A comic novel with both verbal wit and comedy of situation. -- Mary Gentle, Interzone
A splendid send-up. -- Daily Mail
An agreeable romp. (AWRE News, house journal of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (since renamed), Aldermaston, Berkshire, England) -- AWRE News
An agreeable romp. -- AWRE News, house journal of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment
I'd rank this book alongside Michael Frayn's The Tin Men, another neglected classic. I've wanted for years to see it back in print. It is one of those books you end up buying several copies of, because you just have to lend it to friends. It's very funny. It's very real. -- From the introduction by Terry Pratchett
The Leaky Establishment concerns the trials and tribulations of one Roy Tappen, a scientist at the Nuclear-Utilization Technology Centre at Robinson Heath, who discovers that sneaking the plutonium core of a nuclear warhead out of the centre is easy enough; the problems arise when he tries to sneak it back in. It's either a gloriously absurd farce or a sober record of The Great British System disguised as a gloriously absurd farce: whichever way round it's the kind of book you can give to spouses/partners who can't stand SF. -- Andy Sawyer, British SF Association, Paperback Inferno
From the Publisher
Part of Big Engines ideal is to keep the classics, the works that people need to read, in print. This is one such book. Anyone who grew up in the Reagan/Thatcher era can read it and thank their lucky stars they are still here today. Anyone from a younger generation, read it and see what your elders and betters went through
Ben Jeapes,Big Engine
From the Back Cover
The Leaky Establishment is an atomic farce whose author David Langford once worked in the gentle radioactive glow of Britain's nuclear weapons industry, and who hilariously satirises it from the inside. Black comedy overtakes the unfortunate defence scientist hero Roy Tappen when a "harmless" theft of office furniture lands him with his very own doomsday nuclear stockpile at home. Chain reactions of comic escapades follow, with disaster piled on disaster, leading the increasingly desperate Tappen to the borders of science fiction as he seeks a way out of the mess.
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He passed on into the sinister hinterland of NUTC. Its scatter of buildings, no two alike and not one of them likeable, huddled in a dingy corner of Robinson Heath resembling a cut-price setting for Macbeth. First came shiny new office blocks for administrators and typists. Then gaunt buildings like crematoria which were laboratories, workshops, plutonium-handling facilities or the canteen, until he reached the decaying wooden huts which looked like the worst and most squalid of post-war "temporary" accommodation, and were. These were the offices reserved for the highly trained scientists like Tappen who were the brains of NUTC.
The four-mile-long outer fence was electrified, bugged with microchip miracles which could very possibly detect a Trotskyist tendency a hundred yards off, and patrolled by guard dogs of amazing ferocity and incontinence. Security was so theoretically strict that there'd once been a move to have senior personnel wear standardized hats, in case Soviet spy satellites could spot their characteristic hair-partings and relay information about highly confidential movements within NUTC.
Later that day, at the heart of the establishment, a crumbling Terrapin hut (protozoic ancestor of today's Portakabin) which was the inner sanctum of Britain's nuclear research, protected from the general public by layer on layer of top security and barbed wire, Roy Tappen glumly leant back from the desk and picked his nose.
There were a dozen folders piled on the battered worktop. The most important concerned the major project which aimed at replacing all the warheads in British missiles with new improved Chevalines ("the latest super-duper ones with ten-year guarantee and built-in Space Invaders facility," as Llewellyn liked to say). As a long-term project, it was at the bottom of the stack. On top were the far more urgent draft minutes of the Nuclear Public-Image Working Party, which met every Tuesday. A warm, muggy, Thursday afternoon, and one page to go on the first draft ... With a sigh Tappen bent forward to the highly illicit apparatus on his desktop, and there was a tap on the door. His heart jumped. He flipped a wad of old computer printout over his guilty secret just before the Security man stepped in.
"Afternoon just a routine inspection records say you are in charge of a valuable piece of electronic equipment subject to regular inventory checking under regulations ..." said the unwelcome visitor all on one note. Tappen sighed, hunting out the decrepit calculator which must be worth all of fifty pence; the almost equally decrepit security man noted its serial number on three forms and had Tappen sign each one twice. Thus a jealous government guarded its funds against the wanton ravages of greedy scientific civil servants.
Alone again, Tappen uncovered the incriminating portable typewriter and began to tap out that last page. "The Press Officer proposed again that since public hysteria and apprehension are too easily inflamed by scare-words like 'plutonium', this element be renamed, e.g. as 'Element 94', 'Ingredient X' or 'Superfuel' ..."
"Afternoon just a routine reminder records say you are in charge of a cupboard with security lock and it's time for you to change the combination and notify Security of the new one if you can just spare a minute please." The safe-and-cupboard Security Policeman was even more withered and ancient than the electronics one, and his neck stuck out of the dark-blue uniform collar like a well-dried Bombay duck. Tappen breathed deeply, stood, and manipulated the cupboard lock for several minutes. All he usually kept there was the typewriter and his supplies of tea and coffee; the combination switched regularly between his wife's birthday and if only to see if Security would ever notice Josef Stalin's. 21-12-18-79, he wrote on the proffered form, twice, and signed, three times.
As the door slammed and neatly bisected a lackadaisical "Thank you Sir," the typewriter emerged from cover again.
"An alternate proposal was to classify the word 'plutonium' under the Official Secrets Act and to make knowledge or use of the word illegal. The Chairman pointed out that the name appeared on every copy of the Periodic Table of the Elements and that it might not be politic to classify this document. The Press Officer asked why not, and ..."
"Afternoon just a routine inspection records say you are in charge of a valuable piece of calculating equipment subject to regular inventory checking under regulations if you could spare a moment please."
Tappen had almost forgotten that on moving in he'd inherited, along with the cupboard, the desk, the woodworm and the cockroaches, an elderly slide rule possibly used by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. After some research in dusty corners he produced it, and there was a further dispiriting rustle of forms. "Thank you Sir ..."
With sinking heart Tappen eventually finished typing the draft minutes, locked away the machine (diverted in defiance of regulations from the NUTC scrapheap), and began the grimmest stage of the afternoon's work: copying out the draft legibly in longhand.