The great thing about Newsnight was that it provoked all sorts of emails - some written in the cyber equivalent of green ink and some very funny. I received this from Stephen Glenn, who has kindly agreed to me posting it for your delight and delectation...
I thought you might enjoy the following anecdote that my late wife, Anna, used to tell of John Prescott in his National Union of Seamen days. Anna encountered him because she was PA to one Charlie Dreevor, an ex-trawler skipper who was both a director of the Marr trawler company in Hull and the representative of the Hull Trawler Owners' Association who had to deal with Prescott as the NUS rep who was trying to unionise the trawlermen and pursuade the trawler owners to switch to paying wages rather than operate on the share system. This was fiercely opposed by the trawlermen themselves, who -- at least at the time -- were doing far better on a share than they would do on wages and who had little time for Prescott after a rather unfortunate speech he'd given in which he compared their share system with the Cunard stewards' pooling their tips.
Marr's at the time had two reception areas at their main office on the Docks, one of which was reserved for trawlermen. This wasn't snobbishness on their part; the only time you could be sure, apparently, of getting a trawlerman into the office when you needed to see him was straight off the boat after she landed, and after a month or six weeks at sea on one of Marr's freezer vessels the men tended to be a bit whiffy, having spent a lot of their time gutting fish. Charlie Dreevor knew that Prescott had a very short fuse and he and Anna concocted the following way of exploiting this.
Anna gave instructions to Reception that Mr Prescott was always to be directed to the Seamen's Reception Area, on the argument that he reckoned he was their representative so he'd probably want to meet them. She'd always keep him waiting for at least 20 minutes, so he could get the benefit of their views on his proposal -- as they saw it -- to cut their pay, before showing him into her boss's office. Dreevor, for his part, never lost the opportunity to remind Prescott that, as an ex-skipper, he knew a damn site more about trawling and trawlermen than did some jumped-up Cunard bar steward.
Anna was under instructions to leave his and her office doors open, to listen out and to bring in the coffee only when she heard them about to come to blows. Unfortunately, at least from Charlie Dreevor's point of view, though probably fortunately from Prescott's since Dreevor, as an ex-skipper, was pretty handy with his fists -- he once laid out, with one punch, a drunken trawlerman who'd tried to lay hands on Anna in the office during an argument about his pay -- she always managed to get there before Prescott tried to take a swing at him. She reckoned she never had to wait more than 10 minutes before taking their coffee through, and frequently she was worried whether the kettle would be boiled in time! Anna, for what it's worth, hated Prescott in a way that had nothing to do with politics. She said that, as a very attractive blonde working on Hull Fish Docks (and, at the time, supplementing her salary with a part-time bar job) she was well used to dealing with men who thought she was a dishy bimbo, but Prescott was in an entirely different league.