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He was born and spent his early life in Great Crosby, Liverpool. He initially attended St Luke's Church, Crosby (where he was confirmed in 1936), before switching to St Faith's Church about a mile down the road. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, Crosby before going up to Brasenose College, Oxford. During World War II, he served as a tank commander in the Scots Guards, earning the Military Cross.
During his time in the key Anglican position, he witnessed a breaking down of the historic connections between the Conservative Party and the Church of England, which had often been described as "the Tory party at prayer". This was due mainly to Margaret Thatcher's support for the ethos of individualism and money-making, and her claim that "there is no such thing as society", which many in the Anglican church thought was uncaring and anti-Christian (ironically, Mrs Thatcher had been brought up in the Methodist Church, a branch of Christianity which had previously been associated with socialism and the Labour Party, especially in South Wales where the strong culture of Methodist chapels had been a factor in the disestablishment of the Anglican church).
In a dramatic gesture of goodwill he knelt in prayer with Pope John Paul II in the Cathedral of Canturbury during the his visit to Great Britan.
In 1985, there was strong friction between the Church of England and the Conservative Government, in particular Norman Tebbit, over the Church's report "Faith in the City", which criticised the government's handling of social problems in British inner-city areas. As a result of this, Tebbit became a strong supporter of the disestablishment of the Church of England, claiming that institutions affiliated to the British State should not express what he saw as overtly partisan political views.
When he retired as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was created a life peer, as Baron Runcie, of Cuddesdon in the County of Oxfordshire, enabling him to remain in the House of Lords where he had previously sat as a Lord Spiritual. He died of cancer in 2000.
Lord Runcie's wife, Rosalind , was well-known as a pianist.
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