May’s Image of the Month shows Margaret Thatcher in a slightly less ferrous light than usual, taking the trouble to send a hand-written letter in reply to a question from a small boy.
Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Thatcher’
Lady Thatcher first visited the Churchill Archives Centre, with Sir Denis, on a Sunday early in 1994. Typically, she wrote an immediate thank-you letter to our then Keeper, the historian Correlli Barnett, recording her gratitude for the archives staff “who preserve the lessons of history for us” and for seeing a display of wartime papers which recorded “Churchill’s genius” in inspiring confidence in wartime victory.
In 1997 Lady Thatcher generously donated the bulk of her personal and political papers to the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust on behalf of the nation. Since then, the Trust has supported their cataloguing and preservation at the Centre, alongside the papers of Sir Winston.
After 1997 Lady Thatcher continued to chair and support the work of the Archive Trust and was a regular visitor to College. With her help, funding was raised for a new wing to house her papers and provide expansion space for the Archives Centre. At an early meeting to report progress on the design her eyes focused intently on me as she queried the direction of air flow movements in the extension. Of course, she had alighted on the one ambiguity in the design proposal and I had a few awkward moments under her gaze.
The extension building was eventually opened in 2002 by Lady Thatcher who reached towards the somewhat alarmed Director of the Archives, Allen Packwood, to relieve him of a large pair of scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon. She asked him, perhaps unnecessarily, “shall I go to the left or the right?”
The Thatcher archive contains over three thousand boxes of papers, memos, photographs and correspondence. And one of the famous handbags, which I collected from her aide “Crawfie” back in 2002. It felt very odd leaving her office with such an iconic and historical artefact. The bag dates from the mid-1980s, with a helpful handwritten note from Lady Thatcher recording its provenance.
In 2006 the Centre co-curated an exhibition at Parliament which was opened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I stood beside Lady Thatcher as Mr Blair recounted how he had asked her at Question Time in 1984 about her familiarity with the famous 1944 Employment White Paper. To his horror, she had stood in Parliament and, without warning, had answered him by pulling out her own copy of the document from her handbag. The White paper, heavily annotated and headed “Margaret H. Roberts” is now safely in her archive.
We were privileged to work so closely with Lady Thatcher who was always generous with her time in talking to our donors and supporters. In 2009 we hosted a luncheon in London to mark the start of a conference examining the legacy of the cold war. The then US Ambassador to London was booked to give an opening address to start the lunch but was caught up in terrible traffic near the Embassy. Our guests were disappointed but had a very welcome 45 minutes to talk to Lady Thatcher, pay their tributes and take photographs before the Ambassador arrived. It was a reminder of her influence on the world stage, even in retirement.
This piece will be included in “Memories of Margaret Thatcher” by Iain Dale, published in early May by Biteback in hardback at £20.
Key selections from the Thatcher papers are made available online at http://www.margaretthatcher.org after release.
There has been a huge volume of media coverage of the death of Baroness Thatcher. A short interview with Andrew Riley, our Archivist of Lady Thatcher’s personal and political papers, was featured in a programme broadcast yesterday by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, “Maggie and me”.
The interview focuses on the discovery by Andrew of a small card in the Thatcher papers which Margaret Thatcher took with her to No 10 Downing Street on winning the 1979 General Election. The card summarises the key elements of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi which she read to the watching crowds and to the world’s media, reciting “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
Andrew looked for the card in the Thatcher papers after seeing it mentioned in Snow’s memoir, “Shooting history”. Snow had stood behind Mrs Thatcher when she read the Prayer outside No 10. Luckily, Jon is 6 foot 5 tall and was able to see over her shoulder to help identify the card.
Just this morning, I have finally opened part of a 1993 file which has been closed since I catalogued it ten years ago: Enoch Powell’s contribution to a BBC obituary programme for Margaret Thatcher.
There are no great revelations in the file, I’m afraid – it was kept closed for reasons of general confidentiality, and is very unlikely to be used by the BBC now – but it is interesting to see just how far in advance these things are planned, twenty years early in this case.
Powell greatly respected Thatcher, and they shared similar views, on the economy and Europe in particular. In describing her for this programme, he is perhaps most interesting on the Falklands, remarking that she showed a ruthlessness "not untypical of the female."
Powell goes on to say that like everyone else in government, Thatcher knew very well that Britain had been engaged in getting rid of the Falkland Islands for years, "but she saw that the moment had come … when that would not wash and, ruthlessly and absolutely, she ditched everybody who had been in any way involved in that course of action, even though she had been herself a consenting party to it." Clearly, in Powell’s mind, a great virtue in a politician.
