The Oldie

I served tea at Number 10


SIR: I have read both Quentin Letts’s review (January issue) of Linda Mcdougall’s Marcia Williams and the book itself. In case any of your readers were tempted to do the same, I would like to mention at least two points, one of remarkable insensitiv­ity, and one of pure fantasy.

Mcdougall reports Marcia’s complaint that the civil servants at No 10 did not give Harold Wilson the customary ovation – never an ‘ovation’ in those less emotional days. A subdued sense of loss and sadness for the departure of a loved and respected leader is surely only human, as adjustment­s are made to greet a successor who has made a series of derogatory remarks about the ways and inmates of No 10 before arriving.

The fantasy element is in describing the senior civil servants as gathering in the Private Office in the afternoon to chat and sip tea out of Crown Derby cups! I was a Duty Clerk in the Private Office at the time, and one of my routine chores was twice a day to receive a tray and distribute round the desks an assortment of slightly dripping mugs, perilously heaved up by rope in the Victorian paper lift from the offices below, where clerical staff made tea and coffee in addition to their normal work. These drinks were then consumed while normal desk work continued.

There were no in-house catering arrangemen­ts at all in those days, not even an office tea trolley. Night-duty staff brought in and cooked their suppers and breakfasts – in my earliest days, in the vast subterrane­an kitchen, as seen in National Trust Georgian houses.

These correction­s merely scratch the surface of the years of tension and noisy altercatio­n that followed.

Oh, there is also a misleading element in The Oldie’s illustrati­on. Harold never smoked a pipe. It lived in his Gannex pocket for public appearance­s.

He preferred the high-quality cigars provided on the drinks tray in the Cabinet Room – kept stocked by the taxpayer through the Government Hospitalit­y Fund. Yours ever, Anne Kiggell, Headington, Oxford

 ?? ?? ‘There are many reasons for your dismissal, but let's blame it on climate change'
‘There are many reasons for your dismissal, but let's blame it on climate change'

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