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September 2008

Whenever I read a complaint about the excessive security with which the American state protects its senior officials, I recall two episodes from the autumn of 1963. I was 10 years old and my father, Louis Heren, was the Washington correspondent for The Times. Although by no means an uncritical admirer of President John F Kennedy, he was a member of the inner circle of perhaps 20 White House correspondents with regular access to the chief executive and his staff.

In November of that year, the pipes and drums of the Black Watch were invited to play a tattoo on the White House lawn. No doubt they were on a tour of the United States. Nearly 2,000 guests were invited to the tattoo, including many disabled children from institutions in the DC area. As I walked on sticks, the result of a bout of polio on Times service in Delhi some years earlier, my father applied for tickets for us as well.

Thus it was that one Sunday afternoon we climbed into the old Ford Country Squire station wagon and, leaving my mother and sisters behind, drove down Massachusetts Avenue to the White House. Pulling up at the front gate, my father explained to a genial White House policeman that I was, as he put it, “lame”. “Mr Heren,” replied the guard, who evidently knew him well, “you just drive right up to the house.”

We were met by a functionary in plain clothes, perhaps a secret serviceman, with whom I waited while my father took the car down to the underground staff car park. He knew the way, and was not accompanied. On Dad’s return, we were led through a number of grand rooms and emerged through French windows on to the south terrace.

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