Baroness Thatcher di­vided opin­ion, but car­toon­ists agreed – they had never had it so good.

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Seven Days -

ENIS Healey once said of Baroness Thatcher that she ap­proached the prob­lems of the coun­try “with all the sub­tlety of a comic strip”.

While the gro­cer’s daugh­ter from Gran­tham who ended up in Num­ber 10 via Ox­ford Univer­sity dis­agreed with al­most ev­ery­thing the Labour stal­wart stood for, on this point they might just have found some com­mon ground. Un­der her rule, she turned tread­ing on toes and ruf­fling feath­ers into an art form.

It was not long af­ter she walked into Down­ing Street that May morn­ing of 1979 that the coun­try’s news­pa­per car­toon­ists knew they were onto a good thing.

As Thatcher grew into her role as Bri­tain’s first fe­male Prime Min­is­ter the tabloids and the broad­sheets ei­ther cham­pi­oned her as a hero or con­demned her as a vil­lain. To some she was the epitome of the Bri­tish bull­dog ready to take on any en­emy; to oth­ers she was the wolf in ex­quis­ite royal blue tai­lor­ing. As the years wore on, those car­i­ca­tures be­came ever more sharp.

“The funny thing with news­pa­per car­toons is that they are there to­day and gone to­mor­row; you rarely get to see the chronol­ogy of the sub­ject mat­ter,” says Chris Bee­tles, who is stag­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of car­toons fea­tur­ing Lady Thatcher at Leeds Gallery. “How­ever, when you bring them all to­gether what you get is a so­cial and his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive of Bri­tain dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod and that’s par­tic­u­larly true with some­one like Lady Thatcher.”

The seeds of the cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion were sown 12 years ago when Chris bought a col­lec­tion of car­toons from Lord McAlpine. Over quar­ter of a cen­tury, the for­mer party trea­surer and deputy chair­man of the Con­ser­va­tive Party had built up an im­pres­sive ar­chive of JAK car­toons which had first ap­peared in the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard and those, to­gether with work from the likes of Kal, whose car­toons have ap­peared in the Ob­server and the Mail on Sun­day, the Daily Tele­graph’s Matt and Peter Brookes from The Times form the ba­sis of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“The work runs from when she was Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary and earned the nick­name the ‘milk snatcher’ right through her premier­ship,” says Chris.

“Lady Thatcher was Prime Min­is­ter for 11 years and what a decade or so it was. It was a pe­riod which changed Bri­tain for­ever.

“From the Min­ers’ Strike to the Falk­lands War to the bat­tles with the EEC and the Poll Tax ri­ots to fi­nally her de­feat and res­ig­na­tion, there was rarely a quiet mo­ment in the reign of Mrs T.

“Peo­ple talk to­day of the pub­lic be­ing over­whelmed by po­lit­i­cal ap­a­thy, but that wasn’t so then. Ask any­one what they thought of Lady Thatcher and the re­sponses you will get sit at each end of the spec­trum.

“Some peo­ple loved her, some hated her, few viewed her with dis­in­ter­est.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion shows Lady Thatcher as the woman who suc­cess­fully buried the Labour Party un­til its reinvention by Tony Blair and Co and the PM who doggedly pur­sued Bri­tain’s in­ter­ests abroad. How­ever, they also show her as the barbarian de­ter­mined to rip the heart out of the NHS and who tram­pled on those who failed to agree with poli­cies.

How­ever, as her iron grip on Num­ber 10 weak­ened, those dis­parate por­tray­als of Lady Thatcher gave way to a more univer­sal car­i­ca­ture. By the time she was de­posed, both the red tops and broad­sheets had de­cided that Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter was out of con­trol.

“What be­comes very clear when you look at the car­toons is how per­cep­tions of her changed,” says Chris, who owns a gallery in Lon­don. “Fast for­ward to her lat­ter years in power and sud­denly she was be­ing por­trayed as a wild-eyed tyrant. She had be­come a ram­pag­ing Boudicca, who wanted to hang on to power at any cost and who feared the knives were out.” As it turned out, of course, she was right. By the Septem­ber of 1990, Labour was well ahead in the opin­ion polls and while Thatcher her­self had never wor­ried her­self with rat­ings, there was in­creas­ing dis­quiet within her cabi­net of once loyal min­is­ters. It was the res­ig­na­tion of Ge­of­frey Howe

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