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At the Cutting Edge

Sir Fred Catherwood

(Published by Hodder and Stoughton)

It is fairly unusual for me to choose to review an autobiography and they tend to be fairly uncommon in Christian circles. It is also pleasant to be able to review the life of someone that I have actually met. As a teacher of Business Studies, amongst my various subjects, I have appreciated Catherwood’s writings on a Christian in an Industrial Society and the Christian Citizen. This book gives a picture on his life from his childhood in Northern Ireland to his seat on the European Parliament and mixing with the great and good of the British political establishment. Sir Fred is best known in some circles for the lady that he married, rather than what he achieved, as he is the husband of Elizabeth Lloyd-Jones (the eldest daughter of The Doctor).

The Catherwood’s are an Ulster Protestant family and in his childhood he was often taken to Brethren assembly meetings. His father invested in a bus business and was successful in capturing significant trade on the main routes from Belfast to Ballymena – in an era of heavy competition he built it on the corner stones of reliable buses, experienced drivers, courteous conductors and a regular service. In the summer of 1934, Sir Fred was converted at a series of tent mission meetings led by Fred Elliott (a Scottish miner missionary). His parents would then send him to boarding school in England where he went from Shrewsbury to Cambridge.

At Cambridge, he became involved with CICCU. In this environment he came into contact with the Rev. Eric Nash (Bash) who was an insurance clerk turned clergyman that had a single minded vision for the establishment of evangelicals in English public schools to seek the conversion of future decision makers. As Catherwood comments, ‘Right or Wrong, Bash’s strategy has been spectacularly successful. Church life is now studded with the products of Bash Camps and public school Christian unions – John Stott of All Souls, Langham Place; Dick Lucas of St. Helens, Bishopsgate and Timothy Dudley-Smith, former bishop and perhaps the greatest hymnwriter of our generation; the chaplain at Shrewsbury for many years, Michael Tucker, and Mark Ruston, a much loved vicar of the strategic Round Church at Cambridge were both senior officers in my time.’ The passages on these camps gives other names of prominent evangelicals all affected by this approach. Bash discouraged the lads from having girlfriends, since this tended to lead to marriage which ordinands and chaplains could often not afford and he was against the intellectual tendencies of the IVF.

After University, in London, Catherwood started to attend Westminster Chapel where Dr. M. Lloyd Jones was the minister and there he felt he had found a solid doctrinal structure for his faith. A little while later in 1952, he was in the company of the Doctor’s oldest daughter and realised that she was a lady of great character. However, she had taken against Bash-campers whilst at Oxford and sworn never to marry one, eventually she agreed to go to dinner and saw that behind his Cambridge accent was an Ulster Scot.

The book then goes on through his meteoric rise in a set of industries to running a range of significant companies. He was head-hunted to government and began to chair a series of development councils (Neddies) that got him into direct contact with a whole plethora of political leaders. He eventually stood for the European Parliament and represented Cambridge as an MEP. His insight on the political battles around Europe and in the Conservative Party is very interesting and a challenge to a view that assumes everything from Europe is necessarily compromised by Rome.

This book is a worthwhile read especially for any readers that will be familiar with the political backdrop with which he is interacting.

Treasures from Bible Times VanTil Scottish Reformation Reisinger

June 2020