Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land Dirty Linen, 1976

Tom Stoppard

Dirty Linen, 1976

(Great Characters in Literature)

Maddie Gotobed

Maddie Gotobed, the new secretary to the Select Committee of Members of Parliament, which meets in an overspill meeting room in Big Ben. Voluptuous and inexperienced, she evidently has been involved in affairs with all the male members of Parliament (MPs) on the Select Committee, which has been commissioned to investigate sexual misbehavior in the House of Commons. Each member, as he arrives, slips her a pair of lace panties, evidently left at their last rendezvous, so that by the end of the play she has collected a drawer full of “knickers.” Maddie is nobody’s fool, however, and by the end of the play it is she who dictates her own text for the committee’s resolution: that MPs have as much right to private life as any other citizens and that as long as they break no laws, their privacy should not be broken to indulge public curiosity.

Cocklebury-Smythe

Cocklebury-Smythe, the first of the MPs on this committee. He longs to move into the House of Lords. Like his fellow committee members, he urges Maddie to put out of her mind the various restaurants at which they have met.

McTeazle

McTeazle, the second of the nearly interchangeable MPs. He pulls Maddie’s panties from his briefcase at the end of a long, huffy speech explaining recent press allegations of bad behavior among MPs. He, too, urges Maddie to forget the locales of their meetings, some of them the same places she has met Cocklebury-Smythe.

Chamberlain

Chamberlain, another of the lecherous MPs on the committee. Although he has a wife and family in Dorking, he still writes Maddie a note instructing her to forget more restaurants.

Withenshaw

Withenshaw, the chairman of the committee. He is from Lancaster, as his speech sometimes betrays. He may be the author of the original draft of the resolution, a cliché-ridden document that says nothing and that is rapidly being revised in several directions by the committee members.

French

French, the stickler for detail on the committee. He is the member who moves to scrap Withenshaw’s resolution in favor of Maddie’s.