One evening in 1962 Harold Macmillan went to see a performance of Beyond the Fringe at the Fortune Theatre. Satire was booming and Peter Cook’s diabolically funny impersonation of Macmillan was one of the highlights of the show. Realising that Macmillan was in the audience, Cook decided that this display of prime ministerial insouciance could not be allowed to go unpunished. Adding an extra line to the script he continued: ‘When I’ve a spare evening there’s nothing I like better than to wander over to a theatre and sit there listening to a group of sappy, urgent, vibrant young satirists, with a stupid great grin spread all over my silly old face.’ Macmillan buried his face in the programme and the audience froze.
The incident was typical of the ridicule and humiliation heaped on Macmillan in the later years of his premiership. More than half a century later the pendulum has swung from mockery to nostalgia. The wretched performance