Despite looming large over much of 1982, the Falklands were not the only overseas challenge to Margaret Thatcher. Her first big visit after the Falklands War was to Japan, China and Hong Kong. The Chinese leg of the trip was particularly significant as it kicked off the long negotiation on the return of Hong Kong to China.
The archives reveal something of the vast preparation she personally undertook for the visit to the Far East, especially China. She felt obliged to examine every detail of the trip, wary of the symbolism and determined to make a powerful impression at every point.
Among the papers at Churchill are a list of clothes she was planning to wear, meeting by meeting (all the outfits were given names such as Smoky, Fuchsia and Plum Stars) and the archive also contains details of her outright refusal to lay at wreath at the Monument to Revolutionary Martyrs in Tiananmen Square, despite being advised that many Western heads of government had recently done so. She simply scrawls ‘NO’ in capped letters next to the suggestion.
She also spent an astonishing amount of time planning the British return banquet (held in the Great Hall of the People) where she oversaw cutlery arrangements and the silver table settings supplied by the Royal Navy. Ever keen to cut costs, whether in the British economy or domestically, Thatcher also waded in on a ridiculous argument about the cost of the banquet; the PM favouring the cheaper 50 Yuan option but eventually being persuaded to accept the 75 Yuan menu which contained shark’s fin and sea slugs.
She also became embroiled in a heated dispute about the possibility of serving jam sandwiches for dessert (considered a treat for foreign visitors). Meriting official discussion with the Foreign Office, Thatcher opted for a fruit salad dessert instead.
Despite the care and attention put into seemingly every aspect of the Far East trip, the archive confirms her meetings with the Chinese leadership did not run smoothly. Papers released this year relate for the first time that Communist Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping threatened to move into Hong Kong before the expiry of the lease in 1997 if there were ‘very large and serious disturbances in the next fifteen years’, even going so far as to mention HSBC by name as a potential agent of such disturbances.
Away from the seriousness of war and international political wrangling, Thatcher also spent one evening in 1982 in the company of the man behind the world’s most famous drag queen – Dame Edna Everage. While not attending in full and glittering regalia, Barry Humphries did give Mrs Thatcher a Dame Edna cooking apron for ‘informal lunches at Chequers’. The archive also contains record of an amazing literary dinner at the home of Hugh Thomas where she sat down with Larkin, Spender, Stoppard, Berlin and the like. However, records note that Iris Murdoch and John Le Carre, a grudging admirer, were unable to attend.
For Christmas 1982, the archive also reveals she was sent tapes of Yes, Minister, by the Director-General of the BBC, Alisdair Milne.
The Falklands War – the conflict that defined much of Margaret Thatcher’s political career and legacy – dominates the release of her personal papers for 1982 at the Churchill Archives Centre from Monday (March 25).
Thousands of pages of her papers are being opened to the public at the Centre and made available online by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.
Among the 40,000 pages of documents being released is Thatcher’s own copy of the note confirming the Argentine invasion of the Islands, and an emotionally-charged letter to President Reagan, eventually toned down, where she resolutely refuses American overtures to concede ground to Argentina’s military dictatorship.
A previously unseen 12-page record made by Ian Gow, Thatcher’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, following the appearance of Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington and Defence Secretary John Nott at the backbench 1922 committee, describes how the tenor of that tense exchange informed Carrington’s much-lamented decision to resign.
Thatcher’s attempts to dissuade him came to nought and the archive contains a warm letter of explanation from Carrington to Thatcher, and a touching letter by return from the Prime Minister on May 4, 1982, relating how much she and the Cabinet missed his presence.
But the papers released this year also contain evidence of less cordial relations and weak support at best from large sections of the Conservative Parliamentary Party in the build-up to war. Outside Number 10, junior ministers Tim Raison and Ken Clarke as well as Stephen Dorrell and Chris Patten were also expressing alarm; Dorrell for one saying he would only support the Task Force as a negotiating measure and advocating a withdrawal if the military Junta in Argentina refused to negotiate.
On Tuesday, April 6, four days after the Argentine invasion, Thatcher met with former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, seeking his advice on handling the looming conflict. While there was no official minute of the meeting, Thatcher’s own note survives. It references the now famous advice from Macmillan not to have Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in her War Cabinet so that money would not be an issue in making military decisions, and also details his counsel on handling war correspondents – essentially to restrict, if not censor them, as much as possible.
