“Lloyd George Knew My Father”
by Alan Coren
in “Punch”, 26 October 1977
It is with a heavy heart and a lovely thick nib that I now set down the dire events in which I became inextricably enmeshed more than a year ago. Events that were ultimately to shake the entire civilised world; or, at any rate, that part of it which feels that man's dark destiny and the future of the Parliamentary Liberal Party are really one and the same thing.
It was at a small souper intime in September 1976 that I first made the acquaintance of Mr X. The acquaintance was Mr Y, and Mr X was very nice about it, really, although I must say he did give me a couple of those very sharp Looks of his when Mr Y and I came in from the balcony, but I think it was only because we just happened to have chosen the same emerald green for our safari suits, and though I says it as shouldn't, you have to be slim for emerald, and Mr X is, well, let's say a little bit portly compared with some people not a million miles from this desk!
Where was I?
Oh, yes, that little supper in Polperro.
Well, after the avgolemono soup (everybody had to bring one course; 1'd done the lime sorbet, which would have been really terrific if I hadn't stopped the car on the way to chat to this nice boy at a Greenline stop, and it went all runny), I was just peeling one of Mr Y's plover's eggs for him (he's got these huge fumbly hands, not one of your delicate ones at all, great big pink fingers like saveloys), when suddenly Lord Z looked up, terribly seriously, and said: "Look here, someone's going to have to do something about this bugger, sorry, this swine who's trying to blackmail the entire Liberal Party with his vile innuendo!"
We stared, aghast! Many a mouth dropped open.
"Vile Innuendo?" enquired W, first of us to recover. "Wasn't he that whippy little Wop that T found on the Spanish Steps during last summer's fact-finding mission?"
"You shut up!" cried T, purpling. "You just shut your rotten face!"
"Stop that!" thundered Lord Z, who can be terribly masterful at times, "This is no time for personal slanging matches. A piece of absolute muck has threatened to sell his grimy tale to the Sunday rags unless he hears from me in folding oncers by the end of the month!"
"Is there any truth in the rumour?" shrieked E.
"There is no truth in the rumour," replied Lord Z firmly. "The person in question, a stoker who is totally unknown to me – “
""Incredible," murmured that spiteful little bitch J.
"- claims to have compromised the entire Parliamentary Liberal Party on the upper deck of a Number Eleven bus during our visit to the London Planetarium last April. "
"1 remember that trip," murmured E absently. "W went all funny when the moon came up. I never realised he had hair on his hands till that moment."
"Never mind that," snapped Lord Z. "The fact of the matter, as many of you here know full well, is that nothing at all untoward happened on that day. Even the stationmaster at Baker Street Underground went out of his way to remark that he had never met a group of gentlemen who had used his Foto-Me booth with more discretion. "
"An absolute sweetie," said J, nodding. "I do like those new little brimless caps they wear."
"You wouldn't say the red piping's superfluous?" enquired X.
"GENTLEMEN!" shouted Lord Z, with rather more force than accuracy. "Can we not address ourselves whole-heartedly to the fact that the great and glorious party of which several of us here are proud members is presently teetering on the brink of outrageous scandal? What are we to do about this awful stoker person?"
"Pay him off?" suggested T. "Personally, I have often found that a bag of boiled sweets and a Judy Garland LP will work wonders on the most - "
"He wants," muttered Lord Z, "twenty thousand pounds. In practical terms, that represents the Party's entire political broadcast budget."
"That's not our fault," protested W, "my friend and I offered to do one for nothing. I got this snotty little note from Party HQ, didn't I, saying the executive didn't feel that the tango was a vote catcher at this moment in time. They're so hidebound, sometimes, you could scream!"
"Why didn't we offer him a safe Liberal seat?" asked X.
Nobody said anything at all. I mean, we all enjoy a joke as much as the next man, but there's a time and a place for everything.
"I know," said V, who up until then had. said nothing, "why don't we lean on him a little? 1 could put you in touch with a couple of big navvies who would go round there and scratch his eyes out."
There were one or two "Oooohs!" at this, but I happened to catch Lord Z's eye, and I could see that it was a suggestion with which he was not totally unsympathetic.
