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A cheap night out that was packed full of political intrigue.

Byline: RHODRI MORGAN Mr Wales writes exclusively for the Western Mail

CHEAPEST and best night out in the West End Julie and I have ever had was PS17.20 in total for the two of us.

Well, okay, it was actually on the South Bank, not the West End.

That's how we were able to walk in and walk back, so no transport costs.

The play we saw was This House, in the National Theatre, one of the best legacies from the 1951 Festival of Britain, which I can just about remember.

We had the cheapest seats in the house at PS5 each. Actually, not seats at all but standing up and leaning on a rail, like being at the football in the old days.

Best night out because This House is the story of how the 1974-9 minority Labour Government almost survived the full five years.

How can you make an incredibly watchable play out of that? The way to do it is to personalise it, down to the remarkable relationship between the Deputy Government Chief Whip Walter Harrison and his Tory opposite number Jack Weatherall.

By a strange coincidence, Walter has just died in his 90s and his funeral is next week. Like Sir Alex Ferguson, he is widely regarded as the best ever at his profession - a true legend. Jack Weatherall became the Speaker in 1983, when George Thomas, my long-term predecessor as Labour MP for Cardiff West, retired.

The strange thing is that you don't have to be a political anorak to enjoy the play. Looking around the audience, we didn't recognise that many MPs or political "journos".

It's worth paying the money just to see how the play deals with the faked suicide of John Stonehouse, MP for Walsall.

The same applies to the incident in 1976 when Michael "Tarzan" Heseltine picked up the mace and whirled it round his head.

This was all before Parliament was televised.

Whether the climax is historically accurate is open to doubt.

Many little factors contributed to the Government losing the Confidence Vote in April 1979, which led to Margaret Thatcher being elected in May.

Jim Callaghan lost by one vote. In the play, the key was Walter Harrison deciding that he could not ask the dying MP for Batley, Alf "Doc" Broughton, to come down by ambulance one more time to be "nodded through" in the basement of the House of Commons and driven back home again. Doc Broughton was more than happy to do it, even if he died in the attempt.

The version I heard was that Walter Harrison was willing to authorise it too, but Jim Callaghan and Michael Foot said no. "If we're going to go down, we've got to go down with dignity" or words to that effect.

I was in the Strangers Bar of the Commons the following night. A very bluff Yorkshire MP told me that Walter Harrison told him personally that the version I'd heard was correct. Not for the play, though. It's a wonderful ending - brings tears to your eyes.

What did I spend the other PS7.20p on? Two cups of coffee before the play and two glasses of wine in the interval.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 3, 2012
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