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An Outsider Inside Number 10

Author John Warwicker

ISBN No 978 0 7509 5916 2

Review date 24/06/2019

No of pages 224

Publisher The History Press

Publisher URL

Year of publication 19/05/2017


An Outsider Inside Number 10: Protecting the Prime Ministers, 1974-79, by John Warwicker, with foreword by Lord Imbert. Paperback, published by The History Press, 2015. ISBN 978 0 7509 5916 2

Our Review

An Outsider Inside Number 10: Protecting the Prime Ministers, 1974-79, by John Warwicker, with foreword by Lord Imbert.

Don't trust the media. Don't expect to find leakers even - or especially - after enquiries. Try and stay calm and dignified. And no matter how honest you are, 'you will usually have something to hide'. The 'Yes, Prime Minister' TV series is 'only just less than a documentary'. These pieces of advice are among those at the end of John Warwicker's entertaining and fascinating story of his years 'inside Number Ten', as close protection officer to three prime ministers, Harold Wilson (pictured), Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher, in charge of their security.

Historians have already made good use of the recollections of staffers to the great - such as Robert Caro in his great multi-volume work on the US President Lyndon Johnson; and Charles Moore in his still to conclude multi-volumes on Mrs Thatcher. If the historians of Britain in the 1970s have any sense, they will read and use John Warwicker's book, from the former Metropolitan Police Special Branch man. Like all 'insider' accounts Warwicker gives the 'behind the scenes' to what we only saw on television screens. Invariably, it's not as glamorous as the TV. But for such accounts to work, they have to walk a thin line; recalling the telling details in the first place, which requires the author to have something to say, to be well placed, and to have the ability to put it into words. The tone of such a memoir has to be just so; not too boastful, nor holding back the intimate yet telling or even shocking remark.

Such as: Warwicker recalls Mr Callaghan once saying while walking the Sussex Downs one weekend: "If only I could be a benevolent dictator I really think I could get this country going again, John!' Warwicker adds that remark may have been as close as James Callaghan could get to humour; but it shows the state that the country had got into by the later 1970s, and the seldom admitted temptation in a democracy to turn to a tyrant, a Napoleon (or worse). Warwicker well succeeds on all counts, tone and content and original closeness to the subject, for as he says at the very end in his advice to PMs, 'your close protection officer will get to know one way or another'. The author also has a droll sense of humour, for example noting early on that the African and other heads of state that he protected while they visited Britain 'went back to get assassinated in their home countries'. Another gem is when he awakes to a computerised female message in a Tokyo hotel room (while doing advance planning) and is told to 'rise and shine': "No options were on offer."

As he sets out, as the man responsible for the PM's security, and more generally for the smooth running of his travel, he was - literally and physically, and in terms of the hierarchy of organisation - neither one of the blue-collar drivers of limos, nor one of the 'pen pushers'. Warwicker's book is evocative of the era; the men in jobs whose working lives dated from the Second World War, the Labour (and labour) movements in power, and the (by 21st century standards) primitive communications.

Indeed, one theme of the book is just how long ago the 1970s now seems, and feels; like the difference between analogue and digital. That had an impact on the job of security that Warwicker had to do. For instance, when the prime minister was not at Downing Street, whether on holiday or on the move to some event, whether diplomatic abroad or party-political at home or in the constituency, before such things as mobile phones, it would take a little while for even the most urgent message to reach the PM - no use if the Cold War ever turned hot. As Warwicker says, by later standards it looks 'appallingly antiquated'.

This had a bearing on both the workings of government, and security. As Warwicker recalled, 'the now obsolete Home Office radio installed in official cars was critical both to [10 Downing Street] Private Office and the man with whom the buck stopped'. When in his early days as PM, James Callaghan chose to take the train to Cardiff, his constituency, it made for uncomfortable and inefficient work, even in first-class: "It is a fact that well-meaning people like to touch prime ministers, as we had already found on the Isles of Scilly [where Harold Wilson famously holidayed]. This had to be prevented, even if votes were lost.' As Warwicker tells the story - a broken-down British Rail train, the official cars splitting up at traffic lights so that the car with Callaghan inside was on its own and behind the rest, so that a first car arrived that everyone at the ceremony without him was thought to have the PM inside, and when the real car with the PM arrived, it wasn't let in at first - you see both the tragi-comedy of the monochrome 1970s, and what can go wrong with security. Warwicker adds that at least that 'chaotic weekend' led to good, that it showed the need for planning. "We set up firm new pre-emptive disciplines at both planning and operational levels and, wherever possible, never relied upon others whenever we could do it ourselves," surely a motto for life.

Another example of 'unparalleled administrative incohesion, and factional [Labour Party] dispute' came on Friday, January 14, 1977, when Mr Callaghan visited the East End of London to do a walk-about to show regeneration. Warwicker tells of the thankless work of finding out what the itinerary was from local government and Labour Party headquarters, while police understandably wanted to know what they had to police on the day. Warwicker neatly shows how it showed the sheer mess that the Labour Party and movement had got itself into, and as neatly shows the security side of things - how what plans and timings he was able to make were thrown out when Mr Callaghan didn't like the Mercedes coach he was supposed to drive out of Downing Street in, and insisted on a British make.

To sum up, Warwicker as a 'sharp-ender' has a cracking and important story to tell and he tells it - or rather many stories - well, such as the summit conference of world leaders at sunny Guadeloupe, which led to the unfortunate headlines 'Crisis? What crisis' on Callaghan's return to wintry January 1979 Britain. Besides such tales, Warwicker gives insightful and informed opinions on the PMs he gave physical security to, and shares an opinion indeed on others, such as Mrs Thatcher's son Mark. Warwicker has clearly done homework by looking at the politicians' and other memoirs of his period, while still sensibly trusting to his own views (such as, 'to stay at the top of the political tree there was simply no time to waste on anything else' such as culture or the outdoors).

The book while telling of past times is on page 201 for example absolutely still relevant for showing the dilemma of close protection officers - 'how to remain close enough to the target and adequately equipped for any eventuality, in a low key, informal ambience where 'heavies' were frowned upon or where diplomatic protocol was paramount'.

Whether your interest is the police, high politics and the 'never never land' of Downing Street, or the 1970s in Britain in general, with this book you're in for a treat.