"I had thought of something like that," he said quietly. "But would it not be better it the arrangement were rather more, er, permanent?"
There was a very long, and very uneasy silence.
I cleared my throat.
"Don't these, ahem, matters cost rather a lot of money, too?" I said.
Lord Z peered tetchily through his diamantine lorgnette.
"Who said that?" he enquired.
"It was C," said T. "She's ever such a quiet one. You haven't opened your mouth all evening, have you, C?"
Despite the unseemly tittering, I persisted. Y's little squeeze on my forearm helped.
"It's just that I've heard about these things," I said, "and I'm not sure that Party funds would cover it."
"We've got twenty-eight pounds forty in the kitty, to my certain knowledge," snap¬ped Lord Z, "and we haven't had our jumble sale yet."
"Won't, either," muttered T bitterly. "I understand that the scout hut will not be made available this year. I'm not naming any names, but there's some little unpleasantness still hanging over from last year when that big red-headed Ranger won the cherry cake."
"He guessed its weight fair and square!" shouted J.
"Guessed?" shrieked T. "Guessed? I suppose it couldn't be that the person who made the cake might have written down its weight on a piece of paper just large enough to be pressed into a sweaty little palm while that person and the person with the sweaty little palm were putting up. the bunting together?"
"I'm not listening to any more of this slander!" cried J, shoving back his chair.
"All the thanks I get, you can have a bloody shop gateau this year, I hope it chokes - "
"Now, now," interrupted Lord Z. "Let us put the Party first. Are you telling me, C, that we could not get this person shot for £28.40?"
"I do not," I replied, "believe we could buy a gun for less than about a hundred, let alone someone to fire it."
"Couldn't we have him stabbed?" said T.
"You can buy a hatpin for under a pound."
"Not of any quality," murmured W.
"God knows that's true," nodded X. "I've never known Kirby grips snap as much as they do these days."
"We could poison him," suggested T. "J's probably got a cake or two put by, haven't you, dear?"
"Oh, God," said W, "now you've made him cry, you silly cow!"
"Good training," replied T, firmly, "he'll have to get used to heckling. No good dreaming about being Prime Minister one day if you break down and blub every time the going gets personal."
"Is there no cheaper way of getting at this beast?" cried Lord Z. "Couldn't we frighten him?"
"Has he got a dog?" enquired X. "We could shoot it for him."
"Very risky, that," countered T. "It could cost untold votes, shooting someone's dog. I can't see anyone in the Party wishing to associate themselves with anything of that order."
"Blighter hasn't got a dog, anyway," said Lord Z. "Closest he comes is a ginger teddy-bear with one eye. Got a great sentimental attachment to it, mind. I understand he's had it since he was thirty."
"Perhaps we could knock it about a bit?" offered X. "Pull its other eye off, something of that order."
"Doubt if it'd frighten him much," said Lord Z, shaking his head. "'Make him nastier, if anything. No, our only course is to have him put away for good. No messing about. Bang, bang, and on to the broad sunny uplands of the next election, that's what I say."
"But surely," I said, blushing even as I put myself forward, "we have not dealt with the matter of the fee? It could run as high as ten thousand pounds. Whom do we know who would be prepared to back us with that kind of money?"
We were all silent for a time. Then X said, very slowly:
"No individual would take the risk, of course. Nor is the Liberal Party in a position to offer, er, favours to any businesses, industries, property men, that kind of thing, is it? I mean, we're not ever going to be able to put anything their way, are we, or even - "
"Oh, do get on, dear, for heaven's sake!" cried T. "I know you when you've got something up your sleeve."
"And that's not all," said J, who had blown his nose, retouched his eyeliner, and was almost back to his old self.
"All right," said X, smirking rather unappealingly. "There is just one powerful and rich organisation who might be prepared to carry out the mission on our behalf, provided we could offer them something concrete in return!"
We held our breath! We craned! We positively gawped!
"Do we have something concrete to offer?" breathed Lord Z.
X paused for a long time. He can be such a tease, on occasion.
"Well, it's just a silly idea off the top of my thingy," he said, at last, "but how would you feel about some kind of political pact?"