Anthony Quinton, 1925-2010

July 8, 2010

A leading philosopher and public servant who achieved wider public recognition as a quiz-show host has died.

Anthony Quinton, Lord Quinton of Holywell, was born in London on 25 March 1925 and educated at Stowe School before securing a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. He had a lucky escape in 1940 when the passenger ship SS City of Benares was torpedoed while he and his mother were being evacuated to her native Canada. Although about 300 people died, including most of those who had taken to a lifeboat, they were both among the eight survivors.

After war service in the RAF, Lord Quinton finished his degree in philosophy, politics and economics and became a prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford in 1949. He was to remain at the University of Oxford for the rest of his career, first as a Fellow in philosophy at New College (1955-78) and then as president of Trinity College (1978-87).

Yet he also developed close links with the US - partly through his wife of almost 60 years, the sculptor Marcelle Wegier, a German-Jewish refugee who grew up in New York - and accepted a number of visiting appointments there. The couple published a joint memoir, Before We Met, in 2008.

Although he had little time for what he saw as the needless obscurity of much continental philosophy, Lord Quinton's interests were exceptionally wide-ranging and he produced much witty and entertaining journalism alongside his more scholarly output.

His most important work is a study of metaphysics, The Nature of Things (1973), although he also wrote a sympathetic study of Utilitarian Ethics (1973), plus books including Thoughts and Thinkers (1982) and a volume of essays titled From Wodehouse to Wittgenstein (1998).

Broadly conservative in outlook, Lord Quinton taught the future Chancellor Nigel Lawson and later acted as an adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who made him a life peer in 1982.

He also produced a celebrated historical overview, The Politics of Imperfection: The Religious and Secular Traditions of Conservative Thought in England from Hooker to Oakeshott (1978).

Among other prominent public roles, Lord Quinton served as chair of the board of the British Library at the time of its traumatic move from the much-loved Round Reading Room to St Pancras. He regularly appeared on radio programmes such as Quote, Unquote and, once the producers realised he was just too knowledgeable to be a panellist, as compere of the Round Britain Quiz.

Lord Quinton died on 19 June and is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

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