Five star review in the Mail on Sunday

From Toby Young:

“Ever wondered what the highest officials in the land concern themselves with behind closed doors? The energy crisis? Our national debt? The threat of nuclear war? Nothing quite so dramatic, according to The Prime Minister’s Ironing Board and Other State Secrets. Adam Macqueen has spent 18 months examining ‘top secret’ documents from yesteryear, and 99 percent of them are about rather less urgent matters. ‘ The Elysee party pointed out that they would consider it essential for the President to have a chair equal in status – i.e. with arms – to the Prime Minister’ wrote a No 10 press officer to the Foreign Secretary in 1981 about the forthcoming visit of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the President of France. ‘Alternatively, would the Prime Minister swap her chair for a ‘regular’ (i.e. armless) model? Sorry about this – the French made the point quite seriously.’

Other ‘secrets’ in this entertaining trawl through the National Archives concern the Queen’s annoyance at having to sit through Beau Brummell at the 1954 Royal Film Performance; the efforts of the Secretary of State for Air to dissuade the Duke of Edinburgh from taking a dangerous light aircraft out for a spin in 1959; and the alarm expressed by the Secretary of State for Wales in 1969 over Prince Charles’s apparent sympathy for dangerous terrorists…

Not all the secrets dug up by Macqueen concern the great and the good. Occasionally, the spotlight falls on those below stairs and it reads like an episode of Downton Abbey. ‘I’m afraid the servants are melting away,’ wrote a concerned official to one of Churchill’s aides-de-camp in 1942. ‘Betty, the under-parlourmaid, is leaving, and I fear Doreen, a very capable second house-maid, is on the wobble’… Some undiscovered gems.”

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By Adam Macqueen

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