Gordon Brown is not a bully, a senior cabinet minister insisted today as Downing Street denied a claim the Prime Minister was warned over his behaviour by the country's top civil servant.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said that although Mr Brown was emotional and demanding, he did not abuse staff and questioned whether the country wanted a "shrinking violet" in charge.
Extracts printed today by the Observer from its senior political commentator Andrew Rawnsley's book detailed a series of alleged furious outbursts that left staff fearing violence.
It suggested that Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell was so concerned at reports he received that he investigated before delivering a "pep talk" to the PM and a warning to calm down.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said it was "categorically not the case" that Sir Gus had asked for an investigation and Number 10 said the "malicious allegations are totally without foundation".
But Mr Rawnsley said he was "100% sure", based on first-hand evidence, that Sir Gus had looked into the Prime Minister's behaviour and issued him with a "verbal warning".
Mr Brown yesterday publicly insisted that he had never hit anyone in his life - although the extracts contained no claims stringer than one that the PM "roughly shoved aside" an aide.
Lord Mandelson told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I don't think he so much bullies people as he is very demanding of people.
Mr Brown was "a man who is quite emotional, is quite passionate in what be believes and what he is doing...who gets angry but chiefly with himself, who doesn't bully people", he went on.
"He is demanding of himself, he is demanding of people around him, he knows what he wants to do, he does not like taking no for an answer from anyone, he will go on and on until he has got a policy and an idea in the best possible form which he can then roll out.
"There is a degree of impatience about the man but what would you like, some sort of shrinking violet at the helm of the Government when we are going through such stormy waters."
He said an account in the book of him warning Mr Brown he could end up being the worst PM in history was "completely untrue".
According to Mr Rawnsley's book, the Cabinet Secretary looked into Mr Brown's behaviour after hearing about the PM pulling a typist from her chair to take over the keyboard.
"This is no way to get things done," the book records the civil servant telling him.
Sir Gus felt the need "to calm down frightened duty clerks, badly-treated phone operators and other bruised staff" and tell them "don't take it personally", Mr Rawnsley wrote.
The author said today that he was "100% sure" that Sir Gus had intervened.
"I'm sure he made his own investigations. One of the interesting things is they deny things that were not said," he told Sunday Live on Sky News.
"I do not say he launched some 'formal inquiry', which would be an extraordinary thing for the Cabinet Secretary. I have no evidence of that. I say he made his own investigations and he gave a warning, a verbal warning, to the Prime Minister about his conduct and I am absolutely confident that happened - 100% sure."
"I was particularly careful in this area because it's obviously a very sensitive area to be sure that this wasn't gossip or hearsay or tittle-tattle. The sources were 24-carat - not third-hand or second-hand - first-hand sources."
Lord Mandelson said: "If I had to make a choice and put my money on whether Andrew Rawnsley is telling the truth or the Cabinet Secretary I would put my money on the Cabinet Secretary."
The book risks undermining recent efforts to portray a softer side of the PM - such as in his television interview with Piers Morgan although the book was also reported to show examples of Mr Brown's skill at dealing sensitively with staff facing family emergencies and bereavements.
Earlier reports had suggested Mr Brown would be accused of hitting staff - something he vehemently denied when asked about it in an interview with Channel 4 News yesterday.
"Let me just say, absolutely clearly, so that there is no misunderstanding about that: I have never, never hit anybody in my life," he said.
"Of course you do get angry, mostly with yourself. But I'm very strong willed, I'm very determined. I think the country wants someone that will push things forward, and not allow things to be stagnant and stale, and every morning I get up with a determination to do my best for this country," he said - saying the only thing he threw was papers to the floor.Reuse content