Margaret Thatcher was sent her a briefing note on a history of punk ahead of an interview with Smash Hits
As so many Prime Ministers have shown, ‘getting down with the kids’ was not Mrs Thatcher’s forte.
So when she was lined up with an interview for teen pop magazine Smash Hits, aides sent her a briefing note on a hisotory of punk – and especially the Sex Pistols.
The question-and-answer session was one of the many appearances that prime ministers make only during general election campaigns, much like appearing on children’s television and kissing babies.
So when the Prime Minister was told she would have to do a music programme, staff briefed her ahead of an interview with Tom Hibbert, deputy editor of Smash Hits, warning her: ‘You may not enjoy this interview.’
The prime minister was urged to show she was ‘confident and relaxed’ while navigating questions on contemporary music and her personal tastes in a bid to appeal to the youth population.
The Downing Street press office briefing stated: ‘You may not enjoy this interview. Mr Hibbert may ask superficial questions which betray a lack of understanding.
‘The challenge of the interview will be for you to demonstrate that just because you are not part of the pop scene, you are still in touch with youngsters and understand their needs.’
Referencing Lady Thatcher’s earlier appearance on BBC1 children’s TV show Saturday Superstore, it went on: ‘The important thing is to show you are confident and relaxed. The way you handled the Superstore appearance is still the subject of praise from youngsters.’
So when she was lined up with an interview for teen pop magazine Smash Hits, aides sent her a briefing note on a hisotory of punk – and especially the Sex Pistols
A history of punk – at its most vocal during the previous Labour Government – was attached to the note, hinting at the possible challenges posed by the Smash Hits interview.
It read: ‘The ‘PUNK’ era which hit the music world between 1976-1978 was a very basic musical style featuring a strange bunch of anti-establishment acts, most famous of which were THE SEX PISTOLS with songs such as God Save The Queen and Anarchy In The UK.
‘Other PUNK acts such as THE CLASH and THE DAMNED were popular for a while but when the SEX PISTOLS split up in 1978 the style died out, to be replaced by the current technological musical era featuring computers, synthesizers and videos.’
Aides sent the Prime Minister a briefing note on a hisotory of punk – and especially the Sex Pistols (pictured)
When Mrs Thatcher visited Jamaica later in the year, her speech, drafted by her foreign policy aide Charles Powell, contained a reference to the reggae song by Bob Marley Get Up, Stand Up.
He writes to her saying: ‘You will also see that I have made references to Jamaican reggae music and modern Jamaican poetry, with which you many well not be entirely familiar!’
Aides also felt the need to remind her of the price of bread, among other everyday items.
Preparations for the prime minister’s March 1987 encounter with Tom Hibbert, deputy editor of Smash Hits, have come to light in the latest release of her personal files.
THE INTERVIEW IN FULL
Who were your heroes and heroines when you were growing up?
I think you’ve got to remember that I was growing up in wartime when things were very, very different. And indeed, if you were growing up in wartime you really do appreciate peace. It was a time when the bomber force went out most nights and the fighters were about and there were battles and you were losing ships – you just imagine if the Falklands had gone on and on and on – so it was a very different time. But then you had to have all kinds of relaxation and I suppose really our heroes in those days … because we had no television, we had radio and everyone listened to Winston Churchill and everyone listened, for example, to JB Priestley give his talks and Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley – all of those great variety things on radio were very much part of our lives. And then the other great entertainment in my generation, which one day I hope will come back, was to go to the cinema to see a film. And what did we see? Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire – fantastic! And these great musical films: there was Jeanette McDonald, Nelson Eddy, Anne Siegler, Webster Booth, those marvellous … Jean Arthur in The Plainsman, all the Western things and there was Carmen Miranda in South of the Border – but the point I’m making is that those stars meant as much to us, because it was a life that was away beyond anything we ever imagined and we thought it was very glamorous. But I suppose things turn out to be less glamorous the closer you get to them: they were jolly hard working, jolly hard working. But we looked to them avidly because it was a kind of escapism from the lives that we led – humdrum lives, sometimes very difficult lives …
Margaret Thatcher remembered watching Fred Astaire (with Cyd Charisse) when she was young
Was school difficult and humdrum?
Well, we had another school evacuated to us so we went in the morning and they went in the afternoon and so it was very different. Things were much more formal in those days. At primary school we were taught in classes of 40 but, my goodness me, by the time we were six or seven we all knew how to read and write and we knew our arithmetic …
Did you get up to any naughty tricks?
I don’t think I was terribly naughty. I liked the work, I did a certain amount of sport. I tended to be rather serious because I enjoyed … they were serious times in which we were living. I was the youngest of the family and I very much enjoyed listening to serious discussions – very much – and therefore I was thought to be rather a serious child. But it was because I was passionately interested in many of those things – I was interested in debating societies and I was interested in all kinds of things. I think sometimes, you know, parents try to give their children the things they didn’t have. My father left school at the age of 13, although he was very intelligent, and therefore was quite determined that I should have a very good education. My father hadn’t had it so he tried to give it to me – very much – therefore I did not have a great deal of parties or pleasure. So when I was bringing up my children I wanted them to have more fun times. They were taught to sail. They were taught nearly all of the sports and they had, I hope, a little bit more fun. So you try to compensate. Each generation rebels and then only when you become a parent do you realise the wisdom of some of the things your parents were saying.
Did your children rebel? Did Mark grow his hair long?
No. No, he didn’t grow his hair long but he liked motor racing, which worried me enormously. But Mark went for the motor racing and he also became a very good golfer. We took them away for holidays. We hired a house, I took them away and my husband came down at weekends so they learned to sail there. We went to the same place every year so that they had a lot of friends. Friends are the most important things in life. They really are. I can’t emphasise that enough. And people are friends because you have an interest in common – it may be photography, it may be music. Music gives you a lot of friends. Mark was certainly quite interested in music and Carol had very much her own ideas and still does and she’s a journalist. Young people will have their own ideas as to what they want to do and I think it’s a mistake to try to persuade them into a direction into which they don’t want to go. On the other hand, if they want to do terribly glamorous things which aren’t going to give them a living, you’ve got to say, “Now, look dear, don’t you think it would be worthwhile taking some training which will give you a much better chance of earning a basic living?”
So would you have been fed up if your children had formed a pop group?
I wouldn’t have been at all upset. I know a number of people who are very keen on pop music – jazz in my time – so I shouldn’t have been upset at all. I’d have been much more concerned if they didn’t do anything. I wouldn’t have been at all concerned at a pop group because you meet a lot of people and you’re often doing something together – and Mark did, as a matter of fact, learn the guitar because he wanted an instrument that you could go around instantly and you could get people singing.
Was he any good?
Not particularly. But he had quite a musical sense and they all listened to – heaven knows we had all the latest pop records. There were Beatles in our time, you see, and they’re just coming back because their songs were tuneful. I remember Telstar – lovely song. I absolutely loved that. The Tornados, yes. And we had Dusty Springfield, the Beatles I remember most of all, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Dusty Springfield … yes, but they had this thing on all day and it became a part of the background …
They didn’t play it too loud?
Good Lord, yes! Ha ha ha! Turn that thing down! Of course they did. Of course they did. But far better to be interested in that than not to be interested in anything at all.
How do you react to today’s left wing pop acts – the Housemartins, the Style Council, Billy Bragg – who can’t wait to get you out of Number 10?
Can’t they? Ha ha ha! Well, I remember when I went down to Limehouse studios once there was a pop group there who I was told I wouldn’t get on with at all well and I was absolutely fascinated because they were rehearsing for television and it is a highly professional business. Highly professional. Cameras have to come in on certain shots, they use a fantastic amount of energy and of course their voices … and I’ve watched Elton John, too, who was highly professional – but I’m so sad that he’s having this difficulty with his throat. Highly professional. I think it has become much, much more professional in the technique you use now. You just had echo chambers in our time but now it’s much more professional. You’ve got to use technology. Don’t be frightened of it. It’s going to bring fantastic opportunities.
Yes, but about these pop groups that want to get Mrs. Thatcher out of No 10…
I don’t mind these … most young people rebel and then gradually they become more realistic. It’s very much part of life, really. And when they want to get Mrs Thatcher out of No 10 – I’ve usually not met most of them. Ha ha ha! And it really is lovely to have a chance to talk to them – and it’s nice they know your name, ha ha ha! But you see, I’m not up to date with pop music at all though sometimes I’m told what’s the latest thing in the charts and I’m fascinated that some of the older things are right up top – things from the 60s. That one, er, Love a Woman? When a Man Loves a Woman? Yes, that is marvellous and do you know why I think that? Because it’s not just noise and rhythm – there’s a theme to it and there’s melody and also when you’re young so many of the things are either about rhythm or they’re really about girl loves boy, boy loves girl. That is the perennial theme and that is absolutely lovely. It’s a lovely song and I, I’m interested that they’re coming back. The rhythm is easy but it’s having a good tune that’s the hard part.
How did you feel about Live Aid?
I thought it was marvellous. I watched some of it on the Wembley thing and it was absolutely terrific. It was the first time that we’d been able to get a great body of young people not merely interested in something but actually doing something for it and loving doing it, and I thought it was absolutely terrific. And I watched some of that an
d one group after another came and they did a marvellous job. They did a marvellous job. I think young people do want to give something: they don’t only want to take something, they’re desperate to give something – particularly to other youngsters who just don’t have a chance. Please believe me – our generation was the same. I wanted when I was young to go and work in India because helping people who are not well off or who are poverty-stricken is very good and let me say this: you can never judge anyone by their appearance ever. Some of the kindest people have the most strange appearance. You can’t tell their politics by what they look like. You might be able to tell by what they’ve got printed on their T-shirt but not by what they look like.
The government was widely criticised for not doing enough for Ethiopia and Bob Geldof was rude to you on one occasion…
Was he rude to me? I met him. He wasn’t rude to me. We did talk. Obviously he came up and talked to me about the things that most interested him. But what fascinated me was this: it was not, “Why doesn’t the government give more?” but “What can I do as a person?” That was his approach. And after all, if government took so much away from young people that they hadn’t anything left to give, that wouldn’t be much of a life. That would be government substituting their judgment for what people want to do with their own money and that’s always been my point. If you want to take everything away from people in taxes, it’s because you don’t trust them. Well, I do, and I think they should have some say. Of course we have to have enough for defence, for law and order, for social services, but it’s people’s earnings and if you left them with nothing with which to give themselves, you’d have a very dull society. And a wrong society. Yes, wrong. Wrong! If government say the money you earn is first mine and I’ll decide only what you should have left, I would say that would be … wrong.
What would you say are the worst problems facing young people today? AIDS, unemployment and…
You always wonder what’s going to happen to you in the future. I can remember as a teenager some young marrieds I knew … they knew who they’d married, they knew what their training was going to be, they knew the sort of job they’d got, and it is the tremendous uncertainty and it is both a problem and an excitement and a challenge. These days when it comes to training, there are far many more choices than we ever had: we’ve got the young youth training – YTS – and now we’ve got another one called Job Training Scheme. There are quite a lot of jobs available for which you can’t get people because, in the midst of unemployment, you’ve got a shortage of people taking the requisite skills. It is problematic when they don’t necessarily get the right advice and that’s why I feel that as well as talking to your contemporaries, you should have some older people to talk to.
But the future must seem bleak for young people faced with AIDS ads and heroin ads on television…
Yes, I agree. You see, television tells you a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise know, but it stops a lot of things because it’s too jolly easy to go home and do your homework and then sit down in front of the television and the family’s sitting down in front of the television and you’re not talking to one another. Television must not be a substitute for doing things you want to do. Alright, it may be going out and belonging to a pop group, it may be that you’re keen on going and cheering a football team, it may be that you’re keen on learning snooker, but do do something. Don’t just be a spectator. And if families go and do things – they may be interested in model railways – and I think it’s marvellous to learn an instrument because music takes you right out of yourself, and we all have gramophones or disc playing things these days …
Um. Have you ever seen Spitting Image?
I did watch one, not with myself, but there were one or two things on about the Royal Family and I didn’t like them very much. We are fair game, politicians, but there are certain things I don’t like images of and one is the Royal Family because it is the monarchy and I think it’s got to be protected. Also I’m told that Spitting Image would hurt very much so I think it’s better not to be hurt too much. Like when your youngsters say “I want to get Mrs Thatcher out of Number 10” never having met Mrs T. However …
What do you like on TV?
I adore Yes Prime Minister. It’s great fun, isn’t it? Sometimes I do watch some of the old films … now, I did watch yesterday one from the First World War called Dawn Patrol. It was a very telling film. It taught you a lot. I also watched because I loved it – I just happened to turn on for the news – Welsh male voice choir – 1000 voices … And I did enjoy Superstore. I enjoyed it enormously. I didn’t know there were things called … TV video? Pop videos? Fantastic! Paul Daniels I watch. He’s fantastic. Marvellous. Really so unbelievably skilled. And the Eurovision Song Contest … now, we haven’t done terribly well recently but when we won we had a group of four and it was a song about a little girl and because she’s only three … Brotherhood of Man? Lovely! A fantastic young group, really professional and they’d worked out all their actions, because in my young day it was Cliff Richard and Adam Faith …
When are you going to knight Cliff Richard?
Cliff Richard has done wonders. It was he who got the movement going, really – moving to the music, and Adam Faith came in with a slightly different technique – always melodious and still about … Cliff Richard more than Adam Faith …
Smash Hits was calling for Cliff Richard to be knighted in 1987 eight years before the honour was bestowed upon him
So will you put in a word for Sir Clifford?
Always be serious! … Alright ha ha ha!! …
You have been called a lot of things in your time, from Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher when you were Education Minister …
Yes, I remember that, too, and it seemed to me one thing that people could purchase – milk for their own children. The important thing is for the state to do things which the state can do but to leave people with money to do things themselves. If people’s talents are to develop to their fullest ability, they must have the freedom to do that, so good luck to your pop groups. They do very well for us in exports – they do a fantastic job and if some of them want to have yellow hair, punk hair, short hair, long hair, blue jeans, yellow jeans or, these days, my goodness me we’ve
got some smart ones. Marvellous! When I go and look at some of the clothes for young people, gosh they are pricey but, really, I think that the sort of informal period has gone. You know, some of the rules are coming back and life is much better when you have rules to live by. I mean, it’s really like playing football, isn’t it? If you didn’t have any rules, you wouldn’t be able to play the game. Of course you’ll have the whistle blown sometimes but freedom requires some set of rules to live by to respect other people’s freedom, so if we’re remembered that way, I think we’ll have done a reasonable job for people the world over.