AudioGo’s new BBC Archive Voices dedicated to Margaret Thatcher confirms its worth in the shift between the first two interviews. Chatting to Jimmy Young moments after becoming leader of the opposition in 1975, Thatcher’s voice still retains the femininity which her advisor's suggested would need to be trained out of her in order for the top job to be in swinging distance of her handbag. Cut to seven years later and a clip from Pete Murray’s Late Show in ’82 and the more familiar richer timber has been established.
The shift is surprising even with the knowledge of the media management which had been involved between which is also evident in how the new PM carries herself. Young is throwing her softball question in the earlier interview but her answers still lack varnish and are politically revealing, in places bordering on socialism, Thatcher of the opinion that polarised political positions do no good. As time passes, even biographical anecdotes gain a practiced rigidity, her political message decidedly right wing. Formally Murray’s chat has the atmosphere of a cosy late night encounter, but every word is still deliberate, carefully chosen.
This isn’t by any means a “greatest hits” selection of speeches and interviews. Listeners wanting to hear Thatcher being harangued on Nationwide about the sinking of the Belgrano or her rendition of Two Little Boys must return to YouTube. Instead producer Neil Gardner has attempted to create a kaleidoscope of material (across six interviews) that hope to pin down a woman who unlike many of her predecessors, as she reveals to Russell Harty, refused to keep a nightly journal for future publication lest she be accused of bias or reporting events without the benefit of hindsight.
The Harty section is a typical example. In edits from Favourite Things, a kind of televisual Desert Island Discs from 1987, Thatcher apparently in the residence above Number 10, is called upon to pull out some of her possessions out of cupboards and the results are surprisingly banal, pieces of ceramic from an potter she describes as a “genius” and “exquisite”. The approach is presumably to make her sound like a woman of the people but the results are paradoxically alienating because like inadvertently seeing David Cameron’s dvd collection, we assume them to have better taste.
Critics of “Thatch” (of which I can easily be counted as an example having been born during her reign) will find much to parody, the stark contrast between her resolute assumption that people should be able to take advantage of their own potential in just the moment her government were destroying the futures of many of their citizens. Politics simply can’t be avoided even by selecting a Wogan retrospective piece rather than a contemporary Humphrys dingdong, when all the talk is of Gorbachev’s visit or reflections on the Falklands War rather than the minutiae of her theories about our manufacturing industries.
But I’d still recommend this even to people who can’t stand the sound of her voice. Know thy enemy perhaps, but the roots of Cameron’s big society idea were germinated in Thatcher’s rhetoric and the so-called new Tory feminism was already evident in this old Tory. There’s even one moment when Thatcher offers some useful advice (I know!). She’s talking about her love of Harry Seacombe – in the later phase as presenter and crooner on ITV’s religious slot Highway. She remarks how cheerful he always is, even off camera, and that this seems to be the way to succeed in life. And before you say it, yes, it’s a pity she’d create so much misery herself.
[The BBC Archive pages has the full versions of some of these interviews plus a whole lost more.]