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Posts Tagged "Sir Humphrey Appleby":

Sir Humphrey Appleby: the Establishment’s Secret Weapon?

This is the Morning Room of the Athenaeum Club, to whom I am indebted for the loan (from their website) of this photograph. As wikipedia puts it,

It is noted for its large library, and for a bas-relief frieze decorating the club house exterior. It was long regarded as a clergymen’s club and today includes Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, Peers of the Realm and senior bishops amongst its members.

A member of the Lay Anglicana forum and regular contributor to the blog, Charley Farns-Barns (possibly a nom de plume) had already suggested in the comments that the answer might be a Trojan Horse, to which I responded in my last post. Now I hand over the reins to him, as he explains to us his version of recent events:


 Part The First

It’d been a fine dinner but with the port, biscuits and cheese the bishops knew it hadn’t been a success.

“Well” said +Bath & Wells as he coughed and blew crumbs over his neighbours, “I think it’s time to call for Machiavelli”.

The Archbishop nodded and someone rose and went out. Sir Humphrey Appleby entered and slumped into a chair.

“I think you know our problem” said the Archbishop, “What is your advice?”

“Well, it’s very difficult. You’ve allowed women parish priests and they’re now bumping up against the glass ceiling and you’ve chosen the time of the Queen’s Jubilee which has demonstrated sixty years of benign and clever female rule. Not to mention the Thatcher Years of forthright and determined leadership. I don’t think it could be much worse.”

“So you mean to tell us that nothing can be done” declared +Bath & Wells.

“Ah, I’m sure if I meant that, I’d have found the form of words to say so” said Sir Humphrey smoothly. “Women bishops are inevitable of course, but I suspect you might be content if you never yourselves have to meet any.”

The bishops looked at one another and thought of what they had said about them in past. Sir Humphrey could see they’d got the point.

“No, what you need is a form of words that will incense the Sisterhood so much that they will strike down this measure themselves. You need to suggest they have some rottenness, something bad – no that’s too strong – some slight but fundamental unsoundness”.

“A taint?” someone said.

“Ah! That’s just the word!”

It had been a long time coming, thought Sir Humphrey, but they’d got there in the end. If they got it themselves they’d be pleased and feel a sort of ownership.
“Yes that will upset them nicely, enough to make them force the measure down. And it shouldn’t come back until after you’re all retired. It’s about the best you’ll get”.

Sir Humphrey pocketed the cheque and left amidst profuse thanks. He was always surprised and pleased how profitable retirement was.  As he made his way to Paddington for the country, he once again reflected that the essence of acceptable advice was to tease out what the customer had in his own mind and then just polish it up a bit.

Part The Second

Sir Humphrey Appleby strolled back home from St Dodo’s across the village green at Bishop’s Codpiece.   He was enjoying his retirement as a churchwarden, for the experience as Permanent Under Secretary had come in very useful in dealing with the arcane issues of the Church of England.   And then he saw the limousine parked in his drive.

He recognised it immediately, of course – clearly ++Rowan needed “Another Chat”.  He ushered Rowan in and waited for Mrs Blossom to put down the tea and cakes and leave the room.   With the formalities done, Rowan began to open up.  It was as Sir Humphrey thought; he noticed Rowan’s finger nails were chewed down to the quick.  As expected, the Sisterhood had risen to the bait, had bridled at the implication of “taint” and at first had declared that they wanted the amended motion on women bishops to be voted down.   But, while a section of them continued in this vein, the main body of women priests now began to see the advantage of at least some female bishops.  The idea had formed of a Trojan Horse, that once some female bishops had been created then others would inevitably follow, indeed, the floodgates would be opened and others rapidly follow.

Tired and weary, Rowan asked “What can I do?”

“Well” said Sir Humphrey, “not much.  After all, the idea of “taint” was a last desperate throw.  They’ve done the logical thing, they’ve seen that once there’s one female bishop she’ll show the sky doesn’t fall in and so others will follow and all resistance will fall away.   You’ve lost it, Rowan”.

Rowan chewed a nail and was silent.  Sir Humphrey sensed there was more and then saw a way to ease it out.   “Rowan, think of happier times.  Remember when you met the Pope?  All that pomp and ceremony?” Rowan stirred.  “Do you know, I think that any disinterested party, say a newly arrived Martian, would see those two, the tall bearded chap in a golden cloak and high mitre next to that small simple fellow in a linen habit and he would have thought you were the Pope and the little man the Protestant!”  He saw Rowan smile and knew he was close.   “And you’re a scholar too; I bet you speak better Latin and Greek than most of them in the Vatican”.

Rowan looked straight at him and said “You’ve guessed haven’t you?”

“Well it’s not been difficult” replied Sir Humphrey. “First there’s your early retirement and then I always thought that your Covenant was an attempt to ease the dear old CofE closer to Rome.   But these women bishops will make Rome run screaming.  Rome’s where your heart lies, isn’t it?  But you’ll leave a recent interval after retirement won’t you before you do a Newman and swim the Tiber?   Say six months?  And if you value your scalp I wouldn’t tell the Queen if I were you.”

Rowan sighed and got up to leave. “I have your confidence?” he asked.

“As always” replied Sir Humphrey, “and I’ll watch your progress with great interest”.

“Ah, that old Civil Service curse” said Rowan as got into the back of the limousine and was driven away.

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