It’s time for another shufty at the papers of Whitehall as we once again join our men from the ministry, men who would be heroes if they could ever bring themselves to do anything brave, or anything at all come to that.
Bernard Woolley was worried. He knew that he was worried. It always became apparent to him when the worry truly began to set in in earnest because he started to worry. And he was certainly worrying now as he hurried up the many flights of stairs to the office. Thinking upon it, Bernard tried to reassure himself by repeating again and again the thought that almost anyone would be worried about in his situation. Who wouldn’t be worried when one had worrying information to impart to one’s superiors. And he certainly had a piece of rather worrying information alright, the most worrying information he could ever have to impart.
He had received this piece of rather worrying information from Sir Greggery Pitkin not five minutes ago. And he had been growing increasingly worried ever since. Bernard didn’t know if his was a lucky position to be in or not. On the one hand, he was very lucky indeed. Once he imparted his information to Lennox-Brown and Lamb, the matter would be out of his hands and once Mildred sent copies of the information round to every ministry building it would be out of Lennox-Brown and Lamb’s hands too. So yes, that was the lucky bit. The less than lucky bit was the fact that the worrying information would be received from the General assistance Department before it was released to anyone else. Bernard didn’t think that that was a very good position to be in in any way, shape or form. But alas, his was not to reason why. His was just to say and hope to God for the best.
In a rather unusual turn of events, the office was actually occupied as Bernard exploded into the room, crashing in upon his colleagues with a splintering of wood as the door almost came off its hinges. As he clattered into the room, Bernard spared a second or two to survey the shocked faces that raised from their various non work stations to meet his eyes. Lennox-Brown was looking scandelised, Lamb politely confused. Mildred as usual looked ingreegued as if she knew the reason for Bernard’s hastey and rather noisey entrance. For never before had Bernard entered the office in such a manner.
“Oo Er,” Mildred Said in her customary auh, “are you alright, Bernard? You’ve gone all red and unpleasant like the canteen beatrute.”
Bernard payed no mind to Mildred’s rather unflattering description of his personal appearance and instead staggered across to his chair and threw his weary body into his customary chair. “I’ve got awful news for you,” he said, his voice full of somber gravity.
Lamb looked up from his perusal of that week’s racing figures and asked, “you don’t mean… You don’t mean that we’re going to have to do some work, do you?”
“I’ll say,” Bernard said, predicting and correctly assessing the groans of dismay that emanated from each mouth as he spoke.
Mr Lennox-Brown sighed heavily. It could not have been more apparent that this was the worst news he had received for some time. “Oh,” he groaned in a manner similar to that of a terrible actor on stage, “that’s the last thing we need. We almost managed to get out of work for a whole month to. Putting our names in the ministry’s obituary column was a bloody good idea of mine.”
Bernard had no time for that. “Will you listen?” he demanded.
Lamb nodded in what he apparently hoped was a temper calming manner. “We are listening, Bernard,” he said gently, “but I don’t think it’s helping.”
‘Bugger this,’ Bernard told himself mutinously. He decided to get on with it. “Someone’s organising a coup against the prime minister.”
That caught everyone’s attention. Lamb looked horrified. Mildred dropped her bottle of bright red nale polish and Lennox-Brown actually closed the book he had been reading.
“You can’t be serious,” Lennox-Brown said as if he really did hope that Bernard had been joking.
Bernard shook his head. Surely the horrified look upon his face had reassured the man that his junior assistant was not in fact taking the Michael. Apparently not, though. ‘bugger this again,’ he told yhimself with resignation. He shook his head again and opened his mouth to speak. “Yes,” he said, hating the fact that he was being forced to state the blindingly obvious, “I am serious. I heard it from Sir Gregory Pitkin downstairs. Lord Mountbatten’s getting a plan together to remove Harold from office. It’s true. I swear.”
The silence that fell once Bernard finished speaking was a dence one indeed. Lamb and Lennox-Brown glanced at each other. Bernard and Mildred glanced at each other. No one, it seemed, knew what to say. So instead they chose to remain silent for a few moments.
And then, a shocked and horrified Bernard saw a smile widening across Derek Lennox-Brown’s face. Why was the man smiling?
A second later, that question was answered for him. Lennox-Brown was grinning. “Wow,” he said with rising auh. “If this is true…”
“It is,” Bernard said suddenly.
“If it is true,” Lennox-Brown repeated, his eyes wide, “then maybe I finally have a shot. At last. After all these years.”
Bernard was about to offer a rebuttle to that when Lamb opened his mouth and did so for him, but not in the way that Bernard had expected. “How can you say that, one,” he demanded. “You can’t be serious? I’ve been waiting for the job way longer than you have. And I deserve it more too. I’ve been slaving away for you for years. I deserve a higher position.”
Lennox-Brown snorted with derisive laughter. “You’re joking, of course.”
Lamb shook his head. “No. I’m not joking at all, one. I’m deadly serious. I could be a good prime minister.”
Bernard Woolley stood rooted to the spot, shocked. He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. He had just informed his superiors that someone high up in the British establishment was attempting to overthrow their prime minister. And both Lennox-Brown and Lamb were behaving as if this was something to be celebrated. Mr Wilson was in imminant danger of being deposed and these two were acting as if they were happy with that.
