Constituents with digital TV and an appetite for the livelier side of politics may have been watching the serialisation of Alan Clark’s diaries on BBC4.
I play a small part in the diaries themselves, the equivalent of a spear carrier in an American epic. When he was in low spirits, after yet another brush with officialdom, I provided him with some words of comfort. But we were not that close; my views on what the Party we were both members of should be doing were not his; we were never colleagues in the same Departments; and his outside pre-occupations, the First World War, fast cars, and women to whom he was not married, were not mine. He was amusing company in the tearoom, but he seemed to live in a different world.
But I have played a larger part in the television series. Son No 2, who works in films, asked if he could bring the team writing, producing and filming the series to the House of Commons so they could assimilate the atmosphere and get an idea of the geography.
And so I found myself on the terrace of the House of Commons last summer, telling John Hurt about Alan, escorting him to a committee room to describe how our procedures worked and explaining that his most difficult problem was the replication of Alan Clark’s gait. Alan walked in a somewhat exaggerated way – not quite a swagger, but with much movement of the hands. And he walked fast. John Hurt took my advice, as it were, in his stride. I have seen the first two episodes and enjoyed them. They show what an accurate representation of life “Yes, Minister” was.
I first met Alan Clark the day that we both arrived at the House of Commons, nearly thirty years ago on Monday, March 4th 1974. We had both won our seats on Feb 28th and were new boys, looking for our lockers and our desks.
As with all forms of employment, the most important place to visit on day 1 is the office that pays the salaries and, in the case of MP’s, provides you the rail travel vouchers.
I was ahead of Alan in the queue, and explained my modest travel requirements. My constituency was seven miles from Westminster, my home was twenty miles from my constituency. The man from the Fees Office looked relieved, and remarked that my claims on the public purse would not be great.
Alan was next, and he beamed at the official. “I am going to be far more expensive than Sir George.” He said. “I represent Plymouth, which is 240 miles to the west; and I live at Saltwood Castle , 50 miles in the opposite direction. I am going to cost you an arm and a leg”
His aristocratic chuckle echoed through the cloisters as I stumbled out, and asked a policeman the way to the Members Tea Room.