I've been reading Frank Johnson's obituaries today (TELEGRAPH and TIMES, INDEPENDENT, GUARDIAN) also found his two books on my bookshelves. Frank Johnson's Election Year and Out of Order are books that should be on any self respecting lover of political humour's bookshelf - they're both available at Abebooks. These selections are from the above obituaries...
Johnson’s wit was particularly scintillating in his parliamentary sketches, where he displayed a wonderful lightness of touch. Anthony Crosland, the Labour Foreign Secretary, was “one of the cleverest men in the Commons, as he himself would concede”.
At a Conservative party conference, Johnson reported: “Mr Heath arrived in the hall and advanced menacingly on the platform… neatly dressed as ever, facially impassive, arms thrust straight down his sides. It was as if he had stepped out of the window of a nearby branch of Burton’s. He was warmly applauded and seated himself one place away from Mrs Thatcher. They gave each other a welcoming stare.”
Of Michael Heseltine, the darling of Tory party conferences, Johnson observed: “One arrived to find Mr Heseltine engulfed in his own peroration. A huge audience was enthralled. He bellowed at them from beneath that blond mane which causes him so often to be mistaken from behind for Mrs Sally Oppenheim. He was thundering along the lines of: one nation, one Reich, one Heseltine.”
Roy Jenkins was a favourite and fruitful subject. In the Labour leadership election following Harold Wilson’s resignation in 1976, Jenkins was “expected to sweep Belgravia and the offices of The Times”. And noting that Jenkins was described in a by-election campaign leaflet as “a miner’s son”, Johnson mused: “True, certainly; but only in the way that it is true to describe Mrs Jacqueline Onassis as the widow of a Greek merchant seaman. It simply does not do justice to Mr Jenkins’ position in café society.”
On Shirley Williams, he wrote: “Mrs Shirley Williams, who is regarded by some of the more primitive followers of the SDP as possessing divine status and miraculous powers, unsuccessfully applied to the Speaker for an emergency debate on the water dispute. At first, one assumed this was because the dispute was beginning to threaten supplies of the only water used by the SDP: Perrier water.”
"In the house, Mr Callaghan as prime minister is proving to be many of the things which his predecessor, Sir Harold, was widely said to be, but really was not... Mr Callaghan is genuinely cunning. Such is his deviousness that he always knows the right moment at which to be straightforward. He also gives the impression that he is seriously engaged in the activity of politics, something which Sir Harold could never bring off."
“The sketch,” he once said, “is a verbal cartoon. I don’t like to be rude and I have no anger. I believe in the system: I’m part of it, like Black Rod or Madam Speaker.”