Introducing Sybil, Downing Street's first cat for a decade
Wednesday 12 September 2007
In the latest break with the Blair era, a cat is back in residence at Downing Street for the first time in a decade. The job of official mouser has gone to Sybil, a black and white cat owned by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and his wife, Margaret.
She follows in the famous paw-steps of Humphrey, who served Margaret Thatcher and John Major before being mysteriously "retired" in 1997 amid rumours that Cherie Blair was allergic to cats.
The Darlings have brought Sybil, named after the character played by Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers, from their Edinburgh home to live in their flat above 10 Downing Street. It is understood that the Darlings will be footing the bill for the Government's newest recruit.
Sybil will be given privileged access to the heart of government to help fulfil her task of keeping the building free of vermin.
Gordon Brown's spokesman explained: "It's quite difficult to confine cats. The Prime Minister doesn't have a problem with it. Sarah Brown doesn't have a problem with it."
Until the Blairs arrived in Downing Street, there had been a long tradition of cats prowling the residence. Wilberforce took office alongside Edward Heath in 1970 and went on to serve under Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher.
He was succeeded by Humphrey, a long-haired black and white stray named after Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil servant in another TV sitcom, Yes, Minister.
Humphrey had a controversial record, surviving only after winning Mr Major's backing in 1994 when he was blamed for the death of four robin chicks nesting outside the Prime Minister's office.
The following year he went missing, presumed dead, but returned to Downing Street after staff at a Westminster medical college read his obituary and realised their new moggy was the Government's official mouser.
Within a week of the Blairs moving in, reports emerged that Humphrey had fallen foul of his new mistress – claims she strenuously denied.
Sensing a PR disaster brewing, and with angry letters beginning to arrive from cat lovers, Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary, rapidly arranged a photo call, with Cherie and Humphrey pretending they were the best of friends.
The rumour mill started again in November 1997 when No 10 announced that Humphrey had gone into retirement with an elderly couple in south London. On the Blairs' orders, photographers were taken to picture him posing with that day's newspapers to scotch speculation that he had been put down.
Whitehall files later disclosed he had been pensioned off – with his food and vet bills paid from a £100 annual Cabinet Office stipend – because he was no longer up to the job of chasing mice.
Although Mrs Blair was cleared of blame for his removal from high office, a replacement was not made until the new boss moved into Downing Street.
Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt
When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...
£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...