The Prime Minister’s Ironing Board and Other State Secrets: True Stories from the Government Archives, by Adam Macqueen, Little, Brown, RRP£12.99, 304 pages
Despite his title, Macqueen divulges no WikiLeaks-style secrets here. Instead, after sifting through hundreds of declassified files, he offers vignettes of British political life from the whimsical to the downright chilling.
Security plans during the cold war, for instance, left much to be desired. Should atomic bombs be smuggled into the UK, a “most serious threat”, the official response consisted of “putting on a bold front” and praying the Russians fell for it. Macqueen also uncovers less blood-curdling material. Apparently, one of Harold Wilson’s ministers worried that Prince Charles might have been brainwashed into supporting Welsh terrorists.
State Secrets is delightfully gossipy about its large cast of characters (best to keep your Who’s Who close to hand, though). Harold Wilson was constantly star-struck; Harold Macmillan was a bore. Elected for her assurance of thriftiness, Margaret Thatcher insisted on paying for the Number 10 ironing board herself. She wasn’t called the Iron Lady for nothing.