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He was never distinguished as a scholar, and left university with a third-class degree of which he said, later in life, rather ruefully, ''I'm afraid I spent rather too much time at the wicket.'' None the less, the vision of an outer world to which Oxford introduced this scion of a somewhat obscure landed family served the Conservative candidate in Lanark in 1931 well.Home brought a larger understanding than was common among Tory candidates in the Scotland of that time to the grim, and sometimes desperate, affairs of a depressed local economy.Mindful of the fact that a speech in Preston would be closely scrutinised in the United States, he took the central slogan of the 18th-century American revolutionaries - ''No taxation without representation'' - and inverted it.So far as the Soviet Union was concerned, he said that there should be ''no representation without taxation''. Until 1935 Home's understanding of foreign policy was derived entirely from his reading of history.His father began to teach him to shoot and fish at the age of six, and these two sports absorbed him for the rest of his life.(He never learnt to ride properly, as he was afflicted with a weak back.) To the despair of his mother, he was intensely shy outside the family circle. ''My mother,'' he told me, ''was constantly having children's parties, or packing me off to parties at other houses. I just wanted to spend my time with a book, or out with William and Henry and a rod or a gun.'' Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, however, brought out the inherent geniality of Home's temperament.
Partly because his national electoral defeat had been so narrow, and partly because of his unforced good nature, Home would have been a certain winner in the party poll of August 1965.
Alec Home was certainly, in Kipling's meaning, a Man; and he met Triumph and Disaster with an unruffled serenity which was the essence of his nature.
Perhaps the most characteristic event in Home's life came in August 1965.
His historical reading had brought him to a deep, and later profound, interest in international relations, which was wonderfully expressed in his Letters to a Grandson (1983).
Home could absorb the most complex of political information and, for a speech, distil it with simple lucidity.
As with many aristocratic families - particularly the Border families - the wealth and respectability of the Homes was founded on a somewhat murky (if distant) historical background: family tradition has it that the distinctive pronunciation of the name - ''Hume'' - came about because the first Earl of Home, in the course of a cattle-rustling raid into England, was ambushed by indignant cattle owners.