Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for LBC (Carol Thatcher’s chatshow)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Chequers
Source: IRN Archive: OUP transcript
Journalist: Carol Thatcher for LBC
Editorial comments: MT was interviewed by phone, presumably live. The item was broadcast on Carol Thatcher’s weekly LBC chatshow on 27 December 1982 between 1000 and 1200.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2189
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (childhood), Autobiography (marriage & children), Executive, Monarchy, Conservative Party (history), Health policy, Leadership

MT

Oh goodness me, that goes back a very, very long way.

Carol Thatcher

Oh come on Mum!

MT

Well it does. Um, I can remember we always had. uh, Christmas presents put downstairs on the dining room table and always used to come down as early in the morning as we dare, um, and have a look at them. Um, but that was years and years and years ago. It's always very cold. But then we had the traditional lunch, we used to go to church on Sunday morning while my mother, your grandmother stayed home to cook, in those days the chicken, the chicken used to be a great luxury, you know.

Carol Thatcher

Mm.

MT

Really in pre-war days chickens were the luxury, now they're cheaper compared with meat, it was the other way round. But it was always a Christmas, you know, of coal fires and friends, hymns, carols and just, well, just generally very warm and together, listening to the radio. Now that's of course, when I was, I can remember the first time we had a radio. [Carol laughs] Yes, it seems strange to you, but I can remember when we didn't have one and I remember with great excitement one day coming home from school, primary school, and we were going to have a radio. And in my early years, um, after King George VI came to the throne, one of the highlights of Christmas was always that we listened, 3 o'clock every Christmas afternoon, as we still do to the Queen, but we used to listen to King George VI as he spoke, 3 o'clock that afternoon. And I don't think that I've ever heard the quotation about, but I think again all of my generation will remember a wonderful saying that he used so many years ago, we'd never heard of it before. I think it began: “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me your hand that I may travel into the unknown’ and he said to me ‘Put your hand into the hand of God, that will be safer to you than a light and better than a known way’. … [words inaudible] … give me a light that I may travel into the unknown” , and I think all of us remember that one. Then later, um, in your babyhood … [end p1]

Carol Thatcher

What about wartime Christmases, 'cos they must have been something very different and quite memorable?

MT

Well, yes of course they were. Again we always went to church on Sunday morning but of course there was nothing like the presents or the food that there had been. We always at … ate at home, isn't it strange that even now I still call Grantham home, and home for me still means the home that I knew. I can remember, again we always used to have friends in, this is the thing which really matters in life, always have friends in. And I can remember one Christmas, I think it must have been about '43, um, we had friends in on Boxing Day and I can remember quite vividly that we had opened a tin of spam and we had some lettuce and tomato and beetroot, so it was spam and salad, and then we had opened one of our very precious tins of fruit which we'd saved from pre-war days. And I still remember to this day our guests saying, “well, this is wonderful, even one of these things would have done” . And it sounds as if we were hungry, we weren't hungry, of course we had very plain food, but we had opened two of our tins from pre-war days.

Carol Thatcher

Um, I always think you are a great traditional Christmas person. Do you have a favourite Carol, or what?

MT

Oh I've lots of favourite carols but you just reminded me. Do you remember when we moved to Farnborough, um, well you were only about four or five, and I moved just six days before Christmas, we, um …

Carol Thatcher

I do. I remember concentrating on the presents and you were concentrating on re-arranging the furniture.

MT

Re-arranging the furniture, yes, and trying to get everything nice just before Christmas if we possibly could because, em, we'd moved from a flat to a house with a garden, and I'd hoped very, very much that you'd just run out into the garden and play but you weren't used to doing that and so, you know, you wouldn't just go out and play, someone had to be with you for quite a time. But we managed to get Christmas that year and we had things then which I've kept ever since, em, you know the reindeer and sleigh that we at home had always on the centre of the table, and six little snowmen always on the centre. And I wonder if you remember because that year and every year afterwards so long as we were there, which was many years, the Salvation Army used to come and play carols just as we'd finished Christmas Dinner and before the Queen's broadcast. Do you remember that?

Carol Thatcher

Yes I do and I remember you requesting “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” . I have got quite a good memory.

MT

A long time ago. Yes, so you know the favourite carol.

Carol Thatcher

[laughing] Yes I do.

MT

“That glorious song of old, of angels bending near the earth to touch their hearts of gold” . That was that one, and then I took courage in both hands, and the next time we moved, [end p2] we moved on our, Daddy's and my wedding anniversary, the 13th of December. We always tried to get into our new house before Christmas and that was of course to The Mount, that was very cold, do you remember that?

Carol Thatcher

Yes. [laughing]

MT

For the rest of the three years we couldn't get heat into the bricks …

Carol Thatcher

Yes.

MT

… but still we had the same things on the Christmas table.

Carol Thatcher

Listen, this year you were at Chequers and I know that everyone knows that Chequers is the official Prime Minister's country residence. Will you just tell us, I mean, how did Chequers come to be the official Prime Minister's country residence?

MT

It was really rather, due to two really rather marvellous people. Um, Sir Arthur Lee had been a minister in the wartime government and he had a very, very lovely wife, Lady Lee, and she was a very … she had … she was American and she, she had lots of money. They were unlucky, they didn't have any children and they bought this beautiful house, Chequers, because there had been three families which owned and their children, they just didn't have any more children and inheritance died out, and so they bought it. And Lloyd George of course was the Prime Minister and I think it was Lady Lee 's idea that they'd gone into a period when Prime Ministers didn't have country homes and wouldn't it be rather nice if they tried to let Prime Ministers have Chequers for their country house where it could be a place of rest. Now there's even more to it than that because you could have said, they could have willed in a trust, and then it would have been left that way after their death. But they didn't do that, they said well let's give it to the Prime Minister as soon as we possibly can. And they collected many things here and had it done up beautifully, and many of the things we have here, you know we have a letter of Nelson, we have many things of Napoleon ironically enough, quite a lot of things of Cromwell because one of the daughters of this house married, um, one of Cromwell 's daughters married one of the people who lived here. They collected all of these things and on one of the windows it says: “This house is given to Prime Ministers as a place of recreation and rest in memory of the great sacrifices in World War I” . And Lady Lee, they both lived for some time after that, but Lady Lee lived for many, many years and she came back here every week, um, to look at it, because I remember Harold Macmillan came down to stay a weekend with us here and he said “Oh, it's a lot changed since my time” , and it had, it's been made a lot lighter because all the wood was stained. And he said that when he was Prime Minister Lady Lee used to come every week. But it really is an absolute boon because you can get away from No. 10, it's got all the facilities and it's a wonderful place to spend Christmas.

Carol Thatcher

And Chequers also has the most enormous, giant size Christmas tree because there's something quite fascinating about the main hall. Can you explain?

MT

Yes, um, the great big hall right in the centre of the house used to be an open courtyard and then at the end of the last century it was enclosed, and of course the ceiling therefore is very, very high, right to the top of the house, and we have a very, very tall Christmas tree. But that's not the only Christmas tree—it's grown in Chequers—that's [end p3] not the only Christmas tree from Chequers that goes out. One of our Christmas trees at No. 10 comes from Chequers and in church this morning the Christmas tree there came from Chequers. So it's quite traditional this very, very large Christmas tree. And, have you rung, have you rung Jimmy Savile?

Carol Thatcher

Yes, we spoke to Jimmy Savile, yes, he was absolutely marvellous and I'd promised to go to Stoke Mandeville, because you've been and I haven't.

MT

Well he does a wonderful job but I remember, em, did he tell you how I first came into contact with Stoke Mandeville?

Carol Thatcher

No, why don't you tell us?

MT

Well I, many, many years ago, not long after I entered politics in 1959, in about 1961 Harold Macmillan asked me to be a parliamentary secretary in those days to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, and that also was in charge of war pensions. And I went to Cambridge to take the chair at a conference on disabilities because quite a lot of our wartime pensioners were severely disabled. And I met a marvellous man there who was speaking, giving the main lecture, called Dr. Guttman, a really fascinating man, not only a marvellous surgeon but he had a tremendous personality, and he started his disabled work with the war pensioners and then went on of course to treat all disabled. And of course it's a terrible shock when you are first disabled and I remember him telling us one person had come out of the operation and it was a tremendous shock, and he said “oh I wish, I wish, I wish I, um, … had not, um, survived. I will just lie here and wait for the good Lord to take me” . And Dr. Guttman said: “well that will be a very long, and what are you going to do until the good Lord decides to take you, because you'll have to do something?”

And the great joy of the man was that he didn't look people to see how disabled they were, he looked at them to see what abilities they had, and all of a sudden he gave them some reason for living because he'd say, “all right you can, you can type by blowing typewriter keys, um, we will make machines for you to enable you to use your abilities” . And I met him and after that I went to see Stoke Mandeville and it wasn't only his brilliance as a surgeon, it was just the personality that he made one feel that it was good to be alive, and that you had to use whatever talents you have. And that's how I came into contact with him many, many years ago. He was knighted for his services. And it was years after that I went to see Stoke Mandeville and then I thought Jimmy Savile was fantastic, you know, to raise nearly £10 million out of, through your own efforts and to get many, many people to join you, that really is absolutely wonderful.

Carol Thatcher

And could … at Christmas of all times perhaps you ought to give a special thought to people like the disabled who have a need.

MT

Well, I think that wouldn't be a bad idea if all those people who are listening tonight, you know, said well look, particularly those who have every single faculty and are fully healthy, if they sent just a little something to Stoke Mandeville as a thanksgiving, that would be marvellous wouldn't it?

Carol Thatcher

Wouldn't it? Mum, we've had several callers tonight who look back on 1982 and look forward to 1983. Any special hopes and wishes for next year? [end p4]

MT

Ah, we always hope, always hope, em, that it will be a better year but it will be the year that we make it. Um, it's not much good looking into the stars. It will be the year that we make it and I … years are a lot better if you look at them optimistically. After all you think we came through last year, we came through last year, many many years before, then we can get through next year and get through it well. Um, I cannot remember the small poem, what is it? “Life owes me nothing, one clear morn is boon enough for being born, and be it seventy years or ten, no need for me to question when, a life is mine, I'll find it good and greet each hour with gratitude” . Isn't that the way to tackle it?