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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hat Gives Major a Headache

Forget the threat of a new Cold War or conflict over Bosnia. The issue which John Major's minders and advisers refuse to take any questions on is his hat.

Major appeared at Vnukovo Airport on Monday evening in what was clearly a black fur hat. Douglas Hurd, five steps behind with a checked scarf round his neck, was wearing a similar piece of headgear, maybe bought from the same shop.

What was the hat made of? A ridiculous question to Russians, all of whom sport shapki that were once rabbits or minks or foxes for four months of the year. But it is quite important to a nation of animal-lovers, where fur coats have been set alight in London streets and shops have even been firebombed for peddling the pelts of dead animals.

"It is a completely personal question," parried one British official, keeping his lips much tighter on the subject than on the Russians' objections to air strikes over Sarajevo.

Rumor among pressmen and embassy staff had it that three options were discussed. A fake hat, no hat at all or a genuine hat.

The first risked creating a diplomatic incident with the Russians or at least the ridicule of the Russian public, many of whom look back with nostalgia to the days of Major's iron-willed predecessor, Gospozha Tetcher.

The second option was picked by President Clinton as he strolled through the Kremlin in January and is also thrust on hapless BBC television correspondents when they file to camera. But on a freezing Moscow day, this was obviously deemed too cruel.

So Major appeared in what was obviously the real thing. A rumored gray Astrakhan number had been shelved, probably wisely. It would after all have advertised Major's support for cruelty to lamb fetuses and provided fodder for the columnists who say he is the grayest of the gray. The black shapka was suitably nondescript and at a pinch his staff can always claim it was a brilliant fake.