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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Of sheep and willies

Contemporary politicians are not known for their quick wits. They've had to think so hard about the career implications of anything they say that you generally hear their jokes coming for weeks before they arrive. Last night's BBC Four history of deputy Prime Ministers, "Every Prime Minister Needs A Willie", had a few good ones. When Herbert Morrison, Peter Mandelson's grandfather, was told that cabinet rival Ernest Bevin was his own worst enemy he muttered "not while I'm alive he's not". Dennis Healey's line about Geoffrey Howe and the dead sheep retains its surreal fascination. Everyone who knew her agrees that Margaret Thatcher not only never told jokes - she literally didn't understand them either. This is a rare and worrying quality in anyone. She uttered the line that gave the show its name and didn't see why people laughed.