'Rumpole of the Lobby' collects his final scoop: Colin Brown on the retirement of Chris Moncrieff, a parliamentary institution

JOHN MAJOR, Tony Blair and half the Cabinet united on the terrace of the House of Commons this week in celebrating the departure of one of the great institutions of Parliament.

The retirement of Chris Moncrieff, 62, the political editor of the Press Association, means the Commons will never be quite the same again.

He has seen leaders come and go, Governments collapse, and great careers end in tears, and for three decades, he has stood in the members' lobby taking down quotes from the MPs as they passed.

His greatest 'scoop' came when the Government used him to leak the Solicitor General's letter in the Westland affair, to discredit Michael Heseltine; it resulted in the resignation of Sir Leon Brittan from the Cabinet.

Denzil Davies resigned from Labour's front bench early one morning by telephoning Mr Moncrieff at home. A quote from another MP immortalised Michael Foot's donkey jacket at the Cenotaph.

Many of the MPs became household names as a result of a comment to Mr Moncrieff. There was a Moncrieff cast, the 'rent a quotes', who could be counted on for a comment on anything from the shape of the 50p to the weather. At one of his many retirement parties, he told how one MP had given him a quote as the MP tumbled out of the strangers' bar, late at night. Mr Moncrieff was telephoned in the early hours by the MP, who had been asked to go on BBC radio. He could not remember what he had said, and wanted to know whose side he was on.

Mr Moncrieff's lived-in face, with suit to match, has earned him the reputation of the Rumpole of Lobby. If he had not existed, he would have been invented by Dickens, one of the first lobby correspondents. He has a Dickensian turn of phrase, and enjoyed 'imbibing' until 10 years ago when he became a teetotaller.

He was also fond of clapping senior politicians on the back and shouting: 'How the devil are you?'

Politicians on all sides, from Tony Benn to Theresa Gorman, regard him as a straight, no-nonsense reporter, with copybook shorthand, and no 'angle'. He was born in Derby but brought up a few doors away from Sir Bernard Ingham, the former press secretary to Baroness Thatcher. 'Bernard still thinks I'm a Yorkshireman,' he said.

He arrived at the Commons in January 1962, and has never left it. Even after retirement, he will still be around the place, doing obituaries for PA. His fondest memories are of Lady Thatcher's premiership. His saddest task will be updating her obituary. 'Someone who read it, said to me, 'I didn't know you were in love with Margaret Thatcher',' Mr Moncrieff said.

Watching the photographer taking Mr Moncrieff's portrait, Tom Pendry, the Labour MP, said: 'He'll never retire.' He was probably right.

Mr Major fondly remembered an incident during an official visit to the Great Wall of China.

He said: 'Suddenly I looked back and there was Chris heading down the Great Wall of China, wholly out of control, hair flying, jacket flying, book held out in his hand, running as fast as he could, unable to stop, heading straight for the edge.

'As he went past I put out my hand and stopped him, and I thought for this act of mercy he would say thank you. But I misjudged the great man. He stopped, he looked up, and he said 'Can I use this story?' '

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific