Robin Butler, Baron Butler of Brockwell

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The Lord Butler of Brockwell
Lord Butler in 2019
Cabinet Secretary
Head of the Home Civil Service
In office
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
John Major
Tony Blair
Preceded bySir Robert Armstrong
Succeeded bySir Richard Wilson
Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
In office
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byClive Whitmore
Succeeded byNigel Wicks
Personal details
Born (1938-01-03) 3 January 1938 (age 86)
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, England
Gillian Lois Galley
(m. 1962)
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford

Frederick Edward Robin Butler, Baron Butler of Brockwell, KG, GCB, CVO, PC (born 3 January 1938) is a retired British civil servant, now sitting in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.

Early life and family[edit]

Butler was born in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on 3 January 1938. He went to Orley Farm School and Harrow School (where he was Head Boy), then taught for a year at St Dunstan's School, Burnham-on-Sea, before attending University College, Oxford, where he took a double first in Mods and Greats and twice gained a Rugby Blue. He married Gillian Lois Galley in 1962. They have a daughter and two sons.[1]

Civil service career[edit]

Butler had a high-profile career in the civil service from 1961 to 1998, serving as Private Secretary to five Prime Ministers. He was Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service from 1988 to 1998.[2]

He joined HM Treasury in 1961, becoming Private Secretary to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1964–66 and Secretary to the Budget Committee 1965–69.[2]

Early in his career, he was occasionally confused with his namesake Rab Butler. Memos for Rab Butler, some highly sensitive, ended up on his desk, and some of his ended up on Rab's. It was agreed that all memos ambiguously addressed to "R Butler" should go to Rab's office first, and then Rab's office would send on any intended for the other R Butler. It is said that one day the young Butler, who was still playing first class rugby, received a letter that read: "You have been selected for the Richmond 1st XV on Saturday. Please be at Twickenham by 2 p.m.". Underneath, in Rab's distinctive handwriting, was the message: "Dear Robin, I am not free on Saturday. Please could you deputise for me? Rab"![3]

In 1969, he was seconded to the Bank of England and several City institutions. Later at HM Treasury as Assistant Secretary, General Expenditure Intelligence Division, he led the team which installed the UK Government's computerised financial information system 1975-77. He had been a founder member of the Central Policy Review Staff under Lord Rothschild 1971–2. After several senior appointments at the Treasury, he became second Permanent Secretary, Public Expenditure, 1985-87.

He was Private Secretary to Prime Ministers Edward Heath (1972–74) and Harold Wilson (1974–75), and Principal Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher (1982–85).[1][2] Along with Thatcher, he was almost killed in the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton.[1] He was also Cabinet Secretary during the premierships of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair.[1][2]

Other activities[edit]

The University College Boathouse, opened in 2007 during Robin Butler's Mastership of University College, Oxford

After retiring from the Civil Service, Butler was Master of University College, Oxford, 1998–2008.[2] He was made a life peer in the 1998 New Year Honours[4] and was raised to the peerage as Baron Butler of Brockwell, of Herne Hill in the London Borough of Lambeth.[5][6]

He was a non-executive Director of HSBC Group from 1998 to 2008. He was also Chairman of the Corporate Sustainability Committee and the HSBC Global Education Trust. In 2011 he was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Salters.[2] He is a Trustee of the Royal Academy of Music. [7]

In 2004, Lord Butler chaired the Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, widely known as the 'Butler Review', which reviewed the use of intelligence in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War. The report concluded that some of the intelligence about Iraq's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction was seriously flawed.[8] The report also concluded, with regards to the so-called Niger uranium forgeries, that the report Saddam's government was seeking uranium in Africa appeared 'well-founded'.[9]

Honours and arms[edit]



Coat of arms of Robin Butler, Baron Butler of Brockwell
Butler was granted armorial bearings 10 December 2003.[14]
Coronet of a Baron
Out of a Well a demi Badger Azure the head Argent and eye-stripes Azure.
Mantling Or and Azure.
Azure a Cross flory and parted Or between four Covered Cups bases inwards Argent.
On either side a Lion Argent armed and langued Azure and holding in the interior forepaw a Lymphad flags flying Or.
Latin: Serve and maintain
The Order of the Garter; The Order of the Bath; The Royal Victorian Order
The banner of the Baron Butler of Brockwell's arms used as Knight Companion of the Garter depicted at St George's Chapel.
A Martlet close Azure beaked and enfiling a Coronet Or.
The cross and martlet refer to University College, Oxford. The covered cups refer to the arms used by various families with the name of Butler. The badger (a brock) and the well refer to Brockwell in the peerage title of The Lord Butler of Brockwell.


  1. ^ a b c d BBC News Profile: Lord Butler of Brockwell
  2. ^ a b c d e f Salt Talk issue 9 (2011) p6 "The Master"
  3. ^ D. R. Thorpe (2011) "Supermac - the Life of Harold MacMillan" Random House, ISBN 1844135411, page 751
  4. ^ a b "No. 54993". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1997. p. 1.
  5. ^ a b "No. 55047". The London Gazette. 18 February 1998. p. 1911.
  6. ^ a b "No. 24350". The Edinburgh Gazette. 20 February 1998. p. 419.
  7. ^ "Governing Body". Royal Academy of Music.
  8. ^ The Daily Telegraph, 18 September 2011, p.16.
  9. ^ The Rt. Hon. The Lord Butler of Brockwell (14 July 2004). HC 898: Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction (PDF) (Report). London: The Stationery Office. p. 137. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  10. ^ "No. 50361". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1985. p. 4.
  11. ^ "No. 51171". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1987. p. 3.
  12. ^ "No. 52952". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1992. p. 3.
  13. ^ "No. 56915". The London Gazette. 23 April 2003. p. 5017.
  14. ^ "The Arms of The Right Honourable Baron Butler of Brockwell, K.G., G.C.B., C.V.O., P.C." College of Arms. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2022.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cabinet Secretary & Head of the Home Civil Service
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Master of University College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by Gentlemen
Baron Butler of Brockwell
Followed by