Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Michael Howard recalls father's death from breast cancer

Michael Howard was 24 in 1966, the year his father died

Former Conservative leader and Home Secretary Michael Howard has talked at length for the first time about the impact on his family of his father's death from breast cancer at the age of 49.

Now in the House of Lords, he's been interviewed for a documentary, Finding Blue in the Pink. It's been released by the Men Have It Too campaign.

Bernard Howard was a prominent Llanelli businessman, who owned three shops in the town. When he received his cancer diagnosis in 1966, he was told there was no hope of successful treatment for the disease.

Bernard and Michael Howard in the early 1960s

We were told he had breast cancer and only had six months to live. We were all completely devastated, my mother, my sister, the other members of our family.

Families going through the same thing have my deepest sympathy, it’s very difficult to stay strong. We tried very hard to think about everything that could be done to try and help him, and any slightest little chink of light or hope we seized, we hung on to. But, nothing could be done and the diagnosis proved to be absolutely accurate.

Of course, there’s been a lot of progress since the 1960s, but it’s the case that breast cancer is still an illness that still needs to be addressed.

– Lord Howard of Lympne
Michael Howard's parents Bernard and Hilda. On the right is his aunt, Rosie, who had survived Auschwitz.

The family were no strangers to tragedy, as Bernard Howard's mother and several other relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. He was born in 1916 into a Jewish family in Ruscova, a village that was transferred from Hungary to Romania after the First World War.

Bernard Howard arrived in Britain as Bernat Hecht in 1937, to take up a post in a London synagogue. He moved to Llanelli to marry his wife, whose family were in the clothing business. His sister, who'd survived Auschwitz, joined him in Wales after the Second World War.

The Howards advertised their expanding business in the Llanelli Star

In the documentary, Michael Howard says his father "was the greatest influence on my early life and I loved him deeply. I even miss him today, more than 50 years after his death". The Northampton University journalism student who interviewed Lord Howard was struck by the strength of his emotions.

When he was talking about when he and his family heard about his diagnosis, and how devastated they were, it was very emotional for him.

By being in the documentary, I think people who have only seen him as a politician, will get to see a different side to Michael Howard. He was eager to express his condolences to all families who have lost loved ones to cancer, as he knows what they have been through.

I lost both of my nans due to that horrific disease. At first, I wanted the documentary to focus on female breast cancer and explore possible treatments and support.

But, while I was doing the research, I was shocked by the fact that it can happen to men too, as I don't even remember reading about it.

It was difficult to make a documentary like that, simply because of all the emotions floating around, but, deep down I knew I had to do it.

I hope that when people see the documentary they will understand that breast cancer is not a female-only disease, and that men will understand the importance of self-checking, before it is too late.

– Documentary Maker Bruna Tomsic