Remembering Humphrey, working cat at No. 10 Downing Street

For me, the really good thing about the story of Humphrey the cat is that he was adopted as a stray by No. 10 Downing Street. He arrived at the offices of the Prime Minister of the UK in 1989. He rose to national fame and became one of the most prominent felines in British political life. He had a very modest start but we have to praise the kindness of the staff at 10 Downing Street. It was during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, a grocer’s daughter, who said that she could work with Humphrey because of his working-class background.

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He was the then Prime Minister’s official mouser. He outlasted Mrs Thatcher and remained in his post as a working cat during John Major’s occupancy of this tardis-like property above which is a flat occupied by the Chancellor. The Prime Minister occupies a flat above number 11 which is larger. I don’t know whether Humphrey had access to these flats to do his duty, I doubt it.

Historically, the staff members at No. 10 looked after the resident working cat. I believe that they fund their care out of their own earnings. But there is always a person or persons who volunteers. At one time Humphrey was accused of killing and eating four baby robins in the garden at No. 10. He was defended by I presume a member of staff or perhaps Mrs Thatcher herself. It was announced on television that “it is quite certain that Humphrey is not a serial killer”.

He disappeared in September 1995. Some people assumed that he had gone away to die in a quiet corner perhaps because of kidney failure. However, he didn’t die until 2006 at the age of 18. He appealed to Mrs Thatcher because of the modest cost of his upkeep at a hundred pounds annually according to The Guardian newspaper. He was therefore cheaper than any pest control contractor.

No one knows where Humphrey came from as he simply wandered into No. 10. He had a habit of consuming large quantities of civil service biscuits which is perhaps why people thought that he contracted kidney failure. When they thought he had died the news was published in The Times newspaper. The staff at the Royal Army Medical College, which is a little over 1.5 km (1 mile) from No. 10 Downing Street then realised that they had adopted the Prime Minister’s official working cat! They had christened him PC and fed him for some months.

He was returned promptly and welcomed back with international television coverage to his official role as First Mouser the of the British Isles. He was named after Sir Humphrey in the BBC television series ‘Yes, Minister’.

It was reported in the tabloids during the Blair era that Cherie Blair had decreed that she was allergic to Humphrey and therefore he had to go. But a photograph emerged later of Cherie Blair with Humphrey. This didn’t do a lot to scotch the rumours that she didn’t like him in the office. Although she looks very relaxed with him so I feel confident that she was not allergic to cats or Humphrey.

He was even involved in a conspiracy theory in which Conservatives accused the Labour party of murdering him according to a post! See below (note these sorts of embedded posts sometimes disappear. If that has happened – sorry!).

Humphrey retired to south London. There has always been a working mouser at No. 10 Downing Street. The current occupant is Larry who was adopted from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. He was specially selected by the manager of this famous animal shelter. I don’t think he has lived up to his reputation but he fought many a battle with Palmerston at the Foreign Office which is opposite No. 10. Palmerston was eventually retired out of stress!


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