At the newspaper where I work, Margaret Thatcher’s death has been nervously anticipated for some time as an event that would definitely mean a tough day and a high-profile edition. When she went into hospital just before Christmas, we were all making provisional transport arrangements for December 25. But of course Fleet Street has been preparing over the years, as you could see from some of the bylines in Tuesday’s papers – the Guardian actually led with a piece by a dead man.
When the news finally came on Monday, April 8, it came in the middle of the newsroom’s day – with enough time to put an edition together, but not late enough that there would be anyone left in Britain who hadn’t heard the news by Tuesday morning. So it was left to the London Evening Standard to announce the news on Monday. They went for THATCHER DIES, avoiding both confusion and comment.
But this isn’t just any death: this is Margaret Thatcher’s death. So while you might have expected others to echo the Standard’s approach on Tuesday – the most neutral and respectful thing a paper can do in this situation is usually to print a simple picture of the person, with their name and dates – only The Daily Telegraph actually took this route.
Weird picture, isn’t it. Kind of like a jewellery photoshoot for a catalogue. But I digress. Inside, the Tory broadsheet gave a little of the limelight to the current leader with the headline IRON LADY PROVED THAT BRITAIN WAS GREAT, SAYS CAMERON. The Times used the name/dates format on a wraparound, but the actual front page read THE FIRST LADY.
The Guardian would not have been expected to run a black border, but having dug up its late columnist Hugo Young to write an obituary of her, used what was even in context a rather jolting quote from it on the front page: SHE BECAME HARDER THAN HARD.
The Independent, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail used identical syntax, if rather different sentiments:
THE WOMAN WHO CHANGED BRITAIN (Independent)
THE WOMAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN (Daily Mail)
THE WOMAN WHO DIVIDED A NATION (Daily Mirror)
Those who took sides in the splash continued to do so on their inside pages, the Mirror using the incredulous A FUNERAL LIKE DIANA? REALLY? and the Mail criticising such sentiments almost before they had had time to form: NOW GIVE HER A STATE FUNERAL; PYGMIES WHO BROUGHT HER DOWN; VILE SCREECH OF HATRED.
The headline that really jumped out from the newsstand, though, was that The Sun, which reverted to type with MAGGIE DEAD IN BED AT RITZ. Given Rupert Murdoch’s association with the Thatcher Government, sensationalism seemed an odd approach. And if you bought it hoping for the gory details of how Lady Thatcher had passed, what she had been reading, who had found her etc, you would have been disappointed by the rather cerebral coverage focusing on the special relationship with America, her status as the first female Prime Minister and so on – sample headline, ECONOMIC REVOLUTION DRAGGED UK OUT OF DARK AGES.
On Wednesday the newsdesks seemed to be floundering. The Guardian, Daily Mirror and The Times focused on the funeral arrangements, the latter leading with ROYAL RESPECT AS QUEEN LEADS THATCHER MOURNERS and the Mirror going for THE £10M GOODBYE. The Mail continued its vendetta against those who might be celebrating the sad event with THE FLAMES OF HATRED. The Daily Telegraph had sent someone to Lady Thatcher’s former constituency for the day, finding NO GUSHING HYSTERIA, JUST QUIET, DIGNIFIED RESPECT. The Sun had done an opinion poll, announcing that MAGGIE WINS AGAIN! And the Express had given up altogether, leading with a GEL TO WIPE OUT ARTHRITIC PAIN. (See my previous post about the Express’s formula, which alters for no woman; by Friday they had even found a SINGLE INJECTION TO CURE BACK PAIN.)
Thursday‘s focus was on the recall of Parliament, with the Mirror echoing a famous Thatcher line to highlight the absence of many Labour MPs (see right). On p2 of The Independent, the session was summed up thus: THEY CAME, THEY GUSHED, THEY LEFT NO CLICHÉ UNTURNED. But the gushing wasn’t enough for Paul Dacre, whose Daily Mail was still obsessed by Thatcher’s enemies, today the TEACHERS OF HATRED who were organising “Maggie death parties”.
Having held its punning breath for a couple of days, the Sun could stand it no longer on Friday, cracking out a double whammy with a story about Jim Davidson being unwelcome at the funeral, NICKED NICK NICK NIXED, and a suggestion that David Cameron was not Lady Thatcher’s favourite of her successors, PANNED CAM NOT HER MAN. The Times, Express and Guardian focused on the guest list and military pomp of the funeral, but the Mail and Telegraph had found a story that was music to their ears: that Ding Dong the Witch is Dead had been pushed into the Top 10 by Thatcher’s enemies, and that the BBC planned to play it as it in its chart shows. BBC WITCH SONG INSULT TO MAGGIE, declared the Mail. BBC CHIEF REFUSES TO BAN THATCHER DEATH SONG, said the Telegraph, perhaps scenting a sacking.
The weekend brought various pullouts, starting with a 68-page tribute supplement included in Saturday’s the Daily Telegraph (whose splash quoted a hymn chosen for the funeral, I VOW TO THEE MY COUNTRY, while a picture was courtesy of a paparazzo who had evidently doorstepped Lady Thatcher’s grieving offspring – nice). The Times puffed its Magazine coverage with THE IRON LADY IN PICTURES.
Meanwhile, The Guardian announced rather neatly that DING DONG, THE… BBC TO CUT THATCHER PROTEST SONG SHORT. But the Mail still wasn’t happy: ‘WITCH’ SONG IS DISTASTEFUL BUT WE WILL PLAY IT, SAY BBC CHIEFS. The Mirror, too, was still simmering away, with its Sunday edition announcing a REVOLT OVER ‘THATCHER FUNERAL TAX’.
Whether or not she divided Britain, Lady Thatcher has certainly split British newspapers this week. Without wishing him any ill health, I’m looking forward to seeing what they make of the death of our other great recent Prime Minister, Tony Blair.