Continuing our occasional series of People with Very Unusual Jobs Indeed. No 76: A Man Who Hires Out the Houses of Parliament.
"When people make political films set in Britain," says Jeremy Boynton, "the script almost always includes a scene set in the Commons. It seems such a good idea in advance. You can stage terrific battles... great speeches... showdown between PM and Opposition... even, occasionally, a chase scene or, even more rarely, a murder. All in the chamber of the House of Commons! But then, when they come to get permission to film in Parliament, they find they can't do it. 'No, we're very sorry, we never let people film in Parliament. Buzz off. Go somewhere else!'
"And do you know where they go? That's right! They come to me!"
They go to Jeremy Boynton.
Because Boynton owns the only full-size replica of the interior of the chamber of the House of Commons anywhere in Britain.
If you have ever seen a film set inside the Houses of Parliament in which Disraeli thunders defiance at Gladstone, or in which Winston Churchill thunders defiance at the Germans, or in which Ali G, as an unlikely prime minister, thunders defiance at an unbelievable script, and wondered to yourself how they ever got permission to film inside the holy of holies, well, you know the answer now. They didn't.
And they didn't go to the expense of building one, either. Why should they when, for a very reasonable fee, they can hire a life-size replica from Jeremy Boynton?
"It's all thanks to my father," says Jeremy. "My father was a loss adjuster for a big insurance company in the post-war years, and he was sent to deal with a bankrupt film-company. The reason they were going bankrupt was that they had spent far too much money on sets, including a magnificent mock-up of the chamber of the Commons. It so happened that my father was nuts about constitutional history, and when the bankrupt stock was auctioned off at a very low price, he put in a bid and found himself, to his amazement, the owner of his own House of Commons."
To begin with, it was just a folly. It was housed in a building in the Chilterns, and the only way they could use it was as a place for day trips. So they would drive from their London suburban home to the countryside, and then spend the day in Parliament.
"One of my earliest childhood memories is of having a picnic on our very own Front Bench," muses Jeremy. "Every time I see Prime Minister's question time on TV, I say, 'Hey! Jack Straw is sitting in my seat!' But then one day an amateur dramatic society asked Dad if they could hire the place for a play about Lloyd George set in Parliament, and it was ideal, of course, because they had the scene and space for the audience. So he got the idea of hiring it out. Pretty soon word got around that he had the best of all possible chambers, and film companies were clamouring to get in."
There was a dodgy moment in the 1960s when the local council wanted to redevelop the site, but the elder Boynton claimed successfully that it was the facsimile of a historic listed building and that if, indeed, Parliament was ever to burn down, the Boynton building might be the only model to rebuild from.
"The opposition in court asked sarcastically how likely it was that Parliament could ever burn down," Jeremy Boynton says, "and my father said, 'That's exactly what they were saying in 1834.' 'Oh, and what happened in 1834,' sneered the opposition. 'Parliament burnt down,' said my father. That took the wind out of their sails, I can tell you. And, of course, the Germans bombed the chamber of the Commons in the war. They shouldn't have done that. It was a listed building. But ours has always been unscathed."
So, if you want to hire the House of Commons, just give Jeremy a ring - and remember, it's not just for films! You can throw a party there, or have a reception for someone you want to impress, or just get married!
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