However, as the situation in the South Atlantic worsened in the face of Argentine intransigence and fighting began, wider Conservative and opposition support eventually began to fall in place behind the Prime Minister.
Critics remained, however, and the archive for 1982 contains sharp exchanges with Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Hume, who challenged the morality of the Government’s action, and even Astronomer Royal Martin Ryle, who described the occupation as a ‘relatively minor event’ – a view tersely rebutted by Thatcher.
The personal sadness she felt at the loss of life during the Falklands War is reflected in the keeping of notes such as the slip of paper handed to her on June 12, relaying that HMS Glamorgan had been hit by an Exocet missile, with casualties at that point unknown. Elsewhere, the archive records instances of the Prime Minister anxiously awaiting news and reading long into the early hours of the morning as losses mounted and the British and Argentine forces traded heavy blows.
News that the Argentinians had surrendered came in a call from Fleet Command at Northwood at 9pm on Monday, June 14. The Thatcher Archives has her notes on the call, as well as her annotated copy of John Nott’s celebrated earlier statement announcing the recapture of South Georgia nearly two months earlier on April 25.
The ‘Falklands Factor’ famously led to a huge post-war boost in the Prime Minister’s own popularity rating, as well as the Government’s. She connected the conflict to domestic issues, asking in a famous speech ‘why does it need a war to bring out our qualities and assert our pride?’.
With the 1982 Thatcher material being released this week, there has been quite a bit of admin work to do on the files in the run up.
1. Labelling the files. All 90 boxes worth of them.
2. Sorting out the boxes
The files have been put into order (with the exception of a few stragglers) and shifted around so that no box is overfull when others are practically empty. And then …
3. …More labelling – the boxes this time
4. Making and adding surrogates
In some cases, Data Protection requires that certain items are redacted, or if the documents are simply of poor quality, Photoshop wizardry is used to make them legible, or copies are acquired from versions in the National Archives. The new copies are printed onto acid-free paper and slipped into place in the files.
The boxes are moved out of our New Wing and into the main Strong Room, ready and waiting to be used.
In 2002 the Archives Centre was given one of Margaret Thatcher’s handbags. Well used and often photographed on the lady’s arm during the 1980s, the handbag is a firm favourite with visitors to the Archives Centre. It has already had two bespoke conservation display boxes made for it, and due to considerable use, was in need of a new display box. Various personal items that might have been carried in the bag (for example, a lipstick, handkerchief and mirrored compact) were boxed separately.
Lady Thatcher with this handbag when she delivered her famous Bruges Speech at the College of Europe, 20 Sept 1988. Ref: Thatcher Papers, THCR 8/2/34
Copyright unknown: efforts have been made to trace the copyright in this image and Churchill Archives Centre welcomes contact from the copyright owner.
In addition, the Archives Centre has recently been given another Thatcher handbag. This one has never been used by the lady, but is a limited edition (C243) of an Ebury handbag, designed by Anya Hindmarch and dedicated to Mrs Thatcher with two gold inscriptions just inside the bag, one saying ‘The lady is not for turning’ and the other from the designer saying ‘From someone that you inspired’. In an inscribed box and wrapped in lots of black (and unfortunately acidic) tissue, this handbag also needed some conservation work.
The Anya Hindmarch Ebury handbag as it arrived at the Archives Centre.
As it happens, Anya Hindmarch has just been awarded ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ (see this article in the Guardian) and has acknowledged that she was greatly inspired by Lady Thatcher when she set up her first bag business aged 19.
So earlier this year I was given the conservation task of re-boxing both bags and their contents. I set to work on the Ebury bag first, creating a polyester wadding and Tyvek cushion for the bag to lie on in its original box. It was then padded out with lots of acid-free tissue and its original protective cotton bag was folded over acid-free tissue and place on top of the bag. To protect the original box, a fall-flap box was made of archival corrugated board (light but strong) with internal panels of inert polyester foam, Velcro tabs at the sides and a tight-fitting lid.
Repackaged in archival materials with a new fall-flap protective box.
However, the first Thatcher handbag required a much more complex box design which would allow the handbag to be viewed by visitors without it having to be touched or removed. Following on from its previous box, a polyester foam base was created for the bag to sit in and then this was placed on a box plinth made of archival corrugated board in order to raise it up to aid viewing.
Having created the plinth, it then struck me that it was an ideal place to house a drawer containing the handbag’s contents. This would mean that when the lid was removed, the front of the box would fall open revealing a handwritten note by Mrs Thatcher explaining her frequent use of the bag on the inside of the flap and then the drawer would be opened to reveal some of its contents. Ta Da!!
