Introducing Sybil, Downing Street's first cat for a decade

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders