Why the FO had to buy a double bed for Kennedy

Macmillan's single divan was not good enough, so JFK brought his own mattress, and a set of pillows too
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The Independent Online

Foreign Office officials were sent to buy a double bed for President John F Kennedy during a one-night visit to Britain, after Washington made it clear the Prime Minister's single divan was not good enough.

Details of JFK's sleeping arrangements during a 24-hour summit with Harold Macmillan in June 1963, five months before the President's assassination, are contained in government documents released today at the Public Record Office in Kew, west London.

The presidential visit also caused a crisis for the Post Office, at that time still in charge of telecommunications, when the Americans demanded a White House-style communications centre in Brighton.

Downing Street's diplomatic pillow-talk began with Macmillan offering Kennedy the use of his bedroom at Birch Grove, his private residence in Sussex and the venue for the mini-summit, during a presidential stopover on a tour of Germany and Ireland. A memo from Macmillan's private secretary, Philip de Zulueta, a few weeks before JFK's arrival on 29 June (with his own mattress and pillows), reports that one of the President's aides had accepted the offer and would place his valet next door.

It seems the Prime Minister failed to take account of the presidential backache or his preference for a double rather than a single bed. Mr Zulueta said: "The only complicated arrangement for the house is that the President likes a double bed and brings his own mattress and pillows (I suppose it is for his back). They [the White House] will let us know and the Foreign Office will get one."

Officials even arranged for JFK to attend the nearest Catholic church to Birch Grove for mass on Sunday 30 June.

But in an attempt to maintain the timetable of talks between Macmillan and the President, which included discussions of attempts to ratify the first Cold War nuclear test ban treaty, De Zulueta noted: "The priest has agreed not to preach a sermon so the President should be back by 09.15 or so."

Further documents reveal that Whitehall was clearly taken aback by the extent of the preparation for JFK's arrival at Gatwick airport. A Rolls-Royce was to be provided for the President's use, along with a helicopter, an ambulance and an unspecified quantity of blood matching his type at the nearby East Grinstead hospital.

One memo asked: "Will the American embassy provide a flag for his car and let the [British] Conference and Supply Department know the size of the flag so the appropriate flagstaff may be fitted to the car?"

The communications set-up at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, 25 miles from Birch Grove, included 150 lines for the press corps, 50 secure lines including permanent connections between the White House, the President's Boeing 707, the helicopter pad next to the Red Lion pub and five to JFK's bedroom.