The television series The West Wing about the life and times of a fictional US president was the inspiration for the "rebellion by stealth" that humbled Tony Blair and his Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong.
Slumped in front of the television on Sunday night, one of the leaders of the revolt watched with growing interest as Democrats won a key vote on stem cell research by pretending not to be around.
The congressmen hid in an empty office and then triumphantly emerged in force when the vote was called by the unsuspecting Republican speaker.
"That's where the idea came from," the MP, who declined to be identified, told The Daily Telegraph. "We had no big press conferences, no events announcing the coming protest. It was directly inspired by the West Wing," he said.
The Tories toasted their success with champagne on Tuesday night. Not only had the Labour whips blundered by failing to appreciate the scale of the rebellion on their own side: they had also been outsmarted by a classic "under the radar" whipping operation by the Tories.
As a result, Labour crashed to only its second and third Commons defeats since Tony Blair came to power in 1997.
To add to Miss Armstrong's embarrassment, the Government lost the second, crucial division by just one vote. Had Mr Blair stayed - and not gone back to No 10 as he was told he could - it would have been a tie.
The Government would then have won because the Speaker, Michael Martin, would have used his casting vote to keep the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in its original form, rejecting the watering down proposed by the House of Lords.
Unlike the rebellions over Iraq in 2003 and the anti-terrorism Bill last year, this was one the Labour whips should have contained with ease. It was a truly disastrous night for them.
"The first law of the whips is to get the intelligence from inside your party," said one former minister and rebel. "At no stage had they got a clue what their own MPs thought. I didn't have one conversation with them about the Bill."
It was not until 6pm on Tuesday - less than two hours before the crucial votes - that alarm bells began ringing in the Labour whips' office.
Miss Armstrong asked Mr Blair to come to Westminster for the first division - which the Government lost by 10 votes. It was immediately followed by a second vote. Miss Armstrong apparently told Mr Blair he did not need to stay and he went back to No 10. The Government lost by one.
In part, Miss Armstrong appears to have been lulled into a false sense of security by the Tories' decision last week to impose a two-line rather than a three-line whip.
In fact, the Tories decided to treat it as the equivalent of a three-line whip, making attendance and voting obligatory for Conservative MPs, though not telling their Labour opposite numbers that it had been upgraded.
The Liberal Democrats also worked closely with the Labour rebels and the Tories. Both Charles Kennedy, the former leader, and Mark Oaten, the former home affairs spokesman, made a reappearance at the Commons for the crucial votes.
There was no such discipline in Labour ranks.
Backbenchers said that they did not even get the normal daily reminders to alert the whips they had arrived at Westminster on Monday and Tuesday.
There were other reasons why the rebellion crept up and bit the Government.
"It wasn't like Iraq which we had all been talking about for months," said one rebel. "This all happened in the days immediately before. Just quiet asides in the corridors; people asking questions. Growing concern behind the scenes."
Some, however, had been worried. Lady Morgan, Mr Blair's former political secretary, had for months been urging him to back away from the more controversial elements of the Bill, fearing that MPs would not wear it.
The rebels insisted that they were not out to get Mr Blair. "People were coming at it for all sorts of reasons; religious, civil liberties, freedom of speech, political reasons."
In blissful ignorance, the whips' office sanctioned a large group of Labour MPs to go campaigning for the forthcoming by-election in the Scottish seat of Dunfermline and West Fife - home to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor.
Up to 20 were given leave of absence. Observers of Scottish politics said Mr Brown is particularly keen for a good Labour vote and encouraged them up to Scotland.
While the hapless Miss Armstrong is taking the brunt of the blame, the problems go much deeper. Their roots lie in the Prime Minister's disdain for Parliament.
It is rare to see Mr Blair voting at Westminster. He may live just a couple of hundred yards away, but he has turned up for less than one in 10 divisions since he became Prime Minister - 221 out of 2,671.
When Labour had landslide majorities it did not matter, although many MPs believed it set a bad example.
His approach is in marked contrast to his Tory predecessors. Both Margaret Thatcher and John Major believed that it was important when there were close votes to "set an example to the troops".
They saw it as an important opportunity to keep in touch with their MPs. Mr Blair regards queuing with his backbenchers to go through the division lobbies as a tedious distraction. Nor has Mr Blair - cushioned by his huge majorities - seen the whips as a crucial part of his government. They have been downgraded in importance since he came to power.
Under successive previous governments, the whips had occupied a splendid suite of offices at 12 Downing Street, with access to No 10 through a series of connecting doors.
Under Mr Blair they were banished to an anonymous corner of the nearby Cabinet Office to make room for No 10 spin doctors. Alastair Campbell moved into what used to be the Chief Whip's office.
On Tuesday night Mr Blair paid the price as he sunk to a defeat made all the more humiliating because it could so easily have been avoided.