Edward Heath, forever known to Private Eye readers as “Grocer Heath” has died at the ripe old age of 89.
I spent a day with him once, during a general election campaign. He was then very much out of favour with a Tory party dominated by “that woman”, as he habitually referred to Margaret Thatcher, so Central Office tried to keep him out of the campaign. But he decided that he would go round the country on his own, supporting candidates of whom he approved. On the day I travelled with him, we visited seats in the North of England. At each venue, the routine was the same. There would be a press conference plus ‘photo opportunity’ for the local candidate, so that he could be pictured standing next to the Great Man. To enliven proceedings (because the press conferences were dire) I began asking the same question of each candidate. Did he, I wondered, consider himself as “belonging to the Heathite wing or the Thatcherite wing” of the Party?
The wriggling discomfiture of the candidates was hilarious to behold. On the one hand, they did not wish to embarrass the Great Man. On the other, they were terrified of upsetting Central Office. After I’d done this a couple of times, I noticed that the Grocer was enjoying the joke almost as much as I was. On the third occasion he muttered to me “You’re a sadist!”