Television Comedian’s Prank Call Saved U.K. Prime Minister From Leadership Challenge

Naman Ramachandran
·2-min read

A prank call from impressionist Rory Bremner could inadvertently have helped save then U.K. Prime Minister John Major’s leadership in 1993, newly released files from Britain’s National Archive have revealed.

In October 1993, as part of his show “Rory Bremner, Who Else?” for U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, Bremner called member of parliament (MP) Richard Body, a so-called “Eurosceptic” (that is, someone who wanted to leave the European Union), pretending to be Major, and asked for Body’s support. Body, and several other MPs were on the verge of challenging Major’s leadership at the time of the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool. Evidently Bremner, who was experimenting whether his impersonation of the Prime Minister was good enough, was convincing, and Body and his fellow revolting MPs decided not to mount a challenge to Major, who had a majority of just 18 in parliament at that time.

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If the revolt had succeeded, the Brexit process could have commenced then.

Even though the then cabinet secretary Robin Butler was skeptical whether the caller was in fact the Prime Minister, as he was boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur at the time, Body was convinced. He eventually accepted that the call was a hoax.

Meanwhile, Butler spoke to the then Channel 4 chief executive Michael Grade, who promised that Body’s call would not be broadcast.

“You think you’re being satirical but the reality is even more farcical,” Bremner said. “I had no idea we’d thwarted a rebellion and saved John Major’s bacon. Honestly, who’d have thought that without a spoof phone call, a group of Eurosceptic backbenchers might have forced the PM to resign and taken us out of the EU. What are the chances of that?”

“Rory Bremner, Who Else?” was a satirical comedy sketch show where Bremner and other British impressionists lampooned politicians, sportspersons and other popular culture personalities. It won four BAFTAs in the light entertainment category.

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