the Home Civil Service|
|Sir Douglas Allen|
|Sir Robin Butler|
Robert Temple Armstrong
30 March 1927
Headington, Oxford, England
|Died||3 April 2020(aged 93)|
Serena Mary Benedicta
(m. 1953, divorced)
Mary Patricia Carlow
|Relations||Sir Thomas H. W. Armstrong (father)|
Armstrong was born in Headington on 30 March 1927, the only son of the musician Sir Thomas H. W. Armstrong and his wife Hester M. Draper, who were married in the City of London in 1926. His sister Helen was born in Exeter in 1930.
In Wantage, on 25 July 1953, Armstrong married Serena Mary Benedicta Chance, daughter of Sir Roger James Ferguson Chance, and Mary Georgina Rowney. Armstrong and his wife had two daughters, both born in Marylebone, Jane Orlanda Armstrong, born 1954, and Teresa Brigid Armstrong, born 1957. This marriage ended in divorce, and in 1985 he married Mary Patricia Carlow, daughter of Charles Cyril Carlow.
In a long civil service career, Armstrong worked in several departments, including HM Treasury and the Home Office. From 1970 to 1975 he served as the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. He was knighted in 1978. From 1979 to 1987, he served as Cabinet Secretary under Margaret Thatcher.
Armstrong was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1974, a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 1975 Birthday Honours. In the 1978 Birthday Honours he was promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and to Knight Grand Cross (GCB) in the 1983 New Year Honours.
In 1986, Armstrong was the key witness for the British Government as it sought to suppress the publication of Spycatcher, in which it alleged its author, Peter Wright, had attempted to disclose confidential information. At the time Wright was a retired high-ranking member of MI5 and was about to publish his book in Australia. The evidence given by Armstrong was widely ridiculed by the British press for its absurd ambiguity and seemingly deceptive nature. Wright's lawyer, Malcolm Turnbull, who later became the Prime Minister of Australia, was ultimately successful in lifting the publication ban. Turnbull described Armstrong as being like "Sir Humphrey Appleby" from Yes, Minister and said "If he is an honest man, then he appears rather like a well-educated mushroom".
He is credited with bringing the phrase "economical with the truth" into popular usage, after he used it during the Spycatcher trial in 1986 - his use of the phrase was subsequently included in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
From 1994 to 2006, Lord Armstrong was Chancellor of the University of Hull. He was chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation until 2013.
Armstrong gave Margaret Thatcher what he called a "veiled" warning not to sanction Jimmy Savile's knighthood for charitable work, due to allegations around his "misbehaviour with women (though not allegations of child abuse)".
Armstrong has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions:
Armstrong died on 3 April 2020 at the age of 93.
| Principal Private Secretary
to the Prime Minister
Sir Kenneth Stowe
Sir Arthur Peterson
| Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Sir Brian Cubbon
Sir John Hunt
| Cabinet Secretary
Sir Robin Butler
Sir Douglas Allen
| Head of the Home Civil Service
Sir Robin Butler
|Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom|
The Lord Plumb
Baron Armstrong of Ilminster
The Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover