The secret Number 10 meetings held in the Gents

Secret Number 10 meetings held in the Gents: Just one of the details shared by author Jack Brown as he forensically examines the history of the Prime Minister’s residence

  • Jack Brown was No 10 Downing Street’s first ever Researcher in Residence
  • The author forensically examines the history of the Prime Minister’s home
  • His writing reflects his academic background, but human element is also there

Jack Brown was No 10 Downing Street’s first ever Researcher in Residence (Pictured, Theresa May) 

NO. 10: THE GEOGRAPHY OF POWER AT DOWNING STREET

by Jack Brown (Haus £18.99, 220 pp) 

The next time you see a new Cabinet assembled in No 10 Downing Street for their photoshoot — and given the current climate who knows how soon that might be? — take a look at the ends of the Cabinet table. 

You’ll notice that they taper inwards, making the table narrower there than in the middle. This is a relic from Harold Macmillan’s time as Prime Minister (1957 to 1963).

He was the first to realise a ‘lozenge’ shape would allow those Cabinet members at either end, to catch his eye more easily, and feel more included in the meeting.

Although, politicians being the cynical animals they are, some of his colleagues rejected the ‘lozenge’ description and instead described the table as a coffin. Macmillan’s attention to detail is shared by author Jack Brown, No 10’s first ever Researcher in Residence, who forensically examines the history of the Prime Minister’s residence and the people who have lived and worked there.

Of course it isn’t just the nation’s leader who works at No 10. Support staff number over 200, which can make for cramped conditions, though not as cramped as you might think — No 10 is actually several houses joined together, making it far bigger than it appears from the front. 

Entering through the famous front door of Number 10, you walk along a corridor joining the building to another, larger house (stock image)

Entering through the famous front door (with its lion head knocker and letterbox inscribed ‘First Lord of the Treasury’, the Prime Minister’s other title), you walk along a corridor joining the building to another, larger house. No 10 also expands sideways by linking up internally with both No 11 and the Cabinet Office building on Whitehall.

Sarah Hogg, who worked for John Major, commented on how noisy it was, due to repair works at the Foreign Office over the road. 

These were so loud that, hearing a bang one morning in February 1991, Hogg assumed it was a particularly large scaffolding pole. It was, in fact, an IRA mortar bomb hitting No 10’s garden.

As the former Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong put it, ‘proximity is power’.Harold Wilson’s right-hand woman Marcia Williams was frustrated to see civil servants following Wilson into the gents’ toilets: she knew they were doing so to give him their opinions in the one location where she couldn’t intervene.

Jack Brown’s writing reflects his background as an academic, with some serious analysis of government and its processes. But the human element is there, too.

NO. 10: THE GEOGRAPHY OF POWER AT DOWNING STREET by Jack Brown (Haus £18.99, 220 pp)

We see Margaret Thatcher nosing around in her officials’ in-trays — one day she found a complaint from a florist that he was being undercut by supermarkets, and from then on ensured that all her orders for flowers went to the man in question.

We see Anthony Eden working from his bed (meaning important papers would sometimes get tucked into the sheets when it was made), and Clement Attlee resisting the installation of a ticker tape machine to keep No 10 up to date with the latest news.

He was finally persuaded when his press secretary pointed out that the machine could give him the latest cricket scores.

Norman Tebbit, reflecting on Margaret Thatcher’s decade in power, observed that: ‘The windows in this building are very big when the Prime Minister first comes in, and every year they get smaller and smaller and smaller and after ten years it is very difficult for a Prime Minister to see the world outside.’

But even when your premiership has been dogged by disaster, leaving No 10 still means leaving your home. John Major asked not to be clapped out by the staff (as is traditional), because he didn’t want to face the press outside with tears in his eyes.

Upstairs he had left the incoming Tony Blair a bottle of champagne. Attached to it was a note: ‘It’s a great job — enjoy it.’

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