Neville Chamberlain: He discovered the Bahaman oriole but his favourite bird was the blackcap

EVERYONE knows about Neville Chamberlain.

He is the slightly-built man standing at an aerodrome, simultaneously waving a piece of paper in his hand and proclaiming something about peace in our time.

That is the image most people have of Chamberlain - surely one of the most ill-regarded prime ministers of the past 100 years.

Ever since 1939, his apparent readiness to 'appease' the territorial aggression of Hitler has been roundly condemned as spineless and shameful.

The extent to which that unkind perspective is justified is entirely another matter. In any case, a single episode in his political career should not be allowed to obliterate all other considerations of Chamberlain - a decent, shy and misunderstood man who, in his 71 years, made an enormous contribution across a wide spectrum of human activity.

Before entering politics, he was a sisal farmer in the Bahamas, then a successful businessman at an engineering works in his native Birmingham.

Less well known is that he was also a skilful angler, entomologist . . . and birdwatcher.

He kept diligent records of the birds (including red-backed shrike and hawfinch) he saw both in and around his home city, during his time as a pupil at Rugby School and on holidays, both home and overseas.

In the Bahamas, he is credited with finding a new species, the Bahaman oriole.

Even as Prime Minister, he found time to ‘escape’ from 10 Downing Street in order to track the species (including scaup and common sandpiper) in nearby St James’ Park.

His favourite bird was the blackcap.

He learnt the craft of taxidermy, and some of the birds he stuffed while in the Bahamas are held to this day within the Natural History Museum's collection at Tring in Hertfordshire.

The life and enthusiasms of an extraordinary man are explored in Neville Chamberlain: Angler, Birdwatcher, Farmer, Prime Minister which is available (price £2) as an ebook via Kindle.