The Guardian, Wednesday 13 September 2000 01.17 BST
John "Jakie" Astor, who has died aged 82 after a
long battle against Parkinson's disease, won distinction in
his second and third careers after being vilified in his first.
He won his 1978 knighthood for contributions to agriculture,
partly from the success of his 1,900-acre farm at Hatley Park,
Bedfordshire, but especially as chairman of the Agricultural
He won even wider plaudits for his key roles in the racing
world, as a successful breeder with three establishments at
Newmarket and many winners. He was a steward of the Jockey
Club, and a member of the Tote and the Horserace Betting Levy
Board, widely recognised for his outspoken good sense.
these careers followed his rejection by the Conservative party
for having been one of six Tory MPs who refused to support
Sir Anthony Eden's 1956 invasion of Suez; like his older brother
David, then editor of the Observer, he found it "unnecessary
immediately found himself ostracised by his party and vilified
by the Tory press. He discovered that the Conservatives were
"not a party but a regiment", and announced he would
not stand for the "family seat" of Plymouth-Sutton,
which had been first occupied in 1910 by his father, William
Astor, and then by his mother, Nancy Astor, the first woman
to sit in the Commons.
be ostracised from any part of the establishment was a rare
experience for an Astor. Although the first John Jacob Astor
had been an 18th-century German migrant to the United States,
he had made a fortune in the fur trade and invested it in
Manhattan property - the basis of the Astor millions, even
after his descendants transferred their affections to Britain,
where they secured a barony and a viscountcy.
himself was born at Cliveden, the youngest of the four sons
of the 2nd Viscount Astor. He followed his father to Eton
and New College, Oxford, where he first displayed his enthusiasm
for racing. When he came of age, he received his first £1m
from his grandfather's will.
joined the Life Guards, but soon transferred to the Phantom
Regiment, and later to the SAS. Although the excitement of
frontline service appealed, his skills with signals equipment
gave him key supporting roles in the 1942 commando raid on
Dieppe, as a signals officer on a supporting destroyer. He
ended the war as a major, with a military MBE, a Legion d'Honneur
and a Croix de Guerre.
demobilisation, partly to please his mother, he agreed to
fight her old Plymouth-Sutton seat. He failed by 924 votes
in 1950 but succeeded by 710 in 1951, when the Conservatives
returned to office. In the Commons, Jakie showed himself to
be a liberal Tory, aligned with Peter Thorneycroft and RA
Butler, and was one of the first MPs from his party to oppose
capital punishment. He also sought to legalise gambling, and
was an early pro-European.
married three times, first in 1944 to the late "Chiquita"
Carcano, daughter of the Argentine ambassador; they parted
in 1972. In 1976 he married Susan Sheppard; they parted in
1995. Then, in 1988, he married Marcia de Savary, who survives
him, together with a son and daughter from his first marriage.
John Jacob Astor, farmer and horserace breeder, born August
29 1919; died September 10 2000