Tony Benn's inventions

Yesterday, I blogged about the audiobook of the latest volume of Tony Benn's diaries, an inspiring look at the life of a passionate, brilliant retired politician who refused to accept the invasion of Iraq as necessary or inevitable.

Now iRoy reminds us that Benn isn't just Britain's longest-serving parliamentarian -- he's also an inventor, the creator of the "backbencher" ("a rucksack with stool attached") as well as a car-mounted easy-chair, a totally bad-ass pocket-protector, a briefcase that turns into a lectern, a magnetic map for logging your parking spot, and the "seat-case," a suitcase that turns into a chair.

Tony Benn's world of invention (Thanks, iRoy!)


  1. I like that so many of his inventions facilitate sitting down.

    What a dude.

    His son, Hilary Benn, is the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and while he’s generally a bit more new-school a politician than his dad, he’s always seemed pretty honest and straight-forward.

  2. Also, this is a great quote from Tony Benn himself:

    “Five questions Benn insists should be asked of any powerful person: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?””

  3. He’s quite an awesome guy. He oversaw construction of London’s iconic Post Office Tower, which is still one of the most exciting buildings in London, controlled the British end of Concorde’s develoment, and helped get ICL up and running. Britain would be a good deal less interesting had it not been for him. (On the minus side, he mercilessly crushed pirate radio in the sixties – boo.)

  4. My dad was always a big fan. I remember him taking me to rallys where Benn was speaking in the 1980s. He has said a lot of great things, a couple more soundbites:

    “Riot has played a bigger part in British politics than we are ever allowed to know”

    “The military men are clever. They talk not about hydrogen bombs but deterrent. They talk not about people but collateral damage. They talk not about power stations and sewerage plants but about assets”

    I’ve not read any of his books but I’m looking forward to reading some now.

  5. He was the MP where I used to live, he always made time for his constituents and stuck to his Socialist principles through thick and thin. The world needs more men like him.

  6. My favourite quote I’ve seen attributed to Benn is:

    “First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”

  7. “Being in my 80s is such fun – if only I’d known, I’d have done it years ago.”
    — Tony Benn, Hay Festival 2007

  8. A big sponsor of nuclear power when he had executive power. Visionary or not, I don`t know. If you are British, you know about Mr Benn (who used to be know as 2nd Viscount Stansgate until he renounced his title). A controversial, incisive and though provoking public figure. He was very far from a nice fuddy old Grandpa for most of his career. In the early 80s, after his career as a “white heat of technology” reformer, he was blamed (rightly or wrongly) for helping to lead the British Labour Party down a far left, unelectable track.

  9. A friend was making a documentary about asylum seekers while a student and contacted a number of relevant MPs and ministers.

    Some replied with letters (then Home Secretary Jack Straw), some didn’t reply at all (Diane Abbot) while Tony Benn was the only one who agreed to meet up over lunch. He brought a packed lunch of sandwiches from home and offered lots of support and advice (one of the subjects was in the process of being deported).

    He’s a hero.

  10. He was also the model for Harry Perkins, an alternate universe British Prime Minister in the novel and TV miniseries ‘A Very British Coup’ and he was the guy in Michael Moore’s Sicko wondering if keeping people terrified and helpless about huge medical bills wasn’t the whole point of the American health care system – not a bug, a feature..

  11. Thanks to Boingboing and Cory for letting me know about this fella. I plan to read up on him.

    It’s inspirational to see older folks like him trying to keep at it, and not just coasting to the end. These are my hero’s.

  12. Google for “Pilkkijakkara”. That is a stool used by ice-fishers in Finland. My father had one from 1930.

  13. Take some time to appreciate those shoes. Full suede uppers, no doubt with super soft sole and lining. Plus to top it all – *Velcro* fastening! Mr Benn not only walks in total comfort, when he arrives (or decides to stop and smoke a pipe) there is a fold out chair for whatever the occasion. 100% casual Gentleman.

    _Suggestion_ – ask Mr Benn to contribute to boingboing. What rich and silky secrets would he unearth and delight us with?

  14. Those chair-backpacks are indeed great. Silva (Swedish compass manufacturer) used to make them. I can’t find any current info though.

    A friend of mine used to sit down on one of them in buses when there were no seats left, making everyone else left standing rather jealous.

  15. Mr Benn was touting these inventions, original or not, on the BBC a couple of months ago. As I remember it he doesn’t want to profit from them, he just wants to see them manufactured and available to buy.
    I very much like Tony Benn. Maybe I shouldn’t. But I do.

  16. @ #15 i0i

    Seconded! Come on BB, send him an invite.

    I’ve seen Tony Benn speak on a number of occasions, mainly at the Glastonbury festival. Two years ago when he took the stage in the Red tent in front of approaching 10,000 (in fairness, it was p1ssing down outside ;), smoking a pipe, despite the ban, the roar of the crowd nearly brought the marquee down around our ears. A very special moment indeed and, for me an all-time festi highlight.

    I’m fairly sure I’ve seen people with the rucksack in the main picture, or something similar. Want.

  17. I’ve always reserved judgement because of lack of information on the topic. I think we’re going to have to admit that the man chose a very hard time to enter government and there was a lot to decide that was divisive.

    I think the best story about Tony Benn that I’ve ever heard is that he refused to reject his seat on the Privy council (that you apparently get on retirement as an MP) because, when the current monarch dies the council votes to show that “the people support the monarch” who will replace him. And he wants to be there to vote against it so it’s not unanimous and therefore “the people support the monarch, mostly”

  18. Have met Tony on numerous occasions and interviewed him for my thesis many years ago. Loved it when he came to Chesterfield in the 80s. Saw him crossing the road in Notting Hill just a few months back. Great bloke who’s stuck to his principles through thick and thin.

  19. When I feel that politicians are all narcissistic snakes I think of Tony Benn and amend that to ‘mostly’.

  20. A little over [mumble-mumble] years ago, I had the chance to meet Benn (as well as an absurd number of major Labour MPs and former and future ministers, liberal academics, and left-leaning journalists) during a summer spent working or the Fabian Society. As a whole, the experience brought home just how vast a divide there is between the [admittedly mythical] average MP and the [no doubt equally mythical] average member of Congress in terms of intellect, knowledge, commitment, candor, and, frankly, reasons for being in said position. Benn was a striking example of this divide, someone who consistently chose what he believed to be best for his country and constituents over what would have best served his own financial and social interests. (Think Ted Kennedy without all the baggage and without having been exposed to the mentally and spiritually destructive effects of a life as an American political figure.)

    As I recall, there was some grousing by Fabian brass over Benn’s practice of contributing nothing more to the Society than standard annual membership dues, given his personal wealth, but in retrospect that seems more likely to have reflected an honest, pragmatic appraisal of the organization’s relevance at the time than to have been indicative of any innate miserliness.

  21. My Brother-in-Law, Matthew Parmenter (in his Pre-Discipline days) was in the UK a few years ago (10-15? Is it that long?), and his landlord was a son of Tony Benn; don’t know if it’s the same one who’s a minister or secretary now, and he got to meet the great man. The press on both sides of the Atlantic were roasting him (this was the Reagan-Bush / Post Thatcher Era, and Tony didn’t toe the line for that crowd), and Matt really liked Tony, and asked me what I knew about him, which was not much at the time.

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