Handbag and its contents in their new display box.
Once the drawer was made to fit into the plinth its contents were fitted into a polyester foam base with slots cut for each item, and the larger or heavier items supported in place by clear polyester straps. The box and front flap were then built around the plinth and base with a clear polyester ‘window’ in front of the bag and angled around the sides. The note from Mrs Thatcher confirming her use of the bag was placed between an thin archival board and film of clear polyester, welded on all sides and then adhered to the inside left-hand corner of the fall-flap. Finally, a close-fitting lid was made and two, individually shaped pieces of thick polyester foam were placed in the lid so that when it was placed on the box, the foam would support the bag in transit.
I wonder how long this box will last before ‘Mark 4’ is required?
The Archives Centre recently opened up nearly 30,000 pages of Margaret Thatcher’s personal and political papers for 1980. The papers are owned for the Nation by the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust which has been very committed to supporting access to a rolling programme of openings in the papers (broadly in line with the current thirty-year rule).
Opening modern personal and political papers can be a stressful business, especially when the papers are those of a former Prime Minister, whose legacy remains hugely controversial. Even after their official review and cataloguing, there is always a doubt that an item which should have been closed (for official reasons or to comply with the Data Protection Act) has slipped through the net.
The work of the professional archivist is necessarily procedural. Files must be given references and labelled, boxes marked-up, closed items identified and extracted, catalogues typed, location guides produced, websites and online resources updated. Not least because researchers visiting the Centre expect to order a file and have it retrieved within five minutes, or less. Ahead of a major opening of papers all of these processes, and more besides, must be completed so that everything works perfectly on the day of release. Almost inevitably some of the stages are completed at the last minute as the archivist rushes around, fuelled by caffeine, often rescued by kind colleagues doing last minute proof-checking or box numbering.
To add my normal stress levels, we held a press day ahead of the formal opening of the 1980 papers. This meant being ready three days earlier than otherwise would have been the case. Representatives of the main broadsheet newspapers and other broadcast media all came to our reading rooms looking through the released papers for newsworthy stories. We had prepared a detailed ‘press pack’ of stories pitched at different levels, but there was still plenty of time for the press to find a controversial story of their own in the release.
In the end, our story received good coverage in the broadsheets and a lengthy piece on Radio Four’s “Today” programme. After all my worrying, there may not have been any “smoking gun” stories for the media, but there is plenty for historians and other researchers to work on.
The papers for 1980 were dominated by the poor state of the economy, with almost every indicator headed firmly in the wrong direction and the whole year spent in recession. This first full year of an incoming Conservative government was difficult politically too. There were strains within party and government, registered repeatedly in the files which have been released.
Politically, though, the year is best known for Margaret Thatcher’s conference speech and its backs-to-the-wall mentality, typified in the “Lady’s NOT for Turning” phrase.
The text of the speech has long been in the public domain and TV clips of the famous section are still regularly broadcast. What we opened for the first time were the preparatory papers for Thatcher’s all-night speech writing sessions, including her annotations on the drafts produced. We can see the introduction of the famous section by her speechwriting aide Ronnie Millar. The phrase puns on the title of a play – even then a bit obscure, now almost completely forgotten – by Christopher Fry, “The Lady’s not for Burning”. Soundbites are as much born as made and no one in the Thatcher speechwriting team seems to have had an inkling that the phrase would have anything like the resonance it did.
It is generally forgotten, but there is also a section in the speech headed: “Beyond Economics”, which takes up ‘Big Society’-type themes largely discounted or ignored in assessments of Margaret Thatcher’s political rhetoric at the time and since. For this and other reasons, there are obvious parallels between 1980 and 2011, in each case the first full year of a in-coming Conservative administration.
More generally, these private files tell a fuller story of the inner workings of No.10 than those released at Kew by the National Archives earlier this year, because they include the “back office” functions such as dealings with the party and the press, and the vital office of diary secretary, gatekeeper to the PM.
The Margaret Thatcher Foundation and the separate Archive Trust are combining to digitise them all and put the best sections online (see www.margaretthatcher.org). Thousands upon thousands will eventually feature on this site, making Margaret Thatcher’s career (we believe) the most accessible of any political or public figure in history to date.
For further information, see http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/collections/thatcher/thatcher_home.php and http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/collections/thatcher/thatcher_opening.php. For press links to the opening of the papers, see the Guardian and the BBC.
Andrew Riley, Archivist