Campbell, Patrick Gordon (1913–80), 3rd Baron Glenavy , journalist, wit, and television personality, was born 6 June 1913 in Dublin, the eldest of the three children (two sons and a daughter) of Gordon Campbell (qv) and his wife Beatrice Moss Campbell (qv). Although his parents lived in London, his mother returned to Ireland for the births of their elder two children, and on the formation of the Irish Free State Gordon Campbell abandoned his promising career in Britain to take up the position of secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce in Dublin. The roles of his father and grandfather, James H. M. Campbell (qv), in the apparatus of the new Free State led to their lives and property being threatened by republicans. At the age of nine, Campbell witnessed the burning of his home on Christmas Eve 1922 by anti-treaty forces (followed shortly thereafter by an arms raid on his grandparents’ house), after which he developed a pronounced stammer. It is a matter for speculation how far this contributed to the later development of his personality, which was marked by deep shyness and insecurity, combining willed affability and an inconsequential attitude with near-complete inability to form deep friendships outside his tightly knit family circle.
Educated at Crawley's preparatory school (Stephen's Green, Dublin), Castle Park preparatory school (Dalkey), Rossall School (Lancashire), and, briefly, Pembroke College, Oxford, Campbell joined the staff of the Irish Times in 1935, after a three-year business apprenticeship with Siemens-Schukert (where his father had developed contacts during his work on the Shannon Scheme) in Munich and Berlin, where he witnessed and was appalled by the coming to power of the Nazi movement. Campbell's educational and business career was marked by a persistent lack of academic aptitude and failure to take anything (except drinking and chasing women) seriously. His father (whom he referred to as ‘the Lord’, and who had hoped to place him in the British Foreign Office) frequently warned him of the family's precarious financial position and complained of the opportunities he had wasted. The move to the Irish Times, brought about by the intercession of ‘the Lord’ with R. M. Smyllie (qv), represented a last attempt to provide him with a profession, which (as Campbell later recalled with relief) then required ‘no degrees, no diplomas, no training and no specialised knowledge of any kind’ (Campbell, 122). Despite his prophesies of doom, ‘the Lord’ made over considerable sums of money to his son at intervals, telling a friend: ‘Patrick is the sort of person who can't live well without money’ (O'Connor, 35). After his father's death in 1963 Campbell continued to think of him as ‘the last real Lord Glenavy’ and rarely used the title socially.
At the Irish Times Campbell held a multiplicity of posts, including film and literary critic and leader writer, and was given considerable guidance by Smyllie in shaping his prose style; however, he drew particular attention through his court reporting and his perceptive, impertinent, and highly humorous ‘Dáil sketch’. Campbell's self-deprecatory autobiography My life and easy times (1967) states that his father warned him that the sketch was damaging his business interests, although Campbell had acquired its contemptuous attitude towards catholic Ireland in general and Fianna Fáil in particular from his father's table talk. According to the writer Ulick O'Connor, who frequented the Campbells’ family circle in Dublin, Campbell's writing style was heavily influenced by the family's tone of discourse.
In 1938 a letter from Campbell's father to Lord Beaverbrook, a friend of his grandfather, secured an interview and a position at Express Newspapers. Assigned to the Daily Express, he was transferred after a short unproductive period to the Evening Standard (1938), from which he was let go after failing to make an impression. Returning hastily to Dublin on the outbreak of war, he joined the Dublin Port control service in 1940 after a period of boating on the Shannon and became a petty officer on the patrol vessel MV Noray, which checked out vessels wishing to enter Dublin Port. (Campbell had some experience of yachting, which was one of his favourite amusements throughout his life; however, he was unable to secure promotion because of his mathematical deficiencies and because the British Board of Trade refused to accept his service as constituting maritime experience.) In later life he was somewhat ambivalent about his wartime service: he described it in terms of humorous self-deprecation (as he did all his experiences; as O'Connor points out, this glossed over the genuine ‘dangers and rigours’ involved), and although he argued that he had fulfilled his duty to Ireland he harboured suspicions that some of his British acquaintances despised him for not having joined the British forces. (These feelings were intensified by the death of his sister and her husband in the London blitz.) In May 1960 he was elected honorary president of the naval branch of Óglaigh Náisiúnta na h-Éireann, the organisation of national ex-servicemen.
On his discharge in 1944, which he requested owing to boredom, Campbell rejoined the staff of the Irish Times as Quidnunc to write ‘An Irishman's diary’, transforming it from a trite miscellany into an engagingly witty personal column. A selection of his ‘diary’ pieces was published in 1947; while mostly humorous descriptions of Irish events and of the doings of the sporting set with whom he mingled in Dublin's bars and hotels, it included a biting piece – inspired by Frank O'Connor (qv) – on the censorship board's banning of O'Connor's translation of Brian Merriman's (qv) The midnight court (Campbell later recalled that this exclusive made no impact whatsoever). Having honed his individual style, Campbell became a columnist for the Irish edition of the Sunday Dispatch before leaving the Irish Times to work in London. Smyllie was disgusted at what he regarded as desertion, though there were signs of reconciliation shortly before the latter's death and Campbell always acknowledged what he owed to him.
