NO ONE expects sinister pixellations and invisible electronic force fields to come up at a House of Commons inquisition. But up they came at the Partygate investigation by the Privileges Committee, an apt-sounding place for an old Etonian to find himself.

Committees are where the real work of parliaments is done. None of the theatrics of question times. And they don’t come more theatrical than Boris Johnson, the old Etonian under advisement and former Prime Minister of this parish.

As the purpose was to humiliate the former PM, I’d expected this to be more fun, with Boris immediately humiliated by sitting on a raspberry-blowing cushion.

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But the committee chair, liberal extremist Harriet Harman (Lab), dressed all in black (lacking only a cap to pronounce sentence), and with a huge chain like Boudicca’s bling round her neck, warned the assembled mob that the charges facing the guilty, sorry accused, of misleading the Hoose were right serious.

Mr Johnson understood the gravity of the situation. Accordingly, in he neither ambled nor shambled. Determinedly he strode, face grim, barnet slightly less unruly than in his heyday as top hooligan. He looked well, clear-eyed and healthy of complexion, the cares of office having fled his big, open coupon.

He looked impatient, keeping a lid on his outrage. Rumpled of the Doily had consulted the best and most cunning legal minds, or at least a baldy bloke with a big cardboard box, who sat beside him at the suspects’ table. Then Mr J took an oath “to tell the truth” – tricky – on a big brown Bible.

Proceedings proper began with his being cruelly forced to watch video of his performances at Prime Minister’s Questions. Boris looked at his watch, as we all did at the time.

He said: “I continue to apologise for what happened on my watch.” He had not – “hand on heart” – lied to the Hoose. The committee had been “manifestly unfair”, and claims that photos showed him rule breaking were “nonsense”. He had just been doing his job. No, not drinking, madam. Saying a few words to a departing colleague.

The camera may not lie but “sinister pixellations” do and, as for social distancing, in a cramped dump like 10 Downing Street you couldn’t have “an electrical force field” round every inmate.

More unfairness: no one sang happy birthday to him at an impromptu do, and the famous Union Jack cake was left unopened. “It was later discovered and eaten by my private secretaries.”

Coverage had been “so unfair”. He hoped the committee would be fair. Accordingly, it mocked the former PM with a picture of him raising a glass in toast to some pixellated heids.

Sir Bernard Jenkin (Con), a gentle but determined prober, said photies showed a lack of distancing of two metres. Boris said that, at the time, it could be one metre “with mitigations” – a new cocktail, M’lud. Presently, it became clear that he could see this distancing malarky far enough.

Sir B said a witness had heard Boris saying at one event: “This is probably the most socially undistanced gathering in the UK right now.” Quoth Mr J: “I don’t remember saying those words and I think it unlikely.”

Bernie: “But you’re not denying it.” Cunning little prober.

Yvonne Fovargue (Lab) noted that attendees at this birthday work do included his missus and her interior designer. “Why did you think this was necessary for work purposes?”

Given the occasion, Boris had thought it “a proper thing to do,” and reminded his torturers that “one of the peculiarities of Number 10 is that the Prime Minister’s family live in the building”. Awkward, right enough.

He told Andy Carter (Con): “It was regular, I’m afraid, for people to drink on Fridays.” Disgraceful. What’s wrong with Monday to Thursday?

A bout of “misremembering” had seen him confusing “the rules and the guidance”, which got rather arcane. He added: “Call me obtuse or oblivious” – oh, all right – “but they [social events] didn’t seem to be in conflict with the rules or the guidance.”

These sessions are gruelling and, as time went on, Mr Johnson began losing it a bit, averring avidly: “People who say that we were partying in lockdown simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” He told Sir Bernard he was talking “complete nonsense” and Alberto Costa (Con) that he was being “completely ridiculous”.

So not a fun occasion for Boris. Indeed, the only unintentional note of levity came when interrogator Allan Dorans (SNP) repeatedly pronounced “vestibule” like “vegetable”. Trust the SNP. Supposed to be humiliating a former Tory prime minister, and they embarrass Scotland once again.