The gripes of Roth (or: how MPs moaned about their Parliamentary profiles)

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

An obscure archive sheds fascinating light on politicians' self-regard

For years, they cluttered his north London home, but this week the private archives of the great political profile writer, Andrew Roth, have been made publicly available, revealing the absurdities – and vanity – of some of Westminster's most charismatic personalities.

Roth researched and kept files on every MP, Member of European Parliament and Peer from 1950 until his death in August last year, aged 91. He used them to inform his satirical Parliamentary Profiles series, as well as books and obituaries. The archive also became a treasure trove for political journalists and biographers.

But not all of his subjects, to whom Roth showed drafts, appreciated his wry style or some of the snippets of gossip and press clippings he gathered in their name. Included in the Roth archives, which are now available at the Bishopsgate Institute in London, are several letters of objection.

Ed Miliband, now the Labour leader, took issue with a description of his nose (see right), which Roth then agreed to remove. But the archivist refused to take out the words "Bollinger Bolshevik" as a description of George Galloway, who said he had "never tasted the stuff".

Setting up home in Cricklewood in 1950, after being driven out of his native New York by McCarthyism, Roth bolstered an outsider's view of British politics with a refreshing irreverence.

"He punched through the wall of deference that MPs used to be surrounded by," says academic and author Byron Criddle, who worked with Roth on his Parliamentary Profiles from 1995 to 2005. "He was an American idealist who respected the craft of politics, whilst having a nose for the craftiness of politicians."

But while he revelled in gossip, Roth was mostly concerned with accuracy. He worked "meticulously, non-stop from 9am to 10pm", says his third wife and widow, Antoinette Putnam. "He was one of the first people to look into the issue of MPs increasing their business interests, controversially calling for a register of activities in 1961. And he got his first big scoop in his weekly subscription magazine, Westminster Confidential, which was the first publication to print details of the Profumo affair."

Alistair Darling

In a letter, dated 1998, in which he promised "not to sue", the former Chancellor objected to the suggestion he "outshone" Gordon [Brown] and that he was forced to shave. But Roth's final draft read: "remains loyal to Brown while outshining him...to the extent that often he was offered to the media in [his] place... ". It continues: "Was said to have come under pressure from Charles Whelan in Gordon Brown's office to shave his allegedly voter-irritating beard."

George Galloway

"Is it fair to call me a 'Bollinger Bolshevik' when I have never tasted the stuff?" asked the former Labour and later Respect MP in a list of 20 corrections, dated 2003. Roth decided to keep the phrase. Other corrections include: "Dr Chris Mason is a man"; "My ex-wife... does not live in Blackheath"; and "My eyes are blue". Roth's 7,000-word profile of Galloway ends: "London house in Streatham; pied-a-terre in Glasgow; villa in Algarve."

Ed Miliband

"One thing I haven't corrected is 'camel nose'," wrote the now leader of the Labour party in 2005 of an earlier draft of his profile which described him: "Tall, large head on narrow shoulders, sallow complexion, dark hair, camel nose, staring look, effortlessly fluent, supremely confident, eager, boyish manner." "I leave it up to you," he added, "but it struck me as slightly odd. What kind of noses do camels have anyway?!" Roth agreed, and the offending metaphor was removed.

John Bercow

In six pages of corrections sent in 2003 the now House of Commons Speaker claimed, among other things, that his hair was "no longer centrally-parted or spikey!". Roth instead documented how Bercow had progressed from aggressive right-winger to Portillo-style social liberal "with only his hair formerly parted in the centre". Bercow also rejected the accusation that he had "a talent for abandoning sinking ships in favour of others floating in his desired direction".

Liam Fox

Fox's brief letter of 2004 refers to a scandal that engulfed the former Defence Secretary long before Adam Werritty came along. "I would like you to make an amendment to remove the word 'racist' which referred to a joke I made at a private occasion." In 2000, Fox was forced by Tory leader William Hague to apologise for a joke he made at a Commons Christmas party: "What do you call three dogs and a blackbird? The Spice Girls."

Nick Brown

The Newcastle MP and, later, chief whip under Gordon Brown, wrote pages of corrections in 2003 to a profile he described as "pretty hopeless". He objected to the use of the term "vendetta man" and the accounts of his rift with Peter Mandelson, who was "certainly no worse than anyone else in political life... I don't see why you've singled me out for disliking him more than the rest of the Parliamentary Party dislike him".

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Flat out: Michael Flatley will return to the stage in his show Lord Of The Dance
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape