Now it can be told: Britain's Home Office had not one official cat but a whole dynasty of mouse-catchers, one of which nearly insulted the queen.
The saga, which began with Peter in 1929, was disclosed to the nation yesterday among the first 50,000 government files released under the new Freedom of Information Act. The files reveal meticulous attention to detail, a sly sense of humor and a fear of the press within the British civil service.
A document from 1929 records the Treasury's approval for the expenditure of one pence per day "towards the maintenance of an efficient office cat" at the Home Office. The Treasury's oversight came back to haunt Peter in 1946, when he was 17.
One official noted: "Our Treasury approval is for `an efficient cat.' Are you able to certify that he is still efficient? If not you will no doubt make him subject of an adverse report!"
Peter was retired with prejudice -- put to sleep in September 1946.
The kitten Peter II took office on June 21, 1947, but was soon hit by a car while wandering outside the office. Peter III succeeded in 1948, achieving fame by appearing on TV in 1958. The previously secret files noted that this provoked "a spate of somewhat embarrassing letters" from cat lovers and "cranks."
Peter III eventually disgraced himself, as an official noted in 1962.
"I am informed that a couple of years ago, on the occasion of the Armistice ceremony, official humiliation was only averted in the nick of time by a HEO [higher executive officer] of Establishment Division, who threw a soiled doormat out a window a few seconds before the appearance of H.M. [Her Majesty] the Queen," the note stated. "The offender was Peter."
Peter died in 1964, and was buried without tears, according to one civil servant's note.
Peter was succeeded by a female pedigree Manx cat, dubbed Peta, who was later denounced by an official as "inordinately fat," "lazy in her habits" and "a source of embarrassment." Staff complained that Peta used their offices as latrines.
In 1976, the Home Office informed a correspondent that Peta had retired at an undisclosed date.