BBC Radio 7, 18 January 2010
In HMS Pinafore (1878), Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a song "When
I was a Lad" containing the following lines: "I grew so rich that I was sent/ By a pocket borough into Parliament/ I always
voted at my party's call/ And I never thought of thinking for myself at all." These lines could have been written for Sir
Plympton Makepeace (Maurice Denham), an ageing backbench MP, who spent an entire career doing absolutely nothing, even while
considering himself a pillar of the community. In fact, his whole life has been something of a waste of time; he described
his marriage as "drudgery and a bit of propinquity," prompting him to embark on a series of increasingly sordid love-affairs.
While Peter Tinniswood's monologue, written especially for Denham, certainly held
the attention, I nonetheless felt that it was somehow rather unnecessary. Sir Plympton had a typically sexist view
of the world; all his male friends were "chums," while his lovers were portrayed not as human beings but as objects with
breasts and thighs rolling "like a lumberjack down a moving river." Eventually he was voted out by - horror of horrors!
- a socialist woman called Susan Margaret Walcott, whose convictions only served to emphasize Sir Plympton's empty-headedness. The
only defence he could offer was that throughout his long political career, he had not done anything wrong, but he had not
done any harm either. But then the same could be said for anyone working in a dead-end job, without the privileges enjoyed
by an MP.