Margaret Thatcher: Let's hear it for the Iron Lady, comedy's greatest straight man

Thatcher was every stand-up's dream, as a new show that revisits her contribution to comedy reveals

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Please come back!" In the 1980s she was the target for every stand-up's scorn. But now Margaret Thatcher will be celebrated at a special night of comedy hosted by Arthur Smith.

There's only thing worse than "Thatch", for the generation of "alternative" comedians who made their name excoriating the Iron Lady. And that's not having Maggie Thatcher to kick around any more in an era of bland coalition politics.

Nostalgists for that hectoring voice and Medusa glare will pack the Hackney Empire tonight for Maggie, Maggie, Maggie: ***! ***! ***!, an addition to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, which will star Smith and his fellow 1980s cabaret circuit veterans Tony Slattery and