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Backwords: The Prime Minister's Lucky Day

…Colne Valley people are rightly proud of their political heritage. But we don’t shout about the day we nearly killed the Prime Minister.We came very close to blotting our copybook on a September afternoon in 1951. And because I was there I suppose some of the blame would have fallen on me….
Mike Shaw tells a tale that is sure to please.

Colne Valley people are rightly proud of their political heritage. But we don’t shout about the day we nearly killed the Prime Minister.

We came very close to blotting our copybook on a September afternoon in 1951. And because I was there I suppose some of the blame would have fallen on me.

There were nearly 2,000 of us packed into a marquee on the old parade ground at Slaithwaite. It was to celebrate the Colne Valley Labour Party’s jubilee and the guest of honour was none other than the Prime Minister of the day, Clem Attlee.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more boring speaker among top politicians than Attlee. Most of the others in the giant marquee probably felt the same. But that was no excuse for almost bumping him off.

Mind you, we could in all honesty have pleaded that it was a pure accident. Well, how were we to know that an outsize light cover would drop like a bomb from way up in the canvas roof?

It burst like a bombshell, too, as it missed dear old Clem by a couple of feet or so and crashed to the ground in front of his seat on the platform.

The rest of us looked on in horror as glass fragments flew all over the platform and the floor. But cool Clem didn’t bat an eyelid. This was surely a glimpse of his leadership qualities. He was a strong, silent type. Not a tub-thumper.

If Attlee’s style of oratory was boring, Lady Violet Bonham Carter’s was brilliant. Never have I heard a more dazzling public speaker.

Pressmen from far and wide followed Lady Violet - the Liberal candidate - around Colne Valley in the 1951 election. But I was the only reporter present when she gave what I still believe was her most enthralling performance.

The setting was totally incongruous. It was a tiny Baptist chapel in Slaithwaite. And she wasn’t making an election speech.

For well over an hour she held her audience spellbound as she talked about “Great figures I have known.’’ To this day I can remember two of her stories almost word for word.

The first was about William Gladstone and a lunch she had with him and her father at 10 Downing Street when she was only six years old. As she sat there wondering what made Gladstone great it suddenly dawned on her that he reputedly chewed every mouthful of food 32 times before swallowing it. So she watched him like a hawk all through the meal and told her parents later: “We’ve been deceived! He bolted his food like a wolf!’’

The second story concerned Winston Churchill, a close personal friend for many years. She recalled that when they first met she was 19 and he was 33 and he remarked quite immodestly: “We’re all worms. But I do believe I’m a glow-worm.’’

But for all her silver-tongued brilliance, Lady Violet still lost the election to the quietest of quietly spoken gentlemen, Will Hall.

Politics is a funny game. And in Colne Valley we certainly had plenty of laughs at a by-election during the Sixties.

One of the candidates was a man with silver hair but no silver tongue. He kept a night club in Manchester and his name was Arthur Fox.

Arthur was definitely a bloke with an eye for publicity. And he came up with a real good gimmick that was a photographer’s dream. He brought along as his campaign assistants a couple of glamour girls from the club.

The blonde was called Baby Doll. The other beauty had dark hair but I’m afraid her name eludes me. Not that their names mattered all that much. It was their physical attractions that drew the cameramen like bees to a honey pot.

Arthur’s campaign got off to a really sweet start all right. The girls had their pictures splashed all over the popular dailies. But things soon went sour when Arthur realised they were getting all the attention and he was virtually ignored.

So he tried to put the mighty media machine into reverse. A task easier said than done, as he found out to his cost. As polling day approached, Arthur was painfully aware that nobody was taking him seriously.

What made it worse, of course, was that he did have a serious point to make. The supreme irony now, looking back over the years, was that Arthur was clearly ahead of his time. Arthur’s election ticket was reform of the law on Sunday shopping.

Yes, politics is a funny game.


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