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You'll recall that a few years back, we--or our predecessors--advised the Secretary of State to accept the principal recommendations of the Sablon Committee and that meant, inter alia, approval of the Lawson Park project; and a good deal of money for it in the annual estimates ever since. Lawson Park's always had its enemies, as you know, and someone may well try to argue that these wasters of public money have been negligent in letting the dogs escape. That could be embarrassing. It's bad enough the station having been sited in a national park in the first place.
~ The Under Secretary.

The Under Secretary (real name: Maurice) is the secondary antagonist of Richard Adams' 1977 novel The Plague Dogs, and its 1982 film adaptation of the same name. He is a senior civil servant at the Government Department of the Environment who works for the Secretary of State William Harbottle and had A.R.S.E. established in Lawson Park.

He was voiced by the late Anthony Valentine in the film.

History

The Under Secretary works for the Ministry of Defence and was responsible for having the A.R.S.E. research station set up in Lawson Park after a political battle. Five years later, two dogs named Rowf and Snitter escape from the research station after the station's janitor, Harry Tyson fails to shut their kennels properly. When the local farmers set out to kill the dogs after they begin attacking their livestock, they realize that the two dogs must have come from the research station. The farmers figure that the Department of the Environment being responsible for sheep killing dogs would make them a real embarrassment and they call the research station, but Dr. Boycott and Stephen Powell ignore the dogs' escape.

After Snitter accidentally kills a Jewish businessman named David Ephraim, the government learns about the incident and debate over what to do. They figure that the media discrediting the lab would embarrass the Secretary of State and they send Digby Driver to investigate the incident.

After Driver learns about Dr. Goodner's defence work on bubonic plague from Powell, he blackmails the scientist into revealing details about his experiments and publishes articles about the two dogs carrying the plague, causing mass hysteria among the public. The Assistant Secretary claims that the scientists couldn't deny that the two dogs may have been exposed to the plague and informs the Under Secretary that Boycott says that it's unlikely that dogs couldn't possibly be carrying the plague.

Three days later, the Under Secretary arranges a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary, Basil Forbes. The Under Secretary mentions the dogs to Forbes and tells him that the dogs couldn't have contracted the plague. They suggest informing the public about the truth and that the newspapers will have to go away. The Under Secretary informs the Assistant Secretary that they'll be safely advising the ministers about the dogs not being infected. Later, after receiving a letter from a bureaucrat named Jack, the Under Secretary realizes that the Assistant Secretary must have departed from Lawson Park and that they must do this in their own hands.

During a parliamentary debate at the House of Commons, Hot Bottle Bill and his civil servants announce that they have deployed the 3rd Battalion of the parachute regiment to kill the two dogs. When the army pursues the two dogs to Ravenglass, Rowf and Snitter swim out to sea to escape the army. Meanwhile, the Under Secretary calls Dr. Boycott about suspending work completely, to which the latter reluctantly agrees.

After Digby Driver finds out about Snitter belonging to a man named Alan Wood, Driver helps Wood find the dogs at Ravenglass. After the two dogs are rescued by two naturalists named Peter Scott and Ronald Lockley, they are reunited with Alan Wood. Hot Bottle Bill and the Under Secretary arrive at the Drigg Nature reserve and order Major Awdry to have the dogs shot. Major Awdry tells them that Wood is the lawful owner, but despite being surprised that they Wood was their owner and not the research station, Harbottle insists on shooting the dogs. Major Rose confronts them and tells them that they have no right to be in his nature reserve. Harbottle refuses to leave, but Driver confronts them and threatens to give them a bad reputation, forcing Harbottle to retreat. Harbottle tells the Under Secretary to deal with the matter, but Rowf chases him off and they flee in their car as Driver takes photos of them. Driver then states that he will humiliate Harbottle even more than Boycott, implying that he will have A.R.S.E. shut down.

Quotes

(Assistant Secretary: Awkward. If the media are intent on making a meal of this plague business, it could be extremely awkward.) I agree. But tell me, could the dogs in fact have had any contact? (Assistant Secretary: Almost certainly not. Boycott says it's out of the question.) But, uh... fleas, cracks, doors. (Assistant Secretary: Precisely. How can the Secretary of State stand up in the house and swear for certain that not a single flea escaped and popped on one of the dogs?)
~ The Under Secretary learning about the rumors of the plague-carrying dogs.

Trivia

  • In the film, the Under Secretary has only one off-screen scene where he and the Assistant Secretary debate over how Rowf and Snitter could have gotten the plague.
  • In the book, the Under Secretary didn't inform Dr. Boycott about suspending his job completely.

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Watership Down: General Woundwort | Efrafa (Vervain and Campion) | Tab
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