Thatcher tagged as 'bombshell' in rejected navy ad

Proposed Royal Navy recruitment ad (10 August 1988)
Image caption Mrs Thatcher had recently paid a visit to British sailors deployed in the Gulf

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was tagged "the bombshell that hit the Armilla Patrol" in a navy recruitment ad that was mocked up but never used.

National Archives files show several ideas offered by an advertising agency in 1988, but rejected by officials.

Another proposal featured the dialogue: "Ceasefire, chaps." "How can we sir? We haven't fired a shot." It was rejected for making the "officer look an idiot".

The ads highlighted the navy's work escorting merchant ships in the Gulf.

A Central Office of Information (COI) letter, which is among files released by the National Archives on Thursday, suggests the advert featuring Mrs Thatcher was intended "to make quick capital out of the Prime Minister's visit to the Armilla Patrol".

The COI had been against the idea when it was first put forward by the advertising agency, Young and Rubicam, "but the Navy Recruiting people in MOD (Ministry of Defence) were enthusiastic and insisted on going forward", the letter says.

The "potentially embarrassing press advertisement nearly got through the net" in August 1988, says the letter, dated the following month, before Downing Street ruled - "with only hours to spare" - that it should not be used.


COI acting director general Mike Devereau, in the letter to No 10 press secretary Bernard Ingham, expresses concern that the MoD was unresponsive to warnings about the advert.

Image caption A later proposal sought to convey the navy's "balancing act" in the Gulf

But MoD chief of public relations Hugh Colver disputes this, responding that "the safety net we all seek under these circumstances did indeed operate" when his department referred the advert to Downing Street for approval.

The MoD expressed to No 10 "the view that they would not wish the advertisement to appear unless the Prime Minister was personally content", Mr Colver writes.

In the last document in the file, dated 6 October 1988, Mr Devereau replies to say he remains "concerned that the proposal went as far as it did, and that with only two hours to go to copy time COI staff were not sure that their advice that the ad was improper had been received and understood".

He continues: "It might be useful if the principles involved in featuring politicians in publicity could be considered at the meeting on publicity in December."

The files contain two other mocked-up advert proposals, one of which declares: "Rambo. Wimpo. We steer a course between the two."

A fourth mock-up reads: "We made our presence felt without firing a shot."

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