Friday, 27 February 2009

Margaret

Yesterday OH and I watched Margaret on BBC1. There's a generation who remember where they were when John F Kennedy was assassinated (being 1 at the time, I don't) but for mine, I wonder if our equivalent is remembering where we were when Margaret Thatcher resigned.

Lindsay Duncan did a wonderful job in the play. The moment she opened her mouth and began speaking, I felt that same visceral surge of fury I felt whenever I listened to the real Margaret; such a good job had LD done of getting the feel of the woman, not just the way she sounded.

Margaret Thatcher had been in power for 4 years when I started work. One day I was walking up Upper Regent Street in London on my way to work in my poorly paid fundraising post for the Mental Health Foundation. Crossing the road, I leaped out of the way of a Porsche which wasn't inclined to stop, and I can remember looking about me and seeing the rush and bother and gloss, and feeling that the things I cared about: the lost and unloved, and working for not very much because you wanted to make a difference, were utterly and completely out of synch with the way Mrs Thatcher was making the world.

I didn't let that stop me however, and was still working for the Foundation six years later when I had a day off sick. I had the radio on, and Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech came on. He started on what seemed like the standard dull resignation effort, to which I almost instantly tuned out. So powerful though, was the sheer strength of feeling in the Commons, that something of it must have transmitted on the radio, because I tuned back in as he went for the kill, and I listened with my jaw dropping further and further as sentence after sentence slashed across the floor of the Commons. I recognised while I was listening that that speech had to be a turning point. Geoffrey Howe was possibly the last person I had expected to turn: he had always seemed such a stalwart supporter of Margaret Thatcher.

We watched agog as events unfurled, but I still thought somehow she would survive. Michael Heseletine just didn't seem a credible enough opponent. However, on 22 November 1990, I heard someone shouting out in the office: "She's gone! The bitch has gone!" I shot out of my office and hung over the bannisters to see who was shouting - it was Lucie Reader, the Director's PA - "Who?" I said, being pretty certain but wanting to make sure. "Thatcher! She's gone! She's gone!" And she had.

The office divided quite sharply between those of us who were fizzing with joy, and those to whom the resignation was a blow of almost physical pain. For some time afterwards I avoided my True Blue family, as I simply didn't think I could resist the temptation to do a dance of joy in front of them. I don't know if it's a symptom of age, but furious though Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have undoubtedly made me, neither of them have ever produced the sheer passion and fury that Margaret Thatcher could produce in me by simply opening her mouth.

Margaret I thought was quite brilliantly done. All those half-remembered politicians came galloping back: I particularly liked the tearful John Gummer, whimpering with misery as Mrs T looked on with loathing, though knowing she had to accept support no matter whence it came; the ineffectual Peter Morrison, and I remembered just why I liked Willie Whitelaw and Ken Clarke. The script was full of wit: Michael Heseltine trying to recruit Geoffrey Howe to his cause and being brushed off effortlessly was a particularly good moment.

The scene in one of the Commons tearooms, when Norman Tebbitt insisted on her trying to rally support, was a horrible display of all round awkwardness, from the moment silence fell as she entered the room to her hissed "Get me out of this."

I did wonder if the play would be ended showing Margaret and Dennis (a sterling performance by an actor the BBC hasn't credited on the site, to its shame) leaving Downing Street with her tear-stained face turned to the cameras, but it stopped as she opened the door to face the press. A wise decision, I think. Showing the collapse would have been cruel - it was already quite obvious from the programme just how wedded she was to power, no matter what it did to her family. Poor Carol; forced to move out during her finals.

2 comments:

Gillian said...

I only saw part of the programme, but it looked to be well done. I thought the scene where, in the middle of a tense moment waiting to hear some news, she gets to her knees to polish Mark's shoes, was very good. It was both a displacement activity and a measure of the control she liked to exert.

I think I was a t home when it happened - in some ways I don't remember it that clearly. Just surprise that it seemed to happen so fast. And relief that she was out.

Jane Badger said...

And also, I thought, it pointed up the difference in how she treated the two children, which was very poignant.

I think the reason I remember it so clearly was because our office was quite sedate, and someone standing in the middle of the hall yelling their head off just didn't normally happen!