Michael Palin: ‘How ungrateful Hampstead was to Ben Whitaker’


GLENDA Jackson’s 42 vote win in 2010 wasn’t the first time there had been a close run thing in Hampstead at a General Election. In 1970, Labour’s Ben Whitaker (pictured) lost his seat in Hampstead by just 474 votes to Tory Geoffrey Finsberg, who tactfully celebrated by having ‘474’ stamped on his car number plate. Ben, who passed away this week aged 79, however still goes down in history as Labour’s first MP in Hampstead and the man who unseated Henry Brooke, mocked as the ‘most hated man in Britain’, by That Was The Week That Was.

Ten days after departing Parliament, Michael Palin’s Monty Python diaries reveal the comedians agreed to perform at a fund-raiser for Ben at the Town Hall. The show included the famous dead parrot sketch and Palin remarks how he and John Cleese felt nervous performing back then to a live audience.

“The audience knew we were giving our services free for the Labour Party and they’d paid from £2 10s to £10 to watch, so they must have been pretty strong Labourites,” Palin writes. “Anyway, it went well. Decided to take up our invitation to Ben Whitaker’s after the show party. He lives in a sensibly, modestly furnished Victorian house backing onto to Primrose Hill. I think the party may have been rather foisted on him – he seemed to be opening bottles of white wine with the somewhat pained expression of a man who cannot reconcile the joviality around hi, or, indeed, the money he’d spent on wine with the fact that ten days earlier he had lost his seat in Parliament, his job as a junior minister, and his chance of political advancement for at least ten years. It would be fairly appalling to be told one could do more shows for four years and yet for a man of any ambition that’s what it must be like. How ungrateful Hampstead has been to Ben Whitaker, I thought, as I shook his limp hand and left his limp party at around 1.00 am.”



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