From the archives: How Rory Bremner’s impersonator “saved” the prime minister with prank calls


Inadvertently, Scottish comedian Rory Bremner staved off a Tory revolt against John Major, showing fresh files.

In 1993, as a “experiment” to test his portrayal of the prime minister, National Archives documents claim, the Edinburgh-born impersonator approached several Conservative MPs.

His results, however, was so persuasive that some MPs refused to believe that it was not Mr. Major, despite repeatedly being told that it was a hoax. In their rebuke of the prime minister, they have decided to stand down.

Mr. Bremner, posing as Mr. Major, had called Richard Body, John Carlisle and Anne Winterton, Eurosceptic MPs, to ask for their support as Mr. Major prepared for the forthcoming Blackpool conference of the Conservative Party.

Disputes over Europe plagued the party, and Mr. Bremner, claiming to be the prime minister, had asked the three MPs to “stand down.”

He appeared to be calling from Malaysia, where he was on an official visit with Mr. Major.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Robin Butler attempted to demonstrate to them when one of the MPs contacted Downing Street that the calls were a hoax, but they found it hard to believe.

In fact, Sir Richard Body was so taken in by the impersonation of Bremner that he refused to admit that he had not spoken to Mr. Major until 10 days later.

“He told the Cabinet secretary, according to the official record of their conversation, that it was “a really positive thing” that the prime minister made the call.

The memo says: “Butler said the call wasn’t made by him.”

‘Well, you say so,’ responded Body. But I can’t see any justification to blame him for doing so.” He had “phoned about,” and he said they had “all agreed to stand down.

When Sir Robin told him that the itinerary of Mr. Major meant that the calls had been ‘physically impossible’ for him, Sir Richard maintained that he had to ‘sneak away’ to do so.

Body reiterated that he did not think this was an impressionist,” the note goes on to say.”

[He said], “Butler should tell the PM that his bacon was saved by the call. “We sent a message to help him at least until after the meeting. Obviously, he was in poor shape. He clearly regrets it now. But I know his speech.

“After a phone call, Body talked with John Carlisle. Both decided that the prime minister should back them and help get the government through.

“They had talked to their ‘whips’ [Body implied he meant their faction’s unofficial whips]. They had exonerated the prime minister. If John Major had made that call, he had done himself a good turn.”

A notice two years later concerns another call made by Mr. Bremner in the position of prime minister, to Esther Rantzen this time.

“The note states: “In today’s Daily Express, you might have seen the attached article stating that Rory Bremner called Esther Rantzen to impersonate the Prime Minister.

I phoned John Birt (Comic Relief is run by the BBC) and told him of our previous telephone encounters with Richard Body, etc. At the time, he recalled hearing about it.

“I said I didn’t want to be a killjoy – and the conversation with Esther Rantzen seemed harmless – but we would be concerned if Rory Bremner called political figures,” he said.

“And in any case, I thought it was important that Rory Bremner should always identify himself at the end of a phone call, unless the victim has already guessed that it’s a hoax, and that he should get consent before such a conversation is broadcast.”

Asked what he thought of his prank calls’ disclosures, Mr. Bremner said he had “no idea” how much he was actually supporting the prime minister at the time.

He said, “I’m giving up. You think you’re being satirical, but it’s a far more absurd reality.”

I had no idea that we had an uprising foiled and saved John Major’s ass.

“Honestly, who would have thought that a group of Eurosceptic backbenchers would have forced the PM to resign and got us out of the EU without a bogus phone call. What are the chances of that?”


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