In London, Campbell contributed to several publications, including Lilliput (1947–53), the Spectator, Punch, the Sunday Express, and the Sunday Times (1961–78). In accordance with his lifelong fear of authority he preferred to write for these at a distance, believing close contact with editors inevitably led to trouble. He also wrote for film and television (which he had first contacted through reporting on the making of Captain Boycott (1947) in Ireland), perhaps most notably contributing to the screenplay of Lucky Jim (1957). He socialised widely around Pinewood Studios. By the early 1960s Campbell found that his style of light journalism was going out of fashion; his difficulties were increased by the disintegration of his second marriage and his failure to make sufficient provision for the tax liabilities he had incurred in the fat years. Some of his Dublin literary acquaintances began to suggest that his brother Michael Campbell (qv) (now making a career as a novelist) was the real talent in the family and Patrick was an inconsequential funnyman. He was saved from disaster by securing a column in the Sunday Times (through the assistance of a new agent, Irene Josephy) and making a new career in television from January 1962.
An amusing writer and versatile raconteur, Campbell was a natural for television and proved popular on successful BBC shows such as Not so much a programme, more a way of life . . ., where he developed the persona of an amiable old-fashioned gentleman, slightly bewildered by modern trends and observing old-fashioned standards of politeness. He also made television advertisements for such products as Schweppes minerals, whose reference to their products as ‘Sch . . .’ suited his stammer well. In the 1970s he was particularly associated with the quiz show Call my bluff, which revolved around the meanings of recondite words. The depressive side of his personality was concealed from most of his admirers, though it emerged on such occasions of grief as his mother's death in 1970, when he experienced a temporary breakdown.
Ironically, Campbell's stammer became the hallmark of his television career; one of his published collections of humorous sketches was entitled The P-p-penguin Patrick Campbell (1965). (The critic Desmond Zwar remarked: ‘Patrick Campbell has done for stuttering what the house of lords have done for abortion and homosexuality. He has made it a discussable subject’ (O'Connor, 33)). Other books were A long drink of cold water (1950); A short trot with a cultured mind (1952); Life in thin slices (1954); Patrick Campbell's omnibus (1956); Come here till I tell you (1960); Constantly in pursuit (1962); How to become a scratch golfer (1963) – Campbell was a skilled golfer though, as with his other pursuits, he avoided taking it seriously enough to make an impact; Brewing up in the basement (1963); Rough husbandry (1965); A bunch of new roses (1967); The coarse of events (1968); The high speed gasworks (1970); Fat Tuesday tails (1972); and 35 years on the job (1973). Many of these are illustrated by Ronald Searle cartoons emphasising (as Campbell himself did) his tall, lanky physique and physical gaucheness.
Campbell's relationships with women were numerous and mostly unsuccessful; he attributed this to his habit of beginning them with an intense period of obsession, followed by a return to his boulevardier lifestyle, which left the woman with the suspicion that his previous interest had been fraudulent. His preference for socialising with fellow journalists and writers over home life also contributed to the demise of his first two marriages. In 1941 he married Sylvia Willoughby Lee (divorced 1947). His second marriage (1947), to Cherry Margaret Lawson (née Monro; Campbell was cited as co-respondent in her divorce and she was co-respondent in his), ended in divorce in 1966. They had one daughter, Brigid Margaret, whose early childhood provided Campbell with much amusement and journalistic copy. She married the jazz guitarist Gregory Reilly.
In 1966 Campbell married Vivienne Orme (née Knight), a film script writer and producer who had been a longtime professional associate. His autobiography is described as ‘produced by Vivienne Knight’, since she helped him to write it by discussing the subject matter of each chapter and taking detailed notes of their discussions which were used as the basis for his final text. They moved to Oppio (near Grasse) in the south of France, where Campbell revelled in the Latin life and sunshine while commuting to Britain for his television work and continuing to produce his weekly column. In 1978 he dropped the Sunday Times column; although he intended to remain an occasional contributor he found it impossible to produce without the discipline of a weekly deadline. Many of his sketches describe his French experiences, and a book on the south of France was unfinished at his death.
In 1972 a period of illness led to the discovery that Campbell had suffered an undetected heart attack some years previously and had a permanent heart weakness. An attack of viral pneumonia in 1980 exacerbated this condition, and he died suddenly 9 November 1980 while talking to a nurse at University College Hospital, London.