14 February 2010

Piers Morgan interviews Gordon Brown: shades of Michael Aspel & Margaret Thatcher?

I've been intrigued by the way the media has been getting so wound up during the build up to Gordon Brown's appearance in a TV interview with Piers Morgan on Sunday night (and wondering what, if anything, I'll have to say in an interview about it on BBC Radio Bristol on Monday morning).

There is, after all, nothing new about embattled prime ministers taking the opportunity to appear in 'soft' talk shows.

Did the the idea come from Margaret Thatcher?
Maybe Mrs Thatcher gave him the idea when she went to number 10 for tea not long after Mr Brown had arrived there - as she was the one who had pioneered the strategy in an bid to 'soften' her image during the miner's strike in 1983. As Ian Hargreaves put it on the BBC website a while back:

'Meanwhile, the politicians hade their own ideas for diversifying the interview market. Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's crusty press secretary, says he wass opposed to the decision to put the prime minister on Michael Aspel's ITV chat show in 1983, but was over-ruled by her image consultants.

'But she did so well - softening the Iron Lady image assembled in the miners' strike - that even Ingham became a convert to chat show politics. Soon Mrs T was in and out of Jimmy Young's Radio Two studio as often as the Today Programme.'

For me, her appearance in Aspel & Company had at least three memorable moments:

1. Where to sit?
The first came right at the start, when Mrs Thatcher pretends that she's not sure where to sit. Yet here was someone who never went into a television studio without the advice of former TV producer Gordon Reece, who had decided that, wherever possible, her left profile should be exposed to the camera.

Also note how 'dolled up' she is - which is thoroughly consistent with a point about her 'unambiguously recognisable femininity' that I made in an earlier post on the evolution of charismatic woman.


2. Thatcher & Aspel were quite open about the rules of the game:
Early on in the interview, Aspel notes how unusual it is for a prime minister to appear on a show like this. Mrs Thatcher concludes her reply by saying how 'very grateful' she was to have been invited - whereupon he reassures her by confirming that he's after "different kinds of answers" to those she has to come up with at prime minister's question time:


3. The audience's reaction to "I'm always on the job."
Whether or not Mrs Thatcher realised why the audience laughed and applauded when she announced that he was always "on the job"* is not altogether clear - though Aspel's sideways glance leaves little doubt that he knew perfectly well how they'd taken it.

I also suspect that her choice of those particular words may have been triggered by the fact that Aspel had just mentioned that she lives "over the job" at number 10 - in a similar way to that in which I suggested Gordon Browns gaffe about 'saving the world' might have been triggered by sounds in the words had had just used (for more on which, see HERE).


(* Native speakers of American English may not be aware that, in British English slang, 'on the job' is commonly used - depending on context - to mean 'having sex').

1 comment:

kim said...

Hi do you have the whole episode or kow where to find it - I've been looking everywhere for it and its so rare,,,