Making a comfortable call at Downing Street
This wouldn't have happened in Washington. I have an appointment with Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson at his official home, 11 Downing Street.
At the corner of Whitehall and Downing, two police officers stand at a barricade. It is raining. When I tell them of my appointment, they wave me through. I was not asked to produce identification, nor was there any interest expressed in my red briefcase.
Right next door to No. 11 is the more famous No. 10 Downing Street, the official home of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and England's equivalent of the ``White House.''
Without thinking, I press the bell at No. 10. A policemen opens the door, and we soon establish that I have made a silly mistake. He isn't interested in who I might be, since he asks for no identification, either. With a friendly smile he directs me to No. 11.
What would it be like, I wonder, to ring the doorbell at the White House and be told politely that I had the wrong house? To get into the White House, a reporter must have either a special badge (obtained after FBI checks) or both an invitation (notice of it given to the guards) and clear identification.
At No. 11 the door is already open for some deliverymen, and I am quickly admitted. There are no uniformed guards, no easily seen evidence of security forces, no sign whatever that this is anything more than a pleasant residence which also serves as an office.
Getting through London's busy airport, Heathrow, I recall, was much more complicated than this.
In the lobby the doorman takes my soggy umbrella. Does he want to examine the inside to see if I might be sneaking something in? No, he merely wants to open it for me so it will be dry when I leave.
And then I'm ushered into the reception room of Britain's top financial leader. There's time to glance around. I notice a splendid chandelier hanging from the ceiling, old portraits, a green velvet couch, and side chairs. In the fireplace wood is carefully stacked, ready to be lighted on some future occasion.
Suddenly -- a child's voice. I look up to see the chancellor's wife (affirmed later after seeing a picture of her) leave with a young daughter.
The Lawsons live on the top two floors of the four-story, grand old home. There's an interconnecting door with their next-door neighbors, the Thatchers. It is Mrs. Thatcher, more widely known as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Practically unknown is her more proper title: first lord of the Treasury.
My musings are interrupted. Mr. Lawson has arrived for my interview. As I go to meet him I reflect for just a moment. Is this gentle approach to security, almost nonsecurity, a vestige of traditional British emphasis on gentlemanly good manners?
Whatever it is, it certainly makes a reporter's job more pleasant.D.R.F.