The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary is without doubt Prime Minister Theresa May’s most bizarre cabinet choice. If nothing else his term in office should be fun. Britain hasn’t had such a clownish, gaffe-prone foreign secretary since the now notorious and, by some, greatly-missed George Brown, going back to Harold Wilson’s cabinet in the 1960s.
Boris will not be assured of a warm welcome in Turkey after writing a poem about the alleged predilection of Turks to consort lasciviously with goats, though it did win a prize in Spectator magazine, so it couldn’t possibly be considered poor taste. If you haven’t read it, here it is in full:
There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankerer.
Nor will Boris look forward to a first meeting with a President Hillary Clinton, of whom he once wrote: “She’s got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”. One can’t help wondering if Bill would agree with that description, but that is by-the-by.
At least he won’t have to worry much longer about President Obama, whom he claimed was ‘part-Kenyan’ and so harboured an ‘ancestral dislike’ of Britain.
Boris, though is an amateur when compared to Mr. Brown, later Lord George-Brown, whose affinity with the bottle was the stuff of legend – and ultimately of tragedy, since it cost him his job.
Brown’s most famous exploit, almost certainly apocryphal – or, more likely, ascribed to the wrong British minister – is said to have occurred at a reception in Lima, Peru. Mr. Brown was attending a state ball of some kind, and as usual was a little the worse for wear. As the band struck up, he found himself standing next to a striking figure dressed in red. Brown turned to this personage and said, “Would you care to dance, madam”. The reply was frosty. “No I would not, thank you, and I have three reasons. One, you are drunk. Two, the music being played is Peru’s national anthem. And three, you are addressing the archbishop of Lima.”
On another occasion (also open to question) Mr. Brown allegedly attended a function in London at which the guest of honour was President Sadat of Egypt, who was accompanied by his wife. Mr. Brown was introduced to the lady in question who was wearing a dress that displayed an eye-catching décolletage. At the sight of this, Mr. Brown is said to have exclaimed, “Ah, I see you’ve brought the pyramids with you”.
(On a personal note, I once spent an hour or two with Mr. Brown and his own wife in my parents’ kitchen. Mr. Brown was preparing for a stump speech and local Labour Party officials had asked my father, a staunch Labour supporter, to offer his house for the Browns to freshen-up and relax after a long day. Mr. Brown declined every one of my mother’s embarrassingly persistent efforts to get him to accept a glass of whisky from the small bottle she had purchased for the occasion. Mr. Brown drank instead several cups of tea, laced with honey, to soothe his overworked vocal chords.)
Foreign Office officials have not otherwise been known for a sense of humour, but I would make an honourable exception for Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, the British ambassador to Moscow in 1943. Writing a discreet note to Lord Pembroke, a friend at the F.O. in London, Sir Archie was delighted to report that Turkey had appointed a new ambassador named Mustapha Kunt. His comment was priceless. “We all feel that way, Reggie, now and then, especially when spring is upon us, but few would care to put it on our cards”.
Watch this space, I say, for some Boris gems upholding a fine foreign service tradition.