6 Sep 2013

Chris Patten: from ‘double whammy’ to ‘Fat Pang’

As Chris Patten is accused of misleading MPs over big pay-offs to departing BBC staff, Channel 4 News looks back at the colourful career of Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong.

As Chris Patten is accused of misleading MPs over big pay-offs to departing BBC staff, Channel 4 News looks back at the colourful career of Britain's last governor of Hong Kong (Reuters)

The life of a chairman of the BBC Trust is rarely far from controversy these days, as Lord Patten has become painfully aware.

This calm, emollient “safe pair of hands” has been dragged into the row over pay-offs for executives, with former BBC director general Mark Thompson saying he and other trust members were aware of what was doing on.

The BBC Trust has denied the claims and refuted his suggestion that MPs on the Commons public accounts committee were misled.

It is not the first time Lord Patten has been involved in a scrap and it will not be the last.

Conservative party

After Oxford University, he worked for the Conservative party, becoming MP for Bath in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher was first elected prime minister.

He and Lady Thatcher were on opposite sides of the wet/dry divide in the party, with Chris Patten a devout wet who questioned the monetarist direction of the government.

This did not stop him becoming environment secretary in 1989, the year before Lady Thatcher was forced out. He was responsible for the introduction of the poll tax, which helped seal her fate.

His friend Sir John Major made him chairman of the party ahead of the 1992 election, which many assumed the Tories would lose.

Lord Patten’s contribution was the “double whammy”. Saatchi & Saatchi designed posters for the Conservatives which argued that a Labour government would mean higher taxes and prices. At Chris Patten’s recommendation, the words “double whammy” were added.

The street-level advertising did not do the party any harm: John Major was re-elected prime minister.

Hong Kong

But Lord Patten lost his seat and was in need of a new challenge. He was appointed Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong, five years before its historic handover to China.

In this role, he managed to enrage the Chinese government by pursuing a democratic path at odds with a one-party state. After extending the franchise for the colony’s legislative council, he was condemned as the “whore of the east” and a “serpent” in some sections of the Chinese media.

He earned the nickname “Fat Pang”, but Lord Patten’s approach also won him many admirers in Hong Kong.

On the day of the handover, 1 July 1997, he sent a telegram, saying simply: “I have relinquished the administration of this government. God Save The Queen. Patten.”


Lord Patten went to the west London Catholic school, St Benedict’s, which was mired in controversy in 2009 when Father David Pearce, a former headmaster at the junor school, was jailed for sexually abusing five boys over several decades.

The Conservative peer, who has been described as one of Britain’s leading Catholics, chaired a commission on policing in Northern Ireland, as part of the Belfast Agreement.

This resulted in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a name disliked by many Catholic nationalists, being renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Lord Patten also oversaw Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK in 2010.


After becoming chairman of the BBC Trust in 2011, it did not take long before he found himself dealing with the fallout from an ITV documentary which revealed that the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile had been a child abuser and rapist.

The BBC set up two independent inquiries, one of which examined why the corporation’s Newsnight programme had dropped its own investigation into Savile.

Before this review was published, Lord Patten expressed remorse and apologised for the fact that abused women “did not have their stories told as they expected”.

The inquiry, led by Nick Pollard, concluded that the decision to drop the programme was “flawed”, with BBC management beset by “chaos and confusion”.

Newsnight was also criticised after an investigation into child abuse at a children’s home, in which, according to an internal report, “basic journalistic checks were not completed”.

The inaccuracies in the programme led to former Conservative party treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly named on the internet.