Civil Servants Were Afraid Impressionist Bremner Would Bring Down John Major

Before the serious stuff, here’s a bit of fun news. Last Thursday’s I for 2nd January 2020 reported that Rory Bremner’s impressions of former prime minister John Major were so good, he would bring down the government. Bremner had been phoning up various rebellious backbench MPs as Major, and the head of the civil service at the time, Sir Robin Butler, was afraid he’d get hold of the budget. In the article ‘Bremner almost brought down John Major’, Adam Sherwin wrote

Whitehall’s top civil servant feared that Rory Bremner could brind down John Major’s government because the comic’s impersonation of the Prime Minister was so convincing.

Sir Robin Butler, then cabinet secretary, called Michael Grade, the chief executive at Channel 4, to express his concerns after the impressionist made a prank call to a rebellious backbench Tory MP.

Sir Robin feared that Bremner’s impression of Mr Major was so accurate that he would be able to trick then-chancellor Kenneth Clarke into leaking advance details of the Budget.

The could have been devastating to Mr Major, who was steering an administration with a fragile majority.

The prank calls, made in 1993, were intended for use in the comedian’s series, Rory Bremner, Who Else? But Sir Robin stepped in after Bremner fooled Sir Richard Body, one of the Eurosceptic Maastricht rebels who were known as “the bastards”.

Speaking to the Media Matters podcast, Lord Grade of Yarmouth revealed that Sir Robin told him: “We have a bit of a problem. Your Mr Rory Bremner. He’s very good at impersonating the Prime Minister. He’s been ringing MPs.

“We don’t have a problem with that. But the issue we have is that, he’s so good, he could ring the chancellor and get the Budget.”

Lord Grade said he told Sir Robin: “Oh, I get the point. Leave it with me.” Bremner’s team agreed not to air the call, which Sir Robin said was a “great relief”. Lord Grade, who faced controversy over prank calls made by Chris Morris for Brass Eye, later sent Sir Robin a tape of the call.

Bremner has confirmed ringing the MP. “We hadn’t got a script, we were just making it up. It went very well,” he said. “John Major said ‘well this is very funny but it could get quite serious’. So there was this hunt going on.”

Bremner also called Margaret Beckett pretending to be Gordon Brown in 2005, and discussed Cabinet appointments. Lawyers vetoed its broadcast.

Bremner’s series on Channel 4, Rory Bremner: Who Else? and later Bremner, Bird and Fortune with John Bird and John Fortune, who later had their own series, The Long Johns, were hilarious, but they were also very sharp, very serious satire. Amongst the impressions they made serious, factual points about the issues of the day, quoting real statistics. I can remember they were particularly sharp on attacking the government’s and papers’ vicious and misleading policies and statements over immigration. And they also tried to stop the Iraq invasion by sending that up and arguing against it.

The three also published a book during Tony Blair’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, You Are Here, attacking his policies of privatisation and the Public-Private Finance Initiative deals, which were grossly inefficient and which took power away from people and put it squarely in the hands of the corporate bosses, who donated so handsomely to Blair.

Now that the Blairites are trying to seize control of the Labour Party again, I’ll have to dig that book out to show how treacherous their claims and politics are. 

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