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Biographical entry Exeter, David George Brownlow Cecil, Marquess of (1905 - 1981)

KCMG 1943; Hon FRCS 1964.

5 February 1905
21 October 1981
Athlete and Politician


Lord Burghley, as he was better known in his youth, was born on 5 February, 1905 the eldest son and heir of the fifth Marquess of Exeter, KG, and a descendent of Lord Burghley, the Lord Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. He was educated at Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge. His athletic ability soon became famous and he won every honour open to him, at Cambridge, in the AAA championships and in the Olympics. While he was an undergraduate he ran round the Great Court at Trinity College while the clock was striking mid-day, covering the distance of 380 yards in 42½ seconds. In the film Chariots of fire this feat was erroneously attributed to Lord Exeter's fellow athlete, Harold Abrahams. His best known victory was in 1928 in the 400 metres hurdles when the Olympic Games were held in Amsterdam.

In 1931 he entered Parliament as a Conservative Member for the Peterborough Division of Northamptonshire and held the seat until 1943, though on the outbreak of war he announced that he would not stand again. During the war he served first in the Army as a Staff Captain Tank Supply in 1940, as Major DAD in 1941 and Lieutenant-Colonel AD in 1942. He was then appointed Controller of American Supplies and Repairs at the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1943 and shortly afterwards succeeded Lord Knollys as Governor of Bermuda, where he stayed until 1945.

After the war, though his own athletic career had been cut short by injury, he maintained a close interest in the athletic world and was President of the AAA, President of the International Amateur Athletic Federation and a member of the International Olympic Committee. He was largely responsible, in conditions of considerable difficulty, for the successful organisation of the first post-war Olympic Games in London in 1948.

Among other offices he held were those of President of the English Tourist Board and of the BTA, Rector of St Andrew's University from 1949 to 1952 and Mayor of Stamford in 1961. He succeeded his father as 6th Marquess in 1956. He was an old Olympic colleague of Lord Porritt, another medal winner, after the first world war and continued the association on athletic committees after the second world war. His work on health and fitness was recognised by the Honorary FRCS in 1964, when Lord Porritt (then Sir Arthur) was PRCS. He was very proud of his association with the College and he served as a Trustee of the Hunterian Museum from 1962 until his death. In later life he underwent three operations for arthroplasty of the hip and he found the shape of a hip prosthesis so pleasing that one was substituted for the more familiar 'Silver Lady' on the radiator cap of his Rolls-Royce.

He died on 21 October, 1981, at the age of 76, survived by his wife Diana and four daughters.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 23 October 1981].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England