Smithers, Peter Henry Berry Otway 1913-2006

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SMITHERS, Peter Henry Berry Otway 1913-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born December 9, 1913, in Moor Allerton, Yorkshire, England; died June 8, 2006, in Vico Morcote, Switzerland. Diplomat, politician, spy, lawyer, horticulturist, photographer, and author. Although he led a remarkable life as a wartime spy, member of the British Parliament, and diplomat to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, Smithers was always at heart a gardener, and he achieved fame for his garden in Switzerland and for creating new varieties of orchids. He took a serious interest in horticulture even as a youth. He was allowed to attend the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower show when he was only thirteen, and he created an extensive plant index while still a public school student. For his higher education, he attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated with first-class honors in modern history in 1934, continuing on to a master's degree three years later. Entering the law, he was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1936 and joined Lincoln's Inn the next year. War interrupted this career, and he enlisted in the naval reserves. He became sick with measles, however, and was given duties on land. Becoming involved in espionage, Smithers worked under Ian Fleming, the creator of the James Bond novels, and some later speculated that Smithers inspired some of Fleming's characters, though perhaps not the master spy himself. After World War II, Smithers became a rural district councilor for the city of Winchester, and in 1950 he was elected to Parliament on the Tory ticket. He represented the Winchester Division of Hampshire from then until 1964, meanwhile earning a doctorate from Oxford in 1954. His doctoral thesis was published as The Life of Joseph Addison (1954; 2nd edition, 1968). During the early 1960s, he was a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and was under-secretary of state in the Foreign Office during his last two years in Parliament. He drew on his United Nations experiences to write Governmental Control: A Prerequisite for Effective Relations between the United Nations and Non-United Nations Regional Organizations (1973). In 1964 he was chosen as the first Englishman to serve as Secretary General of the Council of Europe, a post he held for five years. His later career included being a senior research fellow for the U.N. Institute for Training and Research until 1972, and he was general rapporteur for the European Conference of Parliamentarians and Scientists from 1970 until 1977. Although he was knighted for his service in 1970, Smithers found his greatest pleasures as a serious gardener. While in England, he cultivated his parents' gardens adjacent to Winchester Cathedral. Retiring to Switzerland, he created a garden at his home that included some ten thousand different species of plant and which was declared by the Financial Times to be one of the five hundred greatest gardens since the Roman Empire. In 2001, his garden was named best in Switzerland, and he received the Schulthess Prize for it. One of his favorite flowers was the orchid, which he cultivated into two new varieties himself; he became well known, too, for his photography of his floral achievements. Among his other honors, Smithers was named a Chevalier of France's Legion of Honor and was presented with Mexico's Aztec Eagle. He wrote about his life in Adventures of a Gardener (1995).



Smithers, Peter, Adventures of a Gardener, Harvill Press with the Royal Horticultural Society (London, England), 1995.


Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2006, p. B9.

New York Times, June 25, 2006, p. A25.

Times (London, England), June 15, 2006, p. 62.

Washington Post, July 1, 2006, p. B7.

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Smithers, Peter Henry Berry Otway 1913-2006

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