There is a wide variety of truly good television viewing to be had these weeks–just none of it on the three main networks. As the pandemic rages, while medical professionals advise us all to stay as close to home as possible, television allows for some needed escapes.
We started season four of The Crown this week and as with past years are most impressed. What stands out this season is the character of Margaret Thatcher being portrayed with the attitude and personality that we came to know from her years in power and the books that punch back at the image she tried to spin. All of that makes for a splendid post today which features the article in today’s New York Times.
Though Thatcher would later emphasize how much she lacked as a child — including hot running water and an inside toilet — her deprived home life was a result of her father’s financial meanness, not poverty. As Hugo Young puts it in his book “One of Us,” the young Thatcher “belonged to the rising petty bourgeoisie, not the beleaguered working class.” The mid-1930s was a time when 75 percent of British families were officially defined as working class, but Thatcher’s family belonged to the 20 percent that could be considered middle class.
All of this is complicated by the fact that Thatcher had elocution lessons to eliminate her regional accent, studied at Oxford University alongside Britain’s privileged elite and climbed the social ranks when she married the affluent, upper-middle class Denis Thatcher. In November 1970, when Thatcher was the education secretary, The Sun newspaper asked resentfully, “How did the grocer’s daughter from Grantham become a Tory lady with a taste for large hats, a posh home, a wealthy husband and children at public school?”
“I think the queen was very puzzled by Margaret Thatcher, because she jumped class,” Dean Palmer, the author of “The Queen and Mrs. Thatcher: An Inconvenient Relationship,” said in a telephone interview. Jumping into the upper class bracket is notoriously difficult in Britain, since, generally, the main way to get titles, land and “good breeding” — the traditional cornerstones of the aristocracy — is to inherit them. Mere money rarely cuts it. (Before Prince William married Kate Middleton, sources close to the royal family were quoted in newspapers bemoaning her wealthy — but not aristocratic — mother, whose faux pas included social climbing, chewing gum in public and an earlier career as a flight attendant.)
By the time she became prime minister in 1979, Thatcher looked and sounded posh, but she had very little in common with royalty. Still, a stickler for the rules and an ardent monarchist, Thatcher famously arrived early to her meetings with the queen and gave incredibly low, reverential curtsies. She admitted in her autobiography, “The Downing Street Years,” published in 1993, “I was anxious about getting the details of procedure and protocol right.”
But biographers have observed that Thatcher’s anxious disposition, pretentious accent and grandiose manner simply irritated the queen. Before Thatcher became prime minister, she was invited to Buckingham Palace as leader of the Conservative Party. “On at least two occasions,” Palmer said, “she got dizzy and fainted, and the queen had to say ‘Someone catch that woman — again!’”