I’m no fan of Strictly Come Dancing, but Mrs P is so it’s one of those tv programmes I watch from time to time. Personally, I find it a bit depressing because it is a sure sign that winter is well and truly on the way.
I mention this because the first to leave the show this weekend was Edwina Currie, former politician, semi-professional Scouser and the only person to have considered John Major exciting enough to have an affair with him.
It reminded me of the time in the 1980s when her political career was at its highest. She had been elected as the MP for South Derbyshire in 1983 and became beloved by the media because she was likely to have an outrageous comment on any subject they cared to mention.
In 1986 she became a Junior Health Minister and, among other things, was quoted as saying that “Good Christian people don’t get AIDS” and that northerners die of “ignorance and chips.”
Neither quote went down well, but it was the latter one that caused her grief whenever she was in this neck of the woods when I was involved in organising her NHS-related press conferences.
It was open season on Edwina and after a visit to Bury, a local reporter was determined to get Edwina to admit to some unhealthy habit. Had she never smoked a cigarette behind the bike sheds at school he asked.
Smiling, she answered that she hadn’t had time for smoking at school because she was too busy reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
My heart sank as I imagined the headlines that would surely followed, but the reporter seemed oddly unexcited by her response and moved on to other things.
It was only afterwards that I found out why. Scanning his shorthand notes, he asked me “What’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover?”
“DH Lawrence,” I said. “Classic literature, that sort of thing,” and he lost interest again.
So the headline was averted and all because this ‘man of letters’ had no idea who DH Lawrence was. He went on to become sports editor too. (The reporter that is, not Lawrence.)
This was in 1986, I think, and Edwina’s ministerial career didn’t last survive her salmonella-in-eggs comments of 1988 when she was forced to resign. She was then a victim of her own notoriety as a Whitehall report released in 2001 stated that there had indeed been a “salmonella epidemic of considerable proportions.”
Not that this put an end to Edwina’s public career as her appearance on Strictly demonstrates, but it’s hard to imagine where the next generation of ballroom-dancing failed politicians will come from. Unless you count Teresa May.
[I forgot to mention that the photo above is from Edwina’s interview with Clive James in 1987 in which she talks about her fondness for sexy underwear and how Maggie Thatcher and Denis “could do it on the floor” at Oxford University. You can see the interview here.]