Denis Thatcher wrote to BBC over ‘disgraceful and libellous’ satire | The Knowledge Dynasty

Denis Thatcher wrote to BBC over ‘disgraceful and libellous’ satire

Never in the history of public broadcasting has so foul a libel been published against anyone, PMs husband claimed

A satirical story broadcast on BBC Radio 4s Today programme about Margaret Thatcher legalising hard drugs prompted her loyal husband, Denis, to savage the corporation in a furious private letter to the chair of the governors.

The prime minister herself took legal advice about the mini-saga, entitled Thatcherism: The Final Solution, which was broadcast on Radio 4 in mid-January 1988, and considered whether she should instruct lawyers to sue for defamation, files released to the National Archives in Kew on Thursday reveal.

The item had been written by a listener, Vincent Hill, in a competition for mini-sagas stories composed in no more than 50 words. In an exaggerated parody of Tory free-market economics, he imagined the political consequences of a libertarian approach to heroin.

The compressed story read: Ingenious: Individual choice must be paramount. With growing confidence she legalised hard drugs. Prices fell sharply. Legitimate outlets replaced bankrupt drug syndicates. Crime figures plunged. Crematorium shares surged. City populations thinned as the weak spirited succumbed. Unemployment vanished. Only the worthiest survived. Nobody could complain. The unfit died of freedom.

Thatchers principal private secretary, Nigel Wicks, wrote to the law officers department seeking advice. He asked whether the tale was defamatory. It is not the prime ministers normal practice, or indeed wish, to send solicitors letters to media organisations which issue statements which defame her, he explained. But I wonder whether this item might not be an exception to the PMs normal practice?

Thatchers office was told by the law officers department at the Royal Courts of Justice that the story was indeed libellous. The offending passages included: The Final Solution, in its inherent connotation; the unfit died of freedom, with its innuendo of intention to secure the death of the unfit; crematorium shares surged, which was said to be particularly revolting in its innuendo that this was a consequence desired by the prime minister ; and She legalised hard drugs, which personalises her as the target for the sting and not mere Thatcherism.

The prime minister evidently decided not to pursue legal action. Her private secretary recorded that she did not want to consult lawyers who specialised in defamation.

But the matter did not end there. On 18 January, her husband, using his own 10 Downing Street stationery, dispatched a sternly worded letter to Marmaduke Hussey, who was chairman of the BBCs board of governors.

Dear Duke, Mr Thatcher wrote. With deference may I ask you to study the enclosed manuscript (extract) of the Radio 4 Today programme. The extent and depth of political bias in the BBC is a matter of opinion, but this is a disgrace by any standard, however low.

I cannot believe that the management of a public broadcasting system can continue to employ a producer who publishes so foul and deliberate an untruth against anyone or on such a subject. Surely such gross professional misconduct can neither be excused or condoned? He signed it: Regards to you both, Yours ever, Denis.

Denis Thatcher, who was normally careful to keep out of public affairs, rarely appears in the prime ministerial files. Wicks, the private secretary, however, noted that Mr Thatcher had crossed Husseys name off a guest list for a public reception a few days later.

The civil servant suggested that Hussey should be invited so that the prime minster could talk to him about the disgraceful episode. You could then have a quiet word with him about the mini-saga after the reception, he suggested.

But the note was returned with a comment from Denis, explaining his action. I only crossed out [his name] because I did not think a general reception is (a) suitable for Duke [because he used a stick and might have had difficulty standing for a long time] (b) important enough. I did discuss with PM.

Denis Thatcher explained that he had already privately written to Hussey. Never in the history of public broadcasting, he added, has so foul a libel been published against ANYONE let alone a prime minister.

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