Margaret Thatcher (US visit 1990) On 3 June 1990 Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister, took part in a phone-in for the BBC World Service, answering questions from phoners-in from all over the world. I was allocated as the Studio Manager (operating the mixing desk) for this event. As you can imagine we all took it very seriously - I spent all morning checking every connection, phone line and microphone, and we had the full police presence and sniffer dogs routine before she came in, and so on.

Some years later the producer wrote in the Guardian newspaper that 'we in the cubicle' could see the realisation dawning on her that the whole world was listening to her every word: he concluded that the boost that this gave to her ego resulted in her leaving the World Service alone at a time when she was attacking other parts of the BBC. I wouldn't know about that - and I had my hands full just keeping the programme running smoothly, so I hardly heard a word she said.

I should explain that World Service programmes run to a very tight schedule because of some transmitters joining and leaving as the peak listening hours move round the planet: transmissions start and finish to the second, and over-running is impossible. I don't know whether anyone explained this to her: possibly not. Or possibly they did and she didn't listen.

The programme was supposed to finish at 45 seconds to 4 p.m.: five seconds before this Oliver Scott, the presenter, wrapped up neatly - and then the wretched woman tried to get the last word ('..and might I just say...' or something like that). This left me with three seconds to decide what to do: so I fell back on Engineering training and the rule book and took her off the air, mid-sentence, at the exact finish time.

Everyone in the cubicle looked a bit worried, and she looked a bit thunderous just for a moment, but it passed over: and to be fair no-one ever suggested that I should have done something different. (Had I let her go on some transmitters would have cut her anyway: and there might have been an automated signature tune crashing over her a few seconds later for all I knew, so things could have got a lot messier.)

I had to write a log, of course ('Prime Minister pot-cut to prevent an over-run' - standard formula: 'pot-cut' means shutting the fader rapidly): where it said 'What action should be taken to prevent this happening again?' I wrote 'General Election'. (I didn't anticipate a palace revolution - and evidently neither did she).

So I may be the only person ever to silence Margaret Thatcher.

Links: The Margaret Thatcher Foundation have published a transcript of the phone-in (the questions are summarised but her answers are complete).

Posted by Roger Wilmut   June 12th 2006 at 08:25 AM | |

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