Bernard opened his mouth and said, “did you understand what I said?” He hoped to God that they had not. Truly loyal ministry men would not behave in such a way, he was sure.
Lennox-Brown nodded, looking to Mildred. “Of course I did,” he said brightly. “This is good news, oh my goodness, yes. I can see it now. I think Number Ten would suit me. It would give me an air of dignity, you know.”
Bernard opened his mouth to speak. “Do you not think we should try and stop this?” he asked.
This time, it was Lamb who shook his head. “No,” he said simply.
“The man’s a damned incompetent,” Lennox-Brown said brightly. “Oh, glory, yes.”
Bernard was truly lost for words this time. The fact that Lennox-Brown had called Mr Wilson an aencompetent baffled him. He worked in what was commonly known as the most incompetent department in WhiteHall. He suppressed his derisive laughter with great difficulty.
The telephone rang. Lennox-Brown lept to answer it, moving faster than Bernard had ever seen him move. He snatched the phone from the receiver and slammed it to his ear, an excited expression upon his face. “Hello, Lennox-brown ruling… speaking. How can I help you?”
Bernard, Mildred and Mr Lamb stared at each other as the gravelly tones of Sir Gregory Pitkin floated towards them from the ear piece that Lennox-Brown was holding to his ear. Sir Gregory was shouting at Bernard’s superior as if Lennox-Brown had done something both very wrong and very foolish. Lennox-Brown was smiling blandly as he listened, knowing that one didn’t have to do anything wrong in order to anger sir Gregory. Once the voice that drifted across to them from the phone finally fell silent however, Lennox-Brown said his goodbyes to Sir Gregory Pitkin and slammed down the phone, his own face now a mask of disappointment.
Bernard, Mr Lamb and Mildred watched Lennox-Brown’s face carefully. The man seemed to be growing angrier with every second that passed. Bernad was feeling increasingly uneasy. It could not have been planer that Sir Gregory had imparted some very unwelcome information.
“What’s up, sir?” Mildred asked, a trifle nervous.
Lennox-Brown was glaring at Bernard. “It turns out,” he said, “that the whole of Whitehall knows this information.”
Bernard was smiling. That was good news. He was sure of it. “So they’ve put a stop to the coup?” he asked.
Lennox-Brown nodded. “Indeedthey they have,” he said darkly as if this was the worst news that he could have possibly been given. He glared at Bernard in particular as if the whole thing was Bernard’s own fault. “That was Sir Gregory,” he said as if that wasn’t abundantly obvious to all. “He tells me that seventy people have already put in applications for Mr Wilson’s job. Not only that, he says that everyone’s efforts have been wasted.”
Bernard was still smiling. He still couldn’t see what was so terrible about anything that his superior had said thus far. “Why have they been wasted?” he asked.
“Because her majesty the queen has already intervened,” Lennox-Brown said mutinously. “Sir Gregory says that the coup has been brought to a halt. The prime minister is safe for now.” He scowled down at the floor as if every one of his dreams had been simultaneously crushed.
Bernard nodded. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said brightly.
“Well I’m not.” As Lennox-Brown shouted these words into the silence of the room, Bernard and Mildred glanced at each other. It seemed to them as if Lennox-Brown was angrier than he had ever been, though Bernard didn’t know why. Things were difficult enough for Britain at the moment. The very last thing they needed was a coup to overthrow the government. That would only have made things worse. Bernard was sure of it.
Lennox-Brown was still growling his frustration. “I would have made a fine prime minister,” he said furiously. “I would have put the country to rights. I know I would have. Goodness yes.” He shook his head slowly. “Oh well,” he said darkly. “It was a good ream while it lasted.”
It seemed to Bernard then as if Lamb wanted more than anything else to bring about an end to this conversation. He was already reaching for Lennox-Brown’s forgotten book and was opening it at the place where his superior had left off. “Here, one,” he said mildly, pushing the book towards him. “Sit down and finish your book. At least we won’t have to do any work today if there isn’t a coup in the air. That’s got to count for something, hasn’t it?”
After a long pause during which Lennox-Brown continued to stare moodily at the floor, he looked back up and nodded unsmilingly. “I suppose so, two,” he agreed. “That is something. But I don’t feel like reading any more this morning. I think I’m going to go across to mi club for an early lunch. You lot are free to go too if you like. It’s been an exawsting morning.”
Normally, Bernard would not have approved of such slacking off from duties. But today, he did want to be out of the office for a while. He did not at all like the fact that both Lamb and Lennox-Brown had been so willing to step into the shoes of their elected leader. That fact had left a less than pleasant taste in his mouth and so with a heart very much gladdened, he turned around and held the door open for Mildred, stepping out into the corridor after her.
He made his way down to the canteen, hoping for a nice cup of tea before they would have to return to work. As he pushed the doors of the canteen open, Bernard had time to reflect upon the blindingly obvious. It was a good thing that the prime minister had been saved. He hated to think of what could have happened had Lennox-Brown been made prime minister. He smiled to himself as he pondered this. The country had been saved, for the time being at any rate.