('The Guardian' - 11th January, 2006)
There are many lovely stories about Tony Banks. My favourite dates from the dying days of the Greater London Council. Tony, who besides being the MP for Newham North West, was also chairman of the GLC, discovered that as chairman he was entitled to be part of the welcoming party for foreign heads of state.
He duly ordered up the official Daimler, attached the GLC pennant and set off through the security cordon for Victoria Station. There, in a scene worthy of an Alan Bennett play, he found himself in a small room containing the following people: the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Lord Lieutenant of London. To the fury of Mrs. Thatcher, who couldn't quite work out how he had got there, he then proceeded to strike up a loud conversation with the Prince of Wales about the iniquity of the government's plans for abolishing the GLC.
Two other favourite moments, both of which I witnessed. First, the occasion when Norman Tebbit rose to address the House and in the brief silence which preceded his opening words Banksie was heard to say, in that cheeky chappy voice of his, "What's he doing out? It's not dark yet".
Second, when Mother Teresa was visiting. The papers were full of pictures of that tiny, hunched, saintly figure. Into the chamber comes Mrs. Thatcher, bending double as she moves along the front bench in order not to disturb the proceedings. Suddenly, from the Labour back-benches a voice, unmistakably that of the Member of Newham North West, says loudly, "Here comes Mother Teresa". His timing was perfect. The place just disintegrated. Even Tory Cabinet ministers joined in, covering their faces with their hands in the hope that she wouldn't notice.
Good old Banksie. Passionate, principled, generous, congenitally irreverent with just a slight tendency to go over the top. My close friend for nearly 30 years. I shall miss him more than words can say.