07 May 2010

Fun Facts about the Prime Ministers

Walpole: First among P.M.'s, but only 14th in his family!

G'day, reading mates! I am currently "down under" the Equator, researching something very important called "the bush." But more on that later.

In commemoration of this week's general elections in Great Britain, I fancied that I would bring my readers some strange and interesting facts from the Cabinet about the men (and woman) who have held the post of Prime Minister.

The first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745; served 1721-42), had sixteen brother and sisters, the most of any Prime Minister. And his family wasn't even Catholic -- just secret Swedenborgians!

The youngest P.M. ever, the appropriately-named William "
L'Enfant Terrible" Pitt,  (1759-1806; served 1783-1801, 1804-06) was one of the first trainspotters in Britain, personally bankrolling Richard Trevithick's experimental locomotive The Rotten Borough in 1804! 

The ill-fated steam locomotive The Rotten Borough, demonstrated at a "steam circus" in (pre-Woolfian) Bloomsbury, London. The track layout, though quite a profitable spectacle, proved, to the great surprise of Pitt and other investors, completely useless for passenger or freight travel.  

In commemoration of his tenure as prime minister, in 1945, Topps Commonwealth issued a special set of bubble-gum cards called "Stars of Downing Street" starring Winston Churchill (Conservative, 1874-1965, served 1940-45; 1951-55)!

Limited-edition autographed "Brotherhood of Living P.M's" card from the 1945 Topps set "Stars of Downing Street". From left, Clement Atlee, David Lloyd George, Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, and the reanimated body of Neville Chamberlain (seated).

As you might have guessed from the above, one of my interesting facts is that the British government reanimated the body of Neville Chamberlain (Conservative, 1869-1940, 1945-????, served 1937-40), who, during his first life, invented the popular billiard-like game of snooker!

Scotsman Ramsey MacDonald (Labour, 1866-1937, served 1924, 1929-35) was, during his interregnum, reduced to the life of a common Glaswegian tramp!

MacDonald in 1927, hoping, as he said in an interview with the Daily Mail, to "hop a steamer to Brazil" and "make it big" there.

In 1834, William IV accidentally appointed a loaf of Beef Wellington (Conservative, November 13-December 10, 1834, served Nov. 14-Dec. 10, 1834) Prime Minister, and it served for almost a month before anyone noticed (or ate) it!

Mistaken for Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) by the "Sailor King".

Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative, 1804-81, served 1868, 1874-80) kept a lion, given to Queen Victoria as a gift by African entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, as a guard-dog at 10 Downing Street -- and called the lion Prince Albert!

Disraeli with Prince Albert (at the family "dry goods" store, John Bull's Mercantile and Novel-supply) trying to sink the Bismark!

William Gladstone (Liberal, 1809-98, served 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-94, 1895-1895, 1898-1911) secretly owned a corn plantation, Hawardan, with fellow P.M. Sir Robert Peel on the Isle of Man, ostensibly under the stewardship of the Manx liege lords the Stanley Family (led by the 14th Earl of Derby, Edward Smith-Stanley, thrice P.M. himself), which used imported Black Irish slave labour! Is coincidental intersection of the British aristocracy even possible?!

Bathed in the golden light of a Manx midsummer afternoon, Gladstone (center) and Peel (far right) meet with three of their estate overseers on the pastoral grounds of their corn plantation, 1897.  

Although two feet shorter than his subject, John Russell, the Earl Russell (Whig-Liberal, 1792-1878, served 1846-52, 1865-66) moonlighted as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator whilst Prime Minister, delivering comic orations of the Gettysburg Address to rapt British audiences (an act his grandson, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, later condemned as an act of supreme illogic), until his second career was discovered and he was recalled by the House of Commons!

Russell in costume, backstage at the 1865 Royal Albert Hall Christmas Charity Concert.

The popular tea blend Earl Grey was named after the eponymous prime minister (Whig, 1764-1845, served 1830-34), who, when in the Far East investigating the actions of East India Company official Warren Hastings, was given some of the tea by a grateful Chinese man that he had saved from drowning in the silty waters of the Yellow River only a few hours earlier!

Earl Grey tea-flavored chocolate confection briefly sold in the Far East during the First Opium War. (I'm not making this one up! Check the Kanji!)

And, last but not least....

Current (not for long?) P.M. James Gordon Brown (Labour, 1951-2010?, served 2007-?) is actually a Doctor of History, but was forced to close his Edinburgh practice after being appointed the menacing-sounding Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1992! Now I wish I would have voted Labour instead of for the No Candidate Deserves My Vote! Party.

Also, did you know its called a "Hanged Parliament" because, the day after the election, the monarch personally hangs the current P.M. in the Commons chamber? Could it really happen?!?

Everyone loves a hanging!

1 comment:

  1. The Stars of Downing Street line up does not feature the reanimated body of Neville Chamberlain. This Star is the Australian PM John Curtin as the signature suggests. Clement Atlee RIP.


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