TIM FANNING MY VIEW
Whatever her political legacy, Mrs T was one of the great TV performers
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.