Sunday, 10 May 2009


You might have loved her or loathed her, but the one thing you couldn't ever do was ignore Margaret Thatcher!

The Grocer's Daughter, The Milk Snatcher, The Iron Lady, Attila the Hen - she was a gift to the barbs of the satirists and cartoonists as can be seen from a new exhibition, Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Margaret Thatcher - Mother of the Nation or Monster from the Blue Lagoon, at London's Cartoon Museum.

On show are many of Thatcher's career-defining moments as defined by the finest (and, sometimes, cruelest) of Britain's political cartoonists who, for over a decade, charted Thatcher's rise and rise and her sudden, meteoric fall.

Co-curated by former minister, Kenneth Baker (who served his term - or should that be sentence? - in the Thatcher administrations), and cartoonist Steve Bell (who saw out the Thatcher years at the drawing board), the show contains cartoons by Cummings, Gibbard, Scarfe, Steadman, Trog and others - that not only depict the life and times of the Lady who was Not for Turning but also chart the ups and downs of national and international life during her eleven years as Premier.

Despite being subtitled Mother of the Nation or Monster ['Creature', surely] from the Blue Lagoon, it has to be said that the cartoons are, by and large, more monstrous than motherly.

In fact, it is fascinating to note the increasing proportion of vitriol to ink with which Thatcher was depicted with, eventually, an almost total disregard for the respect that, once upon a time, would have been shown to the holder of the high office of Prime Minister.

Surely, no previous premier was so viciously portrayed - certainly not Churchill, Macmillan or Wilson and scarcely even Heath - and the lampooning of Thatcher (as in the Scarfe cartoon, right, which is not in the exhibition) established a trend of fearlessness that continue through the grey Major years and into the reigns of Blair and Brown. I doubt that our national leaders have been so outrageously - though, doubtless, justifiably - abused by the artists of Grub Street since the time of Gilray and Cruickshank. Which is a decidedly healthy state of affairs!

Memories - often funny and sometimes tragic - are stirred by these cartoons which (as is always the case with exhibitions at The Cartoon Museum) remind us that this seemingly ephemeral art form is a vital part of the chronicling of our history as well as being great graphic art.

Here are few of those memories...

The return of the 'Snatcher': Margaret Thatcher had earned one of her earliest sobriquets, 'Thatcher the Milk Snatcher' when, as Education Secretary she discontinued free school milk to children over the age of seven. On 11 February 1975, Les Gibbard in The Guardian marked the occasion when Thatcher snatched a real prize: a majority in the ballot to defeat Ted Heath for the leadership of the Tory Party. Loser, Willie Whitelaw, is shown attempting to milk the runaway cow...

Demagogue in waiting: When the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Evita opened in London in 1978, the newspaper headlines declared (of Elaine Paige's performance in the title-role) A STAR IS BORN.

(Wally Fawkes), drawing in The Observer on 25 June 1978, imagined Thatcher dreaming her own dreams of 'stardom'. After seeing Evita, Thatcher wrote to her speech-writer, Ronnie Millar: "If a woman like that can get to the top without any morals, how high could someone get who had one or two."

Bowled OUT!:
At the Lord Mayor's Banquet on 12 November 1990, Margaret Thatcher made a speech in which she compared herself to a batsman: "I am still at the crease though the bowling has been pretty hostile of late. And in case anyone doubted it, I can assure you there will be no ducking the bouncers." The following day, Geoffrey Howe resigned from the Thatcher government saying of the PM's vetoing future involvement over economic and monetary union with Europe that it was "like sending your opening batsman to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls were bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain." Charles Griffin's cartoon on the front page of the Daily Mirror on 14 November 1990 was accompanied by the headline: HOWE'S THAT!

Final stake-out: After initially endorsing Tony Blair and enjoying tea and tête-à-têtes at Number 10, Thatcher turned on her successor in 2000 calling one of his policies "an act of monumental folly". Blair responded that it was now time to "move British politics beyond the time of Margaret Thatcher." The death knell of their relationship was commemorated on 23 November 2000 by Steve Bell in The Guardian.

And let's not forget the work of Luck and Flaw and the Spitting Image gang...

