To Play the King - Michael Dobbs

To Play the King

Michael Dobbs

Series: Francis Urquhart [2]


My beloved Aunt started it all. In a midnight phone call after the showing of BBC TV's final episode of House of Cards she complained: 'They let the bastard get away with it!'

And wasn't that the truth? In the original book I had awarded the honour of survival to the delectable political correspondent Mattie Storin, believing in truth, justice and the triumph of good. But those sinister people who run the BBC's drama department are made of sterner stuff and, deciding that virtuous heroines are not to conquer the Nineties, reversed the ending to leave the evil Francis Urquhart triumphant and my poor, desirable heroine lying trampled on the cutting room floor. It was a wicked twist of fate which has brought me nothing but great good fortune and, long after the credits had finished rolling, left many people insisting on knowing what happened next.

So my thanks to Ken Riddington, Paul Seed and Andrew Davies, a team of unique talent whose abilities pushed me into the instant resurrection business while they deservedly picked up awards around the globe. And, most particularly, my gratitude goes to Ian Richardson. His electrifying portrayal of Francis Urquhart will live with me for a lifetime.

There are many others I want to acknowledge. John Hanvey held my hand through the murky parts of the opinion polling business while Tony Hutt also held it through some of the murkier drinking establishments of London. Benjamin Mancroft lent me his wisdom, Charlotte Morrison one of her bedrooms and Tracy Macmunn her wardrobe and three years of her life. Chris Sear of the Public Information Office at the House of Commons was imaginative, patient and immensely resourceful in answering my obscure questions, as were Ian Nimmo and Tim Walker in the City and Sergeant Ian

Allan in the firing ranges of Westminster. I am also indebted to Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, a Commander-in-Chief at Westminster when I was a foot-soldier in the opposing army. Many others, both high and humble, guided me through the labyrinthine passages of Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, but prefer to remain uncharacteristically coy. If anyone is to be taken to the Tower of London for extended incarceration, it shall be me alone. Oh . . . And thank you, Auntie.


It was the day they would put him to death.

They led him through the park, penned in by two companies of infantrymen. The crowd was thick and he had spent much of the night wondering how they would react when they saw him. With tears? Jeers? Try to snatch him to safety or spit on him in contempt? It depended who had paid them best. But there was no outburst; they stood in silence, dejected, cowed, still not believing what was about to take place in their name. A young woman cried out and fell in a dead faint as he passed, but nobody tried to impede his progress across the frost-hard ground. The guards were hurrying him on.

Within minutes they were in Whitehall, where he was lodged in a small room. It was just after ten o'clock on a January morning, and he expected at any moment to hear the knock on the door that would summon him. But something had delayed them; they didn't come until nearly two. Four hours of waiting, of demons gnawing at his courage, of feeling himself fall to pieces inside. During the night he had achieved a serenity and sense of inner peace, almost a state of grace, but with the heavy passage of unexpected minutes, growing into hours, the calm was replaced by a sickening sense of panic which began somewhere in his brain and stretched right through his body to pour into his bladder and his bowels. His thoughts became scrambled and the considered words, crafted with such care to illuminate the justice of his cause and impeach their twisted logic, were suddenly gone. He dug his finger nails deep into his palms; somehow he would find the words, when the time came.

The door opened. The captain stood in the dark entrance and gave a curt, sombre nod of his helmeted head. No need for words. They took him and within seconds he was in the Banqueting Hall, a place he cherished with its Rubens ceiling and magnificent oaken doors, but he had difficulty in making out the details through the unnatural gloom. The tall windows had been partially bricked up and boarded during the war to provide better defensive positions. Only Copyright 2016 - 2024