The best part of any district commissioner or officer's duties were spent on
'safari' in East and Central Africa, on 'trek' or on 'tour' in West Africa. It
was rather different being on tour in London. I had landed the job of lackey to
the governor of Northern Nigeria at the 1957 Nigerian Constitutional
Conference because I was on leave, after a stint as ADC, and was told that it
would be treated as being on tour with the usual allowances.
My first duty was to respond to a gubernatorial telegram asking me to provide
the exact dimensions of rooms in the hotel his wife had once spotted and
decided would be nice to stay in. Situated on the north side of Piccadilly
overlooking Green Park it was relatively modern with all rooms of a standard
size, as I discovered when I made my recce armed with tape measure. My
request aroused a mixture of hostility and curiosity. Obviously no previous
guest had ever asked for the dimensions of the rooms but we were staying for
several weeks and I explained that there might be another room let arising out
of my request. When I telegraphed my master I emphasised that they would
need another room for their young daughter and while my room could double
as an office it might be advisable to have four rooms altogether. I thought it
unlikely that the PA engaged for the course of the conference would expect to
work in my bedroom. She was not a colleague on leave but the titled daughter
of an earl.
Hotel arranged, I pleaded with the Agent-General for Northern Nigeria that the
daily touring allowance of ten shillings would barely cover the cost of breakfast.
He kindly agreed to pay for my B&B on top of the allowance and I reckoned I
could avoid eating in the hotel. My next job was to ensure that the
gubernatorial Humber, which had been sent to UK for overhaul, was ready.
Destined for the Royal Tour of South Africa that never took place and acquired
cheaply, it had done good service including the Queen's visit in 1956. The
Crown Agents took me to the works where it had been serviced. The foreman
complained that 'when we stripped her down, it was like the bleeding Sahara in
here'. He was dismissive of my explanation that all our cars got like that.
The Crown Agents organised registration and a driver. My master was keen to
be met at Heathrow with the Humber but, with a drop down quarter roof so that
the back seat occupants could be easily seen, it had no luggage space at all. I
had taken delivery in Paris of a Peugeot pick-up, the usual touring transport for
junior officers, so I said I would use my vehicle for the luggage. Hard to believe
now that in 1957 I had no problem parking in Piccadilly and the only Peugeot
agent in UK in those days had his garage in Brick Street.
I donned a new suit and bowler hat for my trip to Heathrow. Bowler hat and
French number plates proved a magical combination. Passengers were then
bussed from the planes and I was able to arrange for the Humber and my pickup
to drive out to the plane after it had landed. While the Humber took the
governor and family to a VIP suite I loaded the luggage and had it in their
rooms by the time they arrived.
Lancaster House was the standard venue for constitutional conferences as
colonies wended their way to independence. As might be expected of grand
houses, indeed Lancaster House is a royal palace, the business conducted
upstairs by the carriage trade keeps a substantial downstairs staff busy. And
in the tradition of grand houses guests bring their own lackeys. A governor-general,
three regional governors, a federal prime minister, three regional
premiers, leaders of a dozen political parties and several important chiefs
produced a great many lackeys. While our masters conferred we had ample
opportunity to get to know one another and enjoy the lavish hospitality provided
by the UK taxpayer. The capacity for brandy by one chief's aide, who
appeared to have no duties other than to take possession of a comfortable
chair by the bar first thing in the morning and occupy it until last thing at night,
aroused the envy of us all.
We were into the conference almost immediately. After breakfast my master
spent time in the office dictating and telephoning. I took him downstairs, put
him in the Humber, went back up to ensure that the PA had all she needed for
the day's work, went down again (we were on the sixth floor) walked across
Green Park and waited on the steps of Lancaster House for him to arrive.
London traffic was much worse then than now especially around Piccadilly and
there was a stream of VIP cars edging down Pall Mall waiting their turn to enter
the precinct. Dismissing my suggestion that he might find the walk across the
park refreshing I daily saw him off and met him on arrival without his ever
Alan Lennox-Boyd was Secretary of State. He had great charisma and I
enjoyed seeing him stride into Lancaster House and run up the stairs with his
Nigeria desk minions trying to keep up with him. He often invited one of the
more flamboyantly dressed Northern aristocrats to accompany him on a drive
around London. It was a novelty for me to see somebody who would normally
never venture out unless accompanied by a horde of praise singers and
attendants go off on his own overwhelmed less perhaps by the office of
Secretary of State than the personality of its holder.
Much of my time was spent hanging around waiting to be sent on some
message or other, work beginning in earnest after the close of the day's
meeting when there were papers to attend to and appointments to be made.
This way I picked up some knowledge of what was happening upstairs to
discuss with colleagues in a similar role the next day but boredom
predominated. Our masters usually lunched in style and at length in their clubs
and a group of us established our own club in the Red Lion, one of London's
oldest pubs, in Crown Passage. It has been a favourite of mine ever since.
As one sunny June week wound to its end I was allowed off for the week-end
to stay with friends in Somerset. Our PA asked if I could give her a lift home.
Friday evening on the A30, then the only road to the south-west, was a tedious
business and as we neared her dad's castle she invited me to supper, 'there'll
only be daddy and the boys'. When we arrived a couple of baize-aproned
flunkies rushed out and stood aghast at the pick-up. I indicated her luggage in
the back but it was clear that if I didn't get in and haul it out nobody else would
and I was hungry. The only person in the room without a title other than the
butler, I was introduced to daddy and the boys. When daddy decided that as it
was a warm evening we should take off our jackets my plebeian status was
confirmed when it was revealed that I alone wore self-supporting trousers,
everybody else had braces. As we moved into supper I guessed that the butler
expected me to tackle my asparagus with a knife and fork. I was ready with my
fingers but in the gloom of the buffet mistook the cream intended for the
strawberries to come later for the hollandaise sauce!
My final duty was to persuade my master that staff needed to be tipped before
we left, never an easy job. Governors were not highly paid, he had children at
school and his wife was of a thrifty disposition. He put off the discussion with
various excuses until the last day. By the time he was ready I had already
vacated the office and my bedroom and as he did not want madam to be party
to our conversation and some of the hotel staff were up and down the corridor
he decided we should have it in the lift. We were on the sixth floor and there
were other guests on their way down. As they attempted to join us with 'good
mornings' they were rebuffed by my master with a wave of the hand and some
incoherent mumbling. We went up and down three times in this manner. I
managed to get agreement on the hotel staff. Our driver was more of a
problem. He had been excellent in every way and had kept us up to date with
the cricket scores so my master, feeling he was more friend than servant, was
averse to a monetary gift and decided that he would give him a book about
cricket that he had spied in Hatchards. I slipped in a £20 note of my own.
Never have I been happier to leave a hotel.