Margaret Thatchers television training before cameras first broadcast from House of Commons

first_imgWeeks later on October 5, Mrs Thatcher attended the Commons for a filmed dry run, with the microphones turned off.A note in the archive dated October 6 from Dominic Morris, a private secretary, suggested that she might ask her personal assistant Cynthia ‘Crawfie’ Crawford to watch the video with her “to help with ideas on clothes for question time”.Weeks later, the House of Commons turned on the cameras but only allowed the videos to be viewed by Mrs Thatcher and Mr Kinnock. Roger Gale’s letter to Margaret Thatcher Roger Gale's letter to Margaret Thatcher Margaret Thatcher was advised not to shout over hecklers and to stop her habit of leaning on her left elbow if she wanted to put one over Labour leader Neil Kinnock when cameras first broadcast from the House of Commons.Antony Jay, one of the writers of the acclaimed TV political satire Yes Minister, was even brought into the Whips’ Office to give ministers a pep talk on how to speak at the dispatch box.Newly released documents from the National Archives reveal how Tory MP Roger Gale became her unofficial television adviser in the weeks before the cameras went live nearly 30 years ago.Mr Gale, who at the time was a member of the House of Commons broadcasting committee, was a known critic of the decision to allow cameras to start filming in November 1989.However, as a former news and current affairs director at Thames Television and the BBC, he offered advice to Mrs Thatcher.In a letter dated September 18, Mr Gale told the Prime Minister he had been “monitoring the installation” of the cameras over that summer’s recess. Mr Gale then sought to guide Mrs Thatcher about how to make her first appearances were a success. Finally, Mr Gale advised Mrs Thatcher to look over the head of the then Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock if she wanted to appear to be eye-balling him.He said: “The camera angle on the front benches is fairly acute. To gain the impression of looking the opponent – Leader of the Opposition or Spokesman – in the eye, it may be necessary to ‘cheat’ the eyeline over the head to Camera 2.”But he added: “The latter may look artificial, however – and camera 1 may prove to be more useful to ministers.”Mr Gale – the Conservative MP for Thanet North who was knighted in 2012 – said he remembered writing the letter “extremely well”, but was surprised that it was in the national archive.He told The Telegraph: “It was a private letter. The assistance I was able to give Margaret Thatcher is between her and me. She was painstaking and extremely attentive.”Mrs Thatcher replied a few days later that Mr Gale’s suggestions were “always extremely helpful and I do look forward to your updated technical assessment once we have seen a bit how it works”.In her own hand, she added: “Clearly ministers will have to change their normal habits in replying to questions, quite a lot.” Antony Jay  Chris Patten, who later became chairman of the BBC TrustCredit:Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph  Margaret Thatcher's response to Roger Gale Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. Margaret Thatcher’s response to Roger Gale Chris Patten, who later became chairman of the BBC Trustcenter_img A lone voice against the plans was Chris Patten, the Environment Secretary who decades later became BBC chairman, and according to a letter five weeks later was concerned about an “outcry” if the list of protected events was “pruned”.Decades later, a modified version of the list of protected events is still in force with the World Cup football tournament, the Olympics, Grand National, FA Cup Final and Wimbledon tennis championships banned from disappearing behind a paywall. Antony Jay, co-writer of Yes MinisterCredit:Geraint Lewis/REX Shutterstock I believe the list should be very limited and phased out as quickly as possibleMargaret Thatcher’s memo A note from Paul Gray, an official in Mrs Thatcher’s private office, dated September 15, said the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd “proposes partially to liberalise the present arrangement where only BBC and ITV can broadcast a specified list of major sporting events”.Mr Hurd was “resisting pressure from the traditional broadcasters to continue any requirement that would prevent new broadcasters like Sky or BSB purchasing exclusive rights to these events.And he also envisages reducing the number of listed events over time”. In a letter, circulated in Whitehall on the same day, Treasury officials said Mr Lawson “believes that retaining the special arrangements for ‘listed events’ unfairly protects” the BBC and commercial channels “from subscription television channels and penalises those sporting events whose organisers might wish to sell rights to subscription channels.”He would consequently prefer these arrangements to be abandoned. But if they are really felt to be politically necessary he favours keeping any limits on the freedom to buy rights as narrow as possible and phasing them out as quickly as is practicable”.In a handwritten note, Mrs Thatcher wrote on Mr Gray’s memorandum: “My sympathies are with the Chancellor. I believe the list should be very limited and phased out as quickly as possible.” Roger Gale's letter to Margaret Thatcher Leaning on the customary left arm on the Dispatch Box will present the appearance of a back to the Speaker and weaken the authority of the ministerRoger Gale’s advice to Margaret Thatcher Ministers should address all comments through the Speaker – as was common practice – “favouring either camera 1 (profile) or camera 2 (straight to camera)”, he said.Ministers had to stop turning to face Government backbenchers behind them when answering questions or they risked “being caught ‘off-camera’ at important moments”.They should also only speak “at microphone level” and “never seek to ‘top’ heckling from the Opposition: this may work in the Chamber but will sound – and look – strident on television”.Mr Gale also warned Mrs Thatcher against inadvertently turning her back on the Speaker.He said: “Leaning on the customary left arm on the Dispatch Box will present the appearance of a back to the Speaker and weaken the authority of the minister. Ministers will need to learn to lean on the right arm when reading notes!” In a note dated October 27, Mr Morris told Mrs Thatcher he had reviewed an exchange with Mr Kinnock on the day before with John Whittingdale, then her Parliamentary aide who later became Culture secretary under David Cameron.Mr Morris told her in the note – copied to her press secretary Bernard Ingham – that “the pitch of voice is just right as is eye level and stance (Mr Kinnock appears to have rather more to learn)”.But he added that he was surprised by “the extent to which television sanitises the proceedings of the Chamber. It takes out a great deal of the passion”.This meant there was a “premium on calm debaters” and it was important that Tory frontbenchers were much more animated in their support for the Prime Minister, copying an example set by the then-Cabinet minister Ken Baker.Mr Morris added: “It looks much better if, rather than sitting solemn, they show obvious approval (as did Mr Baker on one occasion) when telling points are made. That clearly applies generally to the support which colleagues give to any frontbench spokesmen.” Mr Morris also arranged for Antony Jay, the writer of TV hit comedy Yes Minister, to present “30 second clips of good and bad ministerial performances” to a group of ministers in 12 Downing Street, the traditional office of the Government Chief Whip.Mrs Thatcher agreed to attend the meeting on November 9 – and to Mr Morris’s suggestion that the session did not feature clips of her own appearances at Prime Minister’s Questions.The cameras finally broadcast from the House of Commons chamber on November 21.Thatcher was against protecting BBC from losing flagship sporting eventsMargaret Thatcher was against protecting so-called sporting “crown jewels” such as Wimbledon and the FA Cup final from disappearing from terrestrial television onto satellite channels.The Prime Minister’s belief that any protections “should be very limited and phased out as quickly as possible” is set out in newly released Whitehall files by the National Archive.The Government first set out a list of 10 sporting events including cricket test matches involving England, the Olympic Games, Grand National, the Wimbledon tennis championships and FA Cup final to be kept on the terrestrial television.However, when ministers met to reconsider the list in 1989, Mrs Thatcher and her Chancellor Nigel Lawson backed plans to water it down.last_img

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