Noel Coward as Mr. Bridger - before life imitated art

The latest chapter in the Tubby Black saga is enough to make us almost like the old reprobate.

Not enough, mind you, to conclude Lord Black ought to be readmitted to Canada, permitted to hang onto his Order of Canada gong or for that matter remain a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada.

Still, it’s hard to blame the man if it’s true that, as recounted in affidavits filed with the U.S. federal court in Illinois, his Lordship (as we now understand he insists on being called, and therefore do apologize humbly for the previous references to “Mr. Black”) shirked his duties as a tutor in order to take piano lessons, acted in a haughty manner and hired other prisoners to act as his personal servants, cooking, cleaning and ironing for the great man.

(Piano lessons in prison? Surely no such fripperies will be allowed in the new jails being hurried to completion by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as we challenge the United States for the title of most citizens per capita behind bars.)

The U.S. Attorney sought out the affidavits from people who say they had observed Lord Black’s naughty behaviour while a resident of the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida. The point, apparently, was to argue in the aftermath of his Lordship’s recent unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that his original sentence of 6.5 years should be re-imposed and his Lordship himself be shipped back to the inconvenience and discomfort of Coleman.

But while painting Lord Black as a jailhouse slacker, the U.S. Attorney failed to provide the necessary context needed to help us understand his Lordship’s plight.

The Prisoners Code, in fact, is less concerned with the fate of rats and gunsels than the requirement that prisoners avoid working as much as humanly possible. A generally unco-operative attitude about everything while incarcerated, therefore, is essentially de rigueur. (Your blogger hastens to note that his understanding of this fact is based on an extensive study of the literature, rather than personal experience with the hospitality of Her Majesty.)

In this, Lord Black was doing no more than what was required of him by the PC, that is in this case the Prisoners Code, as any of us would have done in his Lordship’s handmade cordovan loafers.

The model for this role, of course, was introduced by Sir Noel Coward, playing Mr. Bridger in the original Italian Job, which was released in 1969, proving once again that life imitates art through the medium of Lord Black, who was released in 2010. His Lordship, indeed, even bears a passing resemblance to Sir Noel!

As for the PC behind Lord Black’s name, that is the Privy Council noted above, alert reader Kevin McLeod of Ottawa has brought to my attention the fact his Lordship remains a member of that august Canadian body, in addition to remaining an Officer of the Order of Canada. That this is in fact so, may be observed by clicking here.

Lord Black was appointed to the Privy Council — usually the turf of retired Speakers of the House, pastured-out cabinet ministers, superannuated Supreme Court justices and the like — by Brian Mulroney on Canada Day 1992, a gesture that should surprise no one, given the gesturer’s instinct for toadying. The stated reason was that the then Mr. Black belonged in a special category known as “distinguished Canadians.”

Notwithstanding his other troubles, that Lord Black remains a Privy Councillor of this particular variety — and as such is presumably entitled to the convenience of a Canadian passport — seems mildly odd as he is no longer a Canadian citizen.

Readers will recall that Lord Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 so that, well, so that he could become Lord Black. (As Alice cried, “Curiouser and curiouser!”)

However, as McLeod pointed out to me, no one has ever been kicked out of the Privy Council for Canada, not even the one-time associate minister for defence, Pierre Sevigny, despite his having carried on at the same time with Gerda Munsinger, a woman suspected of being an East German spy. (Nowadays, presumably, Sevigny would have been readmitted to the cabinet after a reasonable time had passed, perhaps as minister of state for tourism.)

Given all this, one supposes it is too much to ask that the non-Canadian Lord Black be the first, although we are entitled to ask, where is Jason Kenney whenever you actually need him?

The Sevigny case provides an interesting contrast with that of John Profumo, who did resign from the Privy Council of the United Kingdom after it was learned that he had similarly carried on with a model, who was also carrying on with a naval attaché from the Soviet Embassy. (That’s quite enough carrying on, thank you — ed.)

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...