Michael Quinlan (civil servant)

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Sir Michael Edward Quinlan, GCB (11 August 1930 – 26 February 2009) was a distinguished former British defence strategist and former Permanent Under-Secretary of State (generally known as the Permanent Secretary) at the British Ministry of Defence, who wrote and lectured on defence and matters of international security, especially nuclear weapon policies and doctrine, and also on concepts of ‘Just War’ and related ethical issues.

Early life

Quinlan was born on 11 August 1930 in Hampton, Middlesex, England[1] to Gerald and Roseanne Quinlan.[2] He was educated at Wimbledon College, the Jesuit boys' high school. Then he attended Merton College, University of Oxford, graduating with a Double First in Classics. He completed his national service in the RAF[1] between 1952 and 1954.[2]

Civil Service career

In 1954, Quinlan joined the Air Ministry as a civil servant. He was Private Secretary to two Chiefs of the Air Staff: Sir Thomas Pike from 1962 to 1963, and Sir Charles Elworthy from 1963 to 1965. He was Deputy Secretary (policy and programmes) at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) from 1977 to 1981.[2] He was Permanent Under-Secretary at the MOD from 1988 to 1992.[1] These years saw the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.[2]

Outside the Ministry of Defence he was Permanent Secretary, Department of Employment (1983–88); Deputy Secretary, HM Treasury (1981–82) and Under-Secretary, Cabinet Office (1974–77).[3] He retired from the Civil Service in 1992.

Later life

On retirement, Quinlan became Director of the Ditchley Foundation, holding the position until 1999.[3] In 2001, he became Chairman of the The Tablet Trust, publisher of the Catholic newspaper The Tablet.

He was one of the world's foremost experts in deterrence theory, contributing to debate and books in this field. He also wrote his own book on this matter shortly before his death. His contributions were recognised by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in a speech given on 17 March 2009.[citation needed] Historian of government Peter Hennessy called him the leading in-house defence intellectual MOD has possessed since World War II.[4]

He died on 26 February 2009.[1]


As part of the 1991 New Year Honours, Quinlan was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).[5]

Personal life

Quinlan married Mary Finlay in 1965, with whom he had four children including actress and comedy writer Carrie Quinlan. He was a devout Roman Catholic.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Obituary - Sir Michael Quinlan". The Telegraph. 1 March 2009. Retrieved 7 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Mottram, Richard (2 March 2009). "Obituary - Sir Michael Quinlan". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Former Directors". Ditchley Foundation. Retrieved 16 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Peter Hennessy (3 February 2011). "Cabinets and the Bomb". House of Lords outreach programme - 2011 annual lecture. UK Parliament. Retrieved 16 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 52382. p. 3. 28 December 1990. Retrieved 2012-07-06.


External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Kenneth Barnes
Permanent Secretary of the Department of Employment
1983 – 1988
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey Holland
Preceded by
Sir Clive Whitmore
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence
1988 - 1992
Succeeded by
Sir Christopher France