From the archives: shock visit by Ted Heath to the bathtub amid hidden jokes


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Reams of secret files that have been kept hidden for decades are in the National Archives.

While most of them are serious papers on issues ranging from terrorism and intelligence activities to government plots against the opposition, some of the more light-hearted incidents that have taken place over the years in Westminster are exposed in extracts.

Unwelcome guest from Ted Heath

Bathing at his official country retreat, Chequers, Ted Heath got an unlikely visitor.

A note describes how, after catching the prime minister bathing in November 1971, Lord Rothschild, his most senior adviser, complained.

On November 6, 1971, Rothschild wrote to Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Pattern, writing that it was “not my business, but, rightly or wrongly, I was not very happy…. about the security at Chequers.”

It can, of course, be that the security measures are so well concealed as to be imperceptible to the visitor,” he explained.”

In the little box on the way to the road, there were two constables, but as it was reported in the newspapers that I was attending the Chequers conference, someone might have impersonated me since I was not asked to identify myself.

“I’m not absolutely sure they checked the number of my car against a list, although they may have done it through binoculars as we pulled into the main driveway.”

Lord Rothschild added, after further describing his observations about the lack of protection before entering Chequers, “I wonder, though, if anyone should be allowed to roam inside Chequers, even if identified.”

I decided to find another small table and went outside the room where the meeting was taking place to the first bedroom.

The prime minister, who I hope hasn’t seen me, just got into his toilet ([Other staff members] Carey, Wade-Gery, Ross, Reading, Butler or Waldegrave could have done the same thing, and I suppose any of us could have gone crazy).

I casually told the Prime Minister that security did not seem to be especially intense, to which he replied that when Tito [Josip Broz Tito – former president of Yugoslavia] arrived, it would be much more intense on the weekend.

“I said it was obvious that we attach greater importance to the security of an Eastern European potentate than to our own prime minister.”

‘Too dull’ Edinburgh venues for conferences

“According to a National Archives file, a Foreign Office official described the sites for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh as “too dull” to use.

Documents sent to Edward Oakden, now British Ambassador to Tunisia, in July 1996, detailed CHOGM plans and named a variety of locations for the opening ceremony.

But Mr. Oakden seems to have scribbled notes alongside them.

He noted that “small and boring,” is the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, while “big and boring.” is the Festival Theatre.

Mr. Oakden said he’d prefer Scotland’s Royal Museum because it was “more interesting.”

They eventually settled on the International Conference Centre of Edinburgh.

The gathering in Edinburgh was the first time that the Queen had attended CHOGM, which many called a turning point in the Commonwealth’s acceptance of the royal family.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had, according to the papers, demanded that the Queen have a “high profile” at the case.

The plans revealed that the royals thought a tour could be organized on a royal boat with participants, but they emphasized that “hangers-on” and “the Scottish weather” issues were predictable.

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, and Nelson Mandela were among those attending the meeting that took place between Oct. 24 and 27, 1997.

The budget blows from Denis Thatcher

An inquiry into the skyrocketing transportation costs for the use of official government vehicles found that Denis Thatcher was the cause.

In 1989, letters from No. 10 officials detailed how Mr. Thatcher “pays for his own” and does not use the Government Car Service, but usually takes a taxi or uses a driver from Downing Street.

A month later, however, the First Private Secretary of the Prime Minister, Andrew Turnbull, now Baron Turnbull, was


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