A SERVICE of celebration for the life of a former Conservative MP from Caversham took place on Monday.
Sir Anthony Durant, who served as a government whip under Margaret Thatcher, died in February aged 88.
He was elected as MP for Reading North in 1974 and continued to serve as member for Reading West following boundary changes in 1983 until 1997, when he retired.
He also served as vice-chamberlain of the royal household from 1988 to 1990. He was knighted in 1991.
Hundreds of people attended the service at Reading Minster, including current Reading West MP Alok Sharma and businessman and Reading FC chairman Sir John Madejski.
His widow Audrey, whom he married in 1958, and their sons Nick and Marcus and daughter Karen Rogers were also present.
The service was presided over by Rev Stephen Pullen, area dean of Reading.
Chris Poole, who worked alongside Sir Anthony as a professional organiser for the Conservative Party, said: “He was a common sense politician. He said it as he saw it.
“He was elected to Reading North in 1974, returned in 1979 and then again in Reading West in 1983, 1987 and 1992. It was the electors’ way of saying ‘thank you for your diligence, for being there and putting us first’.
“I can give you an example — there are not many MPs who go out on Christmas morning to the fire station and say, ‘I realise you have given up your Christmas Day and I know you have children at home’ but I have just come to say thanks for giving up your celebrations to keep us safe’.”
Further tributes were given by Martin Salter, who became Labour MP for Reading West after Sir Anthony retired, and former Conservative government minister Lord Young, who also started as an MP in 1974.
Mr Salter spoke about Sir Anthony campaigning in 1994 for the homosexual age of consent to be reduced from 21 to 18.
He said: “He is best remembered for persuading people on lowering the age of sexual consent. At that time he was running up support and put forward a groundbreaking amendment.
“He said there were only three things you were not allowed to do until you were 21 — drive an HGV, become an MP and have sex with another man.
“He wanted to change precedent and reduce discrimination. David Cameron stated marriage equality was part of his legacy but it started long before with the campaign of Tony Durant.”
Lord Young said: “He had the ability to hold a marginal seat against the swing and build up a majority so it was no longer a target.
“He was instinctively loyal to the party and its leadership with the necessary courage to say when he thought it was taking a wrong turn.
“He was popular with his colleagues, effective in the chamber, good company in the tea room and generous with the rounds in the smoking room.
“The party needs a lot of Tony Durants in these tumultuous times.”
Hymns sung included My God and King, Eternal Father, Strong to Save and I Vow to Thee, My Country. Two verses of the National Anthem were also sung.
At the church there was a book of photographs compiled by Sir Anthony’s family. On the front was a caricature of him during his time as vice-chamberlain of the royal household, holding a letter for the Queen.
Donations will go towards the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.