Essays: Gloriana to the rescue |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Gloriana to the rescue

RESEARCH chemist, barrister and housewife, shy, mild-mannered Margaret Thatcher is really MARGOT MARVEL, able to leap buildings at a single bound and back workers against shirkers!

After she got the bulge on the first ballot it had to be a stampede, although it was amazing to see how gradually the older-style politicos caught on. The same went for a goodly number of the political journalists, who didn’t seem to realise that they were dealing with a TV star. Mrs Thatcher pulled out of a ‘Panorama’ drone-in the night before the second ballot, leaving the other candidates to bore the public. This move was greeted by the Guardian next morning as a tactical blunder. Whitelaw should have made such blunders.

As it was, Miss Media further established her growing credibility simply by being absent. One shouldn’t overrate the persuasive powers of the tube, but it would be equally foolish to underrate its puissance as a charisma-builder. By Monday night she was so big on the box she didn’t even need to appear. It was a nifty climax to the hottest week of image-construction since they assembled David Frost out of two old walkie-talkies and the chassis of a washing machine. The medium was the message, the package was the product, and Whitelaw was a dead duck.

With victory in the bag, Tuesday night was the right time for a quick burst of girlish humility. BBC News told us how the young Tory backbenchers had gone bonkers with joy. ‘They cheered, stamped their feet and banged their desk tops.’ Everyone shall have a half-holiday! Mrs Thatcher bit the lower lip Secret Seven tremble with relief. The story was right out of Girl, Princess or Diana. The picture aped the kitsch blur of Woman’s Own — a human heart pulses in that businesslike bodice. Even cool can cry.

The Thatcherite promo commandos picked up on the Little Girl theme and ran with it. Two hours later Midweek (BBC1) was rolling film in which the lower lip was being bitten so hard it looked to be in danger of perforation. ‘I want a team of strong people about me,’ she quavered. Joan of Arc plays Elizabeth Barrett Browning! Gloriana has need of her Sea Dogs! For Queen Guinevere! Bob McKenzie was wheeled on to declare that Mrs Thatcher had broken the spell, but what he really meant was that she had created one — and caught him flat-footed, since he glaringly failed to come up with an appropriate machine to forecast the great day’s long-term psephological effects. The slantometer was still on the drawing board.

Bereft of a manipulable thingamajig, Bob was thrown back on the resources of his quick brain. He took his frustration out on Lord Home. Had the new system worked? ‘It worked as it was designed to work.’ ‘Does that mean that you wanted to unseat the leader?’ Lord Home looked as if he had swallowed a sofa.

Patrick Cosgrave and Alan Watkins swam into view, Cosgrave sedulously perfecting his new technique of appearing to go to sleep on camera, as if requiring to be bombed-out with downers before he can match the medium’s snail-like pace. On the Street of Adventure the buzz had been saying that Cosgrave was the probable source of some of Thatcher’s more stunning epigrams: the worker-shirker routine, with its Wildean concision, might very well have emanated from his glittering intellect. Certainly he was in her corner, claiming she possessed ‘a simple, direct and intelligent honesty.’ Not only that, she was ‘honest, intelligent and direct.’ In addition, she was ‘direct, intelligent and honest.’ Against this hagiographic tirade the staunch Watkins fought a losing battle for sanity. And it’s going to go on like this until she wins the General Election — after which she plays Googie Withers and we play the prisoners.

The week’s number 2 lady superstar was Helen Mirren, who squared off against Parkinson (BBC1) in yet another doomed attempt to scale down her vitality within the limits of the medium’s butter-brained expectations. Parky kept referring to ‘your physical attributes,’ apparently oblivious to the fact that his gesturing hands were busy grasping a pair of imaginary breasts. La Mirren bashfully dodged such frivolous questioning, but seemed all unaware that no other kind of questioning was available — as a serious actress, she seemed to think that the true topic for the evening, serious acting, was somehow being purposely held back. The truth was, of course, that it had never been conceived of — whatever Parky might be, he isn’t devious. When she told him that Playboy was a disgusting magazine, there was no reply, the opinion doubtless having been dismissed as an aberration. She sneezed. Her shoulder-strap fell down. O! that I were a glove upon that hand! That I might touch those physical attributes!

On This Week (Thames) a man who had just done a stretch for stabbing another man 15 times met the man he stabbed, who was commendably willing to call him Kev. ‘I can’t for the life of me make out what sparked off the incident.’ mused Kev. Chronicle (BBC2) repeated ‘The Priest, the Painter and the Devil’ a rigmarole about buried treasure, which is apparently already established as some kind of classic. The first time I saw it I found it incomprehensible. The second time I found it incomprehensible again: ‘Civilisation’ meets ‘The Codebreakers.’ Man Alive (BBC2) followed up a show they did four years ago on some out-of-work executives. It was ‘Intimate Strangers’ with live ammo. One man had come out of it very well — to the point where he could see his old success as a sham. Another hadn’t changed, retaining the same unlovely prejudices in the same kind of job and running the same risks. A third seemed utterly adrift. The first man’s marriage, which on the face of it looked a certainty for destruction, had been welded by the test. This was good news in a week which saw the first part of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (BBC1). Stay tuned, boys: she rumbles him in episode three.

The Observer, 16th February 1975