House of Cards (novel)

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House of Cards
House of Cards novel cover.jpg
AuthorMichael Dobbs
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesHouse of Cards series
GenrePolitical thriller
Publication date
July 1989
Followed byTo Play The King

House of Cards is a political thriller novel by British author Michael Dobbs. Published in 1989, it tells the story of Francis Urquhart, a fictional Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, and his amoral and manipulative scheme to become leader of the governing party and, thus, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

A television adaptation, written by Andrew Davies and produced by the BBC was aired in 1990. A six-part radio adaptation of the first novel, written by Neville Teller aired on BBC Radio 4 in 1996.[1] In 2013, the serial and the Dobbs novel were the basis for a US television adaptation set in Washington, D.C., commissioned and released by Netflix.

The novel was followed by two sequels - To Play The King and The Final Cut. Both were adapted for television by the BBC and aired in 1993 and 1995 respectively.


Michael Dobbs began working for the Conservative Party in 1977, and from 1986 to 1987, served as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Chief of Staff.[2] Dobbs fell out with Thatcher during a cabinet meeting on 4 June 1987, exactly one week before that year's general election. Thatcher was concerned she would lose the election, and according to one participant at the meeting, she was "almost hysterical, with her arms sweeping everywhere".[3][4][5] According to Dobbs, "It all started because Maggie Thatcher beat me up and was actually rather cruel to me. She took out all her pain and anger and frustration on me, when in fact I was perhaps the most innocent person in the room at the time."[6]

Shortly after leaving his post as Chief of Staff in 1987, Dobbs and his wife visited Malta on holiday. While sitting beside a swimming pool in Malta, Dobbs scribbled the letters "FU" and a drawing of two raised middle fingers on a piece of a paper. The letters would become the initials of House of Cards protagonist, Francis Urquhart.[6] Dobbs stated that he had not planned to write the book saying, "None of this was planned. It was all a bit of a joke, an accident. I had no intention of being a writer, or even finishing the book. It was just a holiday distraction."[7] Dobbs insists that it is not a "book of revenge", but "most of the stuff I put into House of Cards was material from events I'd either seen, or participated in, or done, or watched other people do."[6] Dobbs has also stated that the book was not a comment on contemporary politics, and also drew inspiration from the works of Shakespeare.[8]


Following the resignation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the ruling Conservative Party is about to elect a new leader. In the subsequent leadership election, the moderate but indecisive Henry "Hal" Collingridge emerges victorious. Francis Urquhart, an MP and the Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons, is secretly contemptuous of the well-meaning but weak Collingridge, but expects a promotion to a senior position in the Cabinet. After the general election, which the party wins by a reduced majority, Urquhart submits a memorandum to Collingridge advocating a cabinet reshuffle that would include a prominent ministerial position for Urquhart himself. However, Collingridge – citing Harold Macmillan's political demise after the 1962 Night of the Long Knives –- effects no changes at all. Urquhart resolves to oust Collingridge.

Urquhart exploits his position as Chief Whip to leak inside information to the press to undermine Collingridge, ultimately forcing him to resign. Most of his leaks are to Mattie Storin, a young reporter for a tabloid newspaper called The Chronicle. Urquhart then eliminates his enemies in the resulting leadership contest by means of fabricated scandals that he sets up himself or publicizes. These include threatening to publish photographs of Education Secretary Harold Earle in the company of a rent boy; causing Health Secretary Peter MacKenzie to accidentally run over a disabled man; and forcing Foreign Secretary Patrick Woolton to withdraw by blackmailing him with an audiotape of a one-night stand. His remaining rival, Environment Secretary Michael Samuels, is alleged by the press to have supported far-left politics as a university student. Urquhart thereby reaches the brink of victory.

Prior to the final ballot, Urquhart murders the party's drug-addicted and increasingly unstable public relations consultant, Roger O'Neill, whom he forced into helping him to remove Collingridge from office. Urquhart invites O'Neill to his country house near Southampton, gets him drunk, and puts rat poison in his cocaine.

Mattie untangles Urquhart's web and confronts him in the deserted roof garden of the Houses of Parliament. He commits suicide by jumping to his death.


After the initial TV series the author revised the published novel to bring it in line with the UK TV series, in which Urquhart throws Mattie from the roof rather than committing suicide, thus allowing for a continuation of the story.


The novel was followed by two sequels - To Play The King and The Final Cut.[9]


A television adaptation, written by Andrew Davies and produced by the BBC was aired in 1990. In 2013, the television series and the novel were the basis for a US television adaptation set in Washington, D.C., commissioned and released by Netflix. In 2018 was announced an Argentinian adaptation produced by Pol-Ka and Cablevision Flow.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Henley, Jon (13 September 2013). "The house of Michael Dobbs". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  3. ^ Moore, Charles (4 October 2015). "Margaret Thatcher biography part 14: Wobbly Thursday". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  4. ^ Dobbs, Michael (14 February 2014). "Book Versus Show: 'House of Cards'". Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  5. ^ "From Fletcher to the House of Cards". Tufts Now. 23 October 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs: "I must have sold my soul"". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  7. ^ "What "House of Cards" creator, Lord Dobbs, can tell us about realpolitik". Financial Review. 19 March 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  8. ^ "House Of Cards creator Michael Dobbs on the dark arts of politics". The National. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  9. ^ "If You Like House of Cards, You Should Read These Books". trendchaser. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2018.

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