Humphrey

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This article is about a cat. For the 15th century duke, see Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

Jack Humphrey (born c. 1988) was a cat employed at 10 Downing Street from October 1989 to November 13, 1997. Arriving as a one-year old stray, he served under the premierships of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. His current whereabouts, or whether he is even still alive, are unknown. The Daily Telegraph made a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request for documents relating to Humphrey in early 2005, which has led to more information about his time at Downing Street coming to light.

Humphrey was found as a stray by a Cabinet Office civil servant and named in honour of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the archetypal civil servant of Yes, Minister. Frequently pictured posing by the famous Number 10 front door, his primary duties involved catching mice and rats in the maze of Downing Street buildings. The poor quality of the buildings, some of which date back to the eighteenth century, and the nearby St. James's Park ensure a continuous vermin problem. At a cost of around £100 a year (paid for from the Cabinet Office's budget), most of which went on food, Humphrey was said to be considerably better value than the Cabinet's professional pest controller, who charged £4,000 a year and is reported to have never caught a single mouse. By the time of his retirement, Humphrey had risen to the position of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.

In November 1993, an internal memo was circulated in the Cabinet Office, informing staff that Humphrey was suffering from a minor kidney complaint and had been put on a special diet. A ban on feeding him treats was instituted.

Humphrey was accused on June 7, 1994 of having killed four robin chicks, which were nesting in a window box outside the office of John Major, the then Prime Minister. However, Major exonerated him the next day, declaring, "I am afraid Humphrey has been falsely accused." Files obtained by the Telegraph refer to the allegation as "libellous" and "completely unfounded".

In June 1995, Humphrey went missing. On September 25, 1995, the Prime Minister's press office announced his presumed death. The publicity led to his rediscovery in the nearby Royal Army Medical College, where he had been taken in as a presumed stray and named PC. Upon his return, a civil servant issued a statement, supposedly written by Humphrey, to the press: "I have had a wonderful holiday at the Royal Army Medical College, but it is nice to be back and I am looking forward to the new parliamentary session."

Following the Labour Party's victory in the May 1997 general election, Tony Blair moved in to 10 Downing Street. Within a week, press reports of a rift between Humphrey and Cherie Blair, the new Prime Minister's wife, emerged. Mrs Blair was reported to either be allergic to cats or to believe them to be unhygienic. However, a spokesperson insisted that Humphrey would not be moving out, stating that Number 10 "is Humphrey's home and, as far as the Blairs are concerned, it will remain his home." A photo of Humphrey and Mrs Blair was released, though this did little to allay fears that he would be forced out.

In November 1997, Humphrey's primary carer Jonathan Rees, who worked in the Prime Minister's Policy Unit, wrote a memo stating that the cat should retire to "stable home environment where he can be looked after properly". While his continuing kidney problems were given as the reason for his retirement, many believed that Mrs Blair was behind the decision. Humphrey was moved to his new home with an elderly couple in suburban London on November 13, 1997, though his retirement was not announced until the next day to reduce the risk of kidnap attempts. The Conservatives were quick to point out that Humphrey lived happily at Number 10 for almost eight years under a Tory government but moved out within six months of Labour taking power.

Conservative MP Alan Clark was suspicious about the way Humphrey's retirement was announced and demanded proof that the cat was still alive. This led to rumours that Humphrey had been put down on the orders of Mrs Blair. The Prime Minister's office insisted that veterinary advice was behind the decision to remove Humphrey from Downing Street and on November 24, 1997, a group of journalists were taken to a secret location in south London and shown that Humphrey was still alive and well. Pictures of the cat posing with copies of the day's newspapers were published and reports indicated that he had put on weight.

Little was heard about Humphrey over the next few years, leading many to assume that he had died. In its March 2005 article about Humphrey, the Telegraph lamented: "Where Humphrey is now - or even whether he is still with us - remains a mystery. 'I am not having much luck,' a Cabinet Office spokesman confessed last night. His official minder has not heard from him in seven years." However, on July 22, 2005, The Independent reported that "the 17-year-old mouser is alive and well and living in south London." No further details were given in the text, which was part of a larger feature about celebrity pets.

see also

Humphrey (whale)

References

External links

de:Humphrey (Kater)