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8:26am on Tuesday, 9th April, 2013:

Not so News


Looking back through my blog postings, it doesn't appear that I've related my Margaret Thatcher anecdote. Not one to avoid jumping on a bandwagon, here it is.

So, I was in London on my own for the day. I think I'd had a meeting in the morning or something, so figured I'd do some wandering around in the afternoon. It was 1988, at a time that the nurses were on strike. I was walking down Whitehall and saw a crowd near the (at that time fairly new) gates to Downing Street, so I went over to have a look. There were camera crews around and it appeared that something newsworthy was due to happen.

I decided to go to the other end of Downing Street to have a closer look. The gates there are (well, were then) much nearer to Number 10 (around 20 yards or so) which meant you could get a very clear view of anyone going into or coming out of the building. There was no-one else at the gates when I arrived, and indeed I remained there on my own for the half an hour or so that I waited.

It definitely looked as if something televisual was on the cards. The camera crews were alert, rather than lounging around. I decided to wait and see, as I had nothing better to do. Sure enough, shortly afterwards a black limousine that was parked further down Downing Street started up and reversed into position outside Number 10.

It stayed there, engine running, for another five minutes or so, until suddenly the iconic Number 10 black front door opened and about three cameramen emerged walking backwards, immediately followed by the people they were filming: Margaret Thatcher, Rodney Bickerstaffe (general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees) and a couple of his assistants. Bickerstaffe and Thatcher shook hands and smiled at the cameras, then Bickerstaffe and his non-bickering staff got into the limousine and drove off.

They drove off for about 20 yards. Then, they stopped and the car reversed back in front of Number 10. Meanwhile, Thatcher was talking to the camera crews. Bickerstaffe got out of the vehicle and exchanged a few words with Thatcher and the camera people, then went and said something to the driver of the car. Bickerstaffe, Thatcher and the camera crew then went back inside Number 10 (I think the other people who had been with Bickerstaffe remained in the car) and the policeman closed the door.

About 20 seconds later, they repeated the whole exercise.

This second time the camera crews seemed satisfied, so Bickerstaffe didn't get out of the car. The gates at the other end of Downing Street were opened and the car left. Thatcher spoke to the camera crews for a few moments, I guess in case they wanted any pictures of her on her own, then she went back inside Number 10 and that was that.

When I got home, I watched the TV news and they showed the second take.

This incident really affected my view of TV news reports. I knew that reporters would mess their lines sometimes and have to do retakes, but I hadn't realised that camera crews might ask for the actual news events they were recording to be repeated. I had it in my head that it was like in football, where it would be ridiculous to say "we didn't quite get that Mr Hurst, could you score again?". Judging by the way that Thatcher and Bickerstaffe behaved, though, it was a perfectly normal occurrence in politics.

So that's my Margaret Thatcher anecdote.

Hmm. I see now why perhaps I didn't bother blogging it before. It's not exactly riveting...

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).