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The BBC's coverage of the death of Margaret Thatcher

Roger Bolton

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Editor's note: Roger talks to Head of BBC Newsroom, Mary Hockaday, about the BBC's coverage of the death of Margaret Thatcher, listen to Feedback from 5 April 2013.

Margaret Thatcher

She was 87 and had been in poor health for a decade. She had been out of power and front line politics for 23 years.

Yet the death of Baroness Thatcher opened debates and wounds which are still raw. Watching the coverage of the parliamentary special sessions, I was struck by the fact that her personality and policies still dominate the Conservative Party, and that many of her opponents still haven’t forgiven her. Former cabinet ministers, men of course, looked back on their - and her - golden days and chortled at the affectionate but pointed anecdotes. Elsewhere there were demonstrations against the so called “Wicked Witch”.

I’m not sure of how much interest this was to the younger generation, for whom Baroness Thatcher is a relatively remote historical figure, rather like Clement Attlee was to mine. And the television documentaries about her did not command great audiences. We don’t have access to the radio audience figures yet to see if audiences rose or fell, but a large number of Feedback listeners felt there was too much coverage and that some of it was biased. I discussed these issues with the Head of the BBC Newsroom, Mary Hockaday in this week’s Feedback.

Head of the BBC Newsroom, Mary Hockaday discusses the BBC coverage.

On a personal front, I was the editor of BBC TV current affairs programmes, like Panorama and Nationwide, and of ITV’s This Week, for much of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership.

Indeed I produced some of Panorama’s coverage of her election campaign for party leader in 1975 and saw the condescension with which she was at first treated by some of her colleagues, who called her “Nanny” behind her back, and rolled their eyes to us waiting hacks as they posed for a photo call outside her then home in Chelsea.

I greatly admired the way she fought against such ingrained sexual prejudice, but often found myself in trouble with No 10. At one stage her press office said she was “Beyond Fury” with one of my programmes. She “hated,hated,hated” television interviews but when they were over, with a glass of whisky by her side, would stay on for an hour or two telling us how to run our business. She really enjoyed a spirited debate.

She did one such tv interview later in the same day that she had met Mikhail Gorbachev for the first time and realised he was a man “she could do business with”. After the recording she pumped us for information about him and was clearly fascinated by such a different Soviet leader. She was immediately aware of the possibilities for improved East/West relations that his emergence opened up.

Whenever I met Mrs Thatcher I was struck by two things. The first was the clarity of mind and piercing intelligence she brought to those issues in which she was interested. The second was her frequent lack of interest in new ideas and her ignorance of much of the arts, and of Irish history.

She was never less than polite, even after a heated argument, but she was the despair of her cabinet colleagues on many occasions and her fall did not come as a surprise, except to her and her closest colleagues.


Roger Bolton


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