The exhibition is accompanied by a splendid catalogue (£10.99) which reproduces all the exhibits and contains essays by Messrs Baker and Bell along with cartoonists, Gibbard and Griffen, Michael Foot and the Lords Tebbit, Carrington, Howe, Steel and Owen.

You can visit The Cartoon Museum at 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH (Opening times: Tuesday- Saturday 10:30-17:30 Sunday 12:00 - 17:30, closed Mondays including Bank Holiday Mondays) Admission: £4.00 for adults, £3.00 for concessions; Free to Students, under 18s and Friends of The Cartoon Museum

A series of special events will be taking place in connection with the Thatcher exhibition:

Tue 16 June 6.30 – 7.30pm
Margaret Thatcher - A Unique Phenomenon
Kenneth Baker
From 1985 to 1990 Kenneth Baker served as a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s administrations. He is a collector and writer on cartoons and caricatures and co-curator of the exhibition Maggie! Maggie! Maggie!

Tue 23 June 6.30 – 7.30
Where There is Discord: The Mrs Thatcher Show
John Minnion
Caricaturist for The New Statesman throughout those years, John Minnion has put together this entertaining and informative presentation, using caricatures and music to tell the story of the Thatcher years.

Wed 1 July 7 – 8 pm (Note later time)
Maggie – the Monster from the Blue Lagoon?
Steve Bell
The chief political cartoonist on The Guardian since 1990, Steve Bell began drawing Margaret Thatcher in ‘Maggie’s Farm’ (1979-86) and later in ‘If…’. He talks about his three decades of drawing Mrs T.

Booking is essential Tickets £5, Concessions £4, Friends £3
Telephone 0207 580 8155. Email:

You can find more information about this, previous and forthcoming exhibitions, publications and how to become a Friend at The Cartoon Museum website.

Images © Gerald Scarfe, Les Gibbard, Trog, Charles Griffin and Steve Bell


Eudora said...

I have a question: the cartoonist , are all of them men?.

In my country the goverment have many women as ministers, I think the press is usually more "aggresive" in the jokes, incluiding women jornalists.

I don't know why but strictness and leadership is something that evrybody links to men, not entirely to women.

Brian Sibley said...

Yes, all those cartoonists shown in my post are men and there is only one female artist represented in the exhibition.

Your comments on the perception of women in government are interesting and arguably Thatcher's 'masculinity' was developed in response to that. Before her election as PM, when she and her party were still in opposition, she was already being referred to as "The only man in the Tory shadow cabinet".

Boll Weavil said...

I saw some old footage of her last night on TV. She was trying to be endearing but she always hovered on the brink of mania and it showed in her eyes - like she was permanently carrying an axe on her shoulder. I felt an old familiar shiver run through me.
I am in the 'loathed' camp by the way - just in case you wondered.
COUSL : That feeling you experienced when you first heard Mrs Thatcher nearly resigned over the Westland affair - a giddy elation followed by the dismal cold fist of despair as reality took over once again.

Brian Sibley said...

I also remember (with a similar shiver down the spine) that wild-eyed look of faintly suppressed madness that Spitting Image caught so perfectly...

David Weeks said...

Also in the camp of 'not liking'. He lasting legacy, in my view is the way that she made selfishness and greed, socially acceptable.

Brian Sibley said...

And it was certainly a lasting legacy.

Anonymous said...

Last month I put up a few cartoons which made various aspersions on or denigrations of Edward Heath’s character from his time as PM. If 80s caricaturists play off Thatcher the monstrous women, then these play on insinuations about Heath’s possible homosexuality, and what comedic stereotypes were available. Different times, different attitudes. They’re in instalments #247 – 251.

- matthew davis

Brian Sibley said...

MATTHEW - Thanks for sending me to your fascinating blog. I had forgotten that John Kent's 'Grocer Heath' strip in Private Eye so blatantly implied that Ted was gay. What is worse, I'd forgotten that, in those dark days (as a young, closeted gay man), I probably laughed... :-(

Mercifully, looking at the Eye today, it seems positively tame - at least they've given up on us poofs and are now merrily attacking bankers instead! :-)