David Boulton on how he contributed to the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher


It was Linda MacDougall, the wife of a Labour MP, who was the producer on World in Action who came to me and said, ‘Look, Margaret Thatcher is challenging Ted Heath for the leadership of the Conservative Party.’ We all thought this was a great joke that this woman, who had not made a particularly strong mark in politics, should consider herself of leadership potential and Linda said, ‘Why don’t we make a programme about her? Maybe follow her around for a week while she’s campaigning for the leadership.’ I said, “Well, I don’t think there’s the remotest chance that she will agree to let us do that! She will know of World in Action‘s reputation. She will probably know that you are the wife of a Labour MP but we’ll go along together and see her at the House of Commons and we’ll put it to her.” So we went along, the two of us – I think it was just the two of us – and we had an interview with Margaret Thatcher and she was very charming and we were saying, “What we would like to do is to follow you, be with you in the week that you are campaigning. We really need full access to you.” That was what I thought was going to be the sticking point. I thought she might sort of say, ‘Well, you can film me doing this and film me doing that.’ I thought she would want to control but she basically said, ‘I think that is a wonderful idea and I’m very happy to go along with that.’ Well we came away and we couldn’t really believe that we had got this access! We thought, well this will be an absolutely wonderful film because it will show Margaret Thatcher up for the kind of person she really is. And even as Linda filmed and I saw the rushes, I thought, yeah, this is going to be a splendid film that is not going to do Margaret Thatcher any good at all. When the film went out we were surprised that the reaction was not quite the reaction that we had expected. What we had really completely misfired on was that the constituency for electing the leader of the Tory Party was the Tory MPs at the time and however absurd Margaret Thatcher might appear to be to some of us out in the country, there was a strong sense of the nanny, the strong nanny that appealed to a lot of Tory MPs and it became clear that a lot of Tory MPs loved the film and perhaps that made a difference in her selection as the leader. That was just one of those that was fun to do but misfired.

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