With yesterday’s passing of Margaret Thatcher, at the age of 87, I remembered reading a number of years ago that both Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister were favorite programs of the former Prime Minister. On more than one occasion, she praised Yes, Minister for “…its clearly-observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy“.
While the thought of Margaret Thatcher and comedy probably wasn’t widely used in the same sentence too often during her 11.5 years as Prime Minister, unless you remember her Spitting Image puppet, the ‘Iron Lady’ did once write a comedy sketch herself for her favorite series.
Thatcher wrote the sketch in honor of the show being presented with an award from Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ And Listeners’ Association at an event commemorated on the cover of the satirical magazine Private Eye. Being the PM at the time and writing the sketch, of course she made sure that it co-starred herself…as herself.
Over the years, authorship of the sketch remains unclear. In Britain’s Best Sitcom, Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s chief press secretary, said that he wrote it while other sources give Thatcher sole credit. British broadcaster and longtime political documentary producer, Michael Cockerell, says that he wrote it with Ingham’s help. Another source gives credit to Charles Powell, key foreign policy advisor to PM Thatcher.
Eddington and Hawthorne, who were both starring in separate West End plays at the time, were not overly enthusiastic at the idea and, according to reports, had asked series co-creator/writer Jonathan Lynn to “get them out” of it. Neither Lynn nor Antony Jay were consulted about both the sketch or the invite so, obviously, it was not up to him to take action.
Hawthorne said on more than one occasion that he and Eddington resented Thatcher’s attempts to ‘make capital’ from their popularity. Upon accepting the award, Lynn commented: “I’d like to thank Mrs. Mary Whitehouse for this award“. Lynn, being the quick-thinking brilliant writer he is, added: “I’d also like to thank Mrs. Thatcher for finally taking her rightful place in the field of situation comedy.” After a bit of an gasp from the press, the room erupted in laughter with the exception of one person in attendance…guess which one.
Whatever the case and no matter who wrote it, here is Paul Eddington, Sir Nigel Hawthorne and PM Margaret Thatcher in Yes Prime Minister from 20 January, 1984.