Security at Chequers during Edward Heath’s time as prime minister was so lax one government adviser accidentally stumbled into a room and saw him getting into the bath, newly released National Archives documents reveal.
Victor Rothschild fired off a complaint to the cabinet secretary, Sir Burke Trend, complaining he was allowed inside the prime minister’s country manor house without anyone bothering to check his identity or vehicle.
“I wonder, however, whether anyone, even if he has been identified should be allowed to roam about inside Chequers,” Lord Rothschild wrote in 1971. “I wanted to find a little table and went into the first bedroom outside the room where the meeting was held. The prime minister, who I hope did not see me, was about to get into the bath.”
He later “mentioned casually to the prime minister that the security did not seem particularly intense, to which he replied that it was going to be a good deal more intense at the weekend when [the Yugoslav president, Josip Broz Tito] arrived. I said it seemed evident that we attach greater significance to the security of an east European potentate than to our own prime minister.”
Rothschild, the head of MI5’s counter-sabotage unit during the second world war, explained he had been in charge of Churchill’s security. “You may care to know, for example, that when a French industrialist gave him 12 bottles of 1787 Armagnac, I insisted on him producing the 13th to be tasted. In spite of the peculiar difficulties of guarding Churchill, I would say the job was done a good deal more systematically than at Chequers the other day, at any rate that was my impression.”
Rothschild, a member of the banking dynasty, a scientist and an intelligence officer, who died in 1990, was an adviser on science and intelligence to Conservative and Labour governments.
His wartime responsibilities included checking that gifts of cigars to Churchill had not been tampered with. On one occasion, when Churchill was presented with a Virginia ham by a French general who accosted him in Parliament Square, the prime minister declared he was have it for breakfast the next morning.
According to the book Agent Jack, Rothschild summoned London’s top scientists to advise how to test the ham without depriving Churchill of breakfast. Their solution was to feed a very thin sliver to the Medical Research Council’s cat, wait patiently, and when the cat survived, Churchill was allowed his breakfast.