What­ever her po­lit­i­cal legacy, Mrs T was one of the great TV per­form­ers

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - YOUR TV WEEK -

oth ad­mir­ers and de­trac­tors of the late Mar­garet Thatcher were agreed on one thing this week: the sheer force of the Iron Lady’s per­son­al­ity. First and fore­most, Thatcher was a con­vic­tion politi­cian, de­ter­mined to rad­i­cally change Bri­tain, no mat­ter what the cost. But how much of her po­lit­i­cal success stemmed from the fact that she was the first Bri­tish PM to suc­cess­fully master tele­vi­sion?

Watch­ing the ar­chive footage of Mrs T in her pomp this week, you couldn’t help but be struck by the man­ner in which she em­braced the cam­eras. Her great po­lit­i­cal ally Ron­ald Rea­gan was the ‘Great Com­mu­ni­ca­tor’, who like an­other US Pres­i­dent, Bill Clin­ton, was able to soak up and re­flect the hopes and de­sires of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Though on dif­fer­ent sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide, Rea­gan and Clin­ton were con­sum­mate per­form­ers.

Amer­i­can politi­cians re­alised the power of tele­vi­sion long be­fore their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts. Churchill un­der­stood the power of the air­waves, but tele­vi­sion, though in ex­is­tence, had not devel­oped to the ex­tent that it had an im­pact on his ca­reer. Bri­tish prime min­is­ters were distrust­ful of tele­vi­sion and un­will­ing to en­gage, un­til the laid-back pipe-smok­ing Labour leader Harold Wil­son in the mid1960s, who recog­nised the ad­van­tages the medium could give him over his stuffed-shirt Tory ri­val, Alec Dou­glas-Home. Ul­ti­mately, though, Wil­son’s every­man im­age was a tad too bor­ing for the Bri­tish pub­lic.

Mag­gie Thatcher was many things, but she wasn’t bor­ing. Whether it was rid­ing a tank, head­scarf flut­ter­ing in the breeze, or be­rat­ing jour­nal­ists at press con­fer­ences, she knew the power of the im­age, helped in no small part by her ad­vi­sor Tim Bell of ad­ver­tis­ing giants Saatchi & Saatchi. Th­ese days, those im­ages would be soft­ened so as not to of­fend any mi­nor­ity in­ter­est.

The 1980s were a golden age for pol­i­tics on TV. Dur­ing the week, Char­lie Haughey and Gar­ret FitzGer­ald popped up be­side the Iron Lady on the Ir­ish cov­er­age of her death. The du­els be­tween the con­trast­ing Char­lie and Gar­ret and, in­deed, their rows with Thatcher en­livened the drea­ri­ness of 1980s Ire­land. We have a poor sub­sti­tute in our cur­rent crop of po­lit­i­cal ‘characters’. Ad­ver­tis­ing di­rected at chil­dren is the bane of par­ents’ lives, so the news that RTÉ is launch­ing a ded­i­cated dig­i­tal chan­nel for the un­der-sev­ens that is free of ads will be wel­comed by mums and dads up and down the coun­try. The new chan­nel, which will be avail­able on Saorview, UPC and Sky, will fea­ture brand new con­tent aimed specif­i­cally at Ir­ish chil­dren. Among the high­lights are Tell Me A Story, a col­lec­tion of chil­dren’s sto­ries read by RTÉ stars such as Ryan Tubridy (above), Miriam O’Cal­laghan and Joe Duffy; Spraoi, a bilin­gual show fea­tur­ing a wise owl called Olí and his wood­land com­pan­ions; and Move It!, in which Emma O’Driscoll and her young friends demon­strate a range of dif­fer­ent dance styles.

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