The secret world of Whitehall – and other BBC Michael Cockerell gems


British Houses of Parliament
If you’ve missed them when they were originally broadcast, YouTube has a wealth of BBC political documentaries for you to watch at leisure.

I missed Michael Cockerell’s “The Secret World of Whitehall” when it was originally broadcast. All three programmes from the series are on YouTube in full:

Episode 1 – The Real Sir Humphrey – This looks at the role of the Cabinet Secretary, chronicling the historic evolution of the role through its various job holders.

Episode 2 – Behind the Black Door – Looks at how different Prime Ministers have organised Number Ten Downing Street in very different ways. At one extreme Harold Macmillan took quite a laid back approach, insisting on reading lots of Trollope. Many Prime Ministers have used the huge Cabinet Room as their office, giving a very presidential feel to the way they operate. At the other extreme, Gordon Brown sat at a desk within the office of his advisers and civil servants, with the 24 hour news channel blaring away on a large screen above them. Apparently, Gordon Brown and his advisers would regularly jump up and comment loudly on what was appearing on the news channel. Goodness knows how the man managed to think straight.

Episode 3 – The Network – This, to me, is by far the most fascinating of the triplet of programmes. It looks at the work of the Private Office in each government department. The programme describes how the civil servants working immediately for their minister act as their filter to the rest of the world, guiding their daily schedule, monitoring their activity and liaising with the rest of the Whitehall world. The programme then examines the power of the SPAD (Special Adviser).

I would add a note to say that the use of music in the “Secret World of Whitehall” series is superb. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of Alan Clark to the sound of Barry White singing, or more accurately, groaning, “I’m going to love you just a little more baby”.

Also available on YouTube are:

The Great Offices of State – Another Michael Cockerell opus. 1. The Dark Department (the Home Office). 2. Palace of Dreams (Foreign Office) 3. The Secret Treasury.

Inside the Commons (2015) (Quality questionable) Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3. Episode 4. Michael Cockerell again.

News from Number Ten.

How to be leader of the Opposition and Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

…and a profusion of other programmes which pop up on the right hand side as you search or watch those titles.

I should imagine these documentaries might be particularly valuable for students of politics, as well as regular anoraks.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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