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An extract from "The Tin Men"

by Michael Frayn, 1965


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The annoying thing was that the proliferation of committees was something One had started Oneself. To avoid unseemly outbursts from Riddle in the Organising Committee, One had referred all questions which might have provoked them - which was to say, all questions - to special sub-committees which did not include Riddle. Of course, the thing had to be done discreetly, without arousing the suspicions of Riddle's potential allies - Goldwasser, Macintosh, Rowe, and others - so that as a smoke-screen a number of extra sub-committees had to be set up which included Riddle. The sting was taken out of these by requiring them to report back to a Joint Advisory Council, on which Riddle was not represented. By a deft manoeuvre Riddle got herself appointed to a Procedure Committee to co-ordinate the work of all those sub-committees on which she did not sit. Mrs. Plushkov replied by setting up a Co-ordinating Committee, without Riddle, to co-ordinate the work of the Joint Advisory Council and the Procedure Committee, which then set up Working Parties to study the implementation of the proposals put forward by the various sub-committees.

One had felt at first that this complexity was of some value in itself, since it increased the probability that One was the only person who could understand and therefore control it. But at a certain point a curious thing had happened. The organism had gone critical. When the total number of committees, sub-committees, and working parties had reached twenty-three, cell division began to occur spontaneously. One day there were twenty-three organisational units, for all of which One could account, and the next day there were twenty-four. Mrs. Plushkov found the minutes of a body called the Central Liasion Committee being circulated - a committee of which One had never heard, and which included neither Riddle nor One. And the next day there were twenty-six committees! The monster had come alive!

...

It was Miss Fram, Nunn's secretary, who was actually responsible for putting the recommendations of the various committees into effect, and she didn't take too much notice of what committees said. Everyone knew that committees were not very good at this sort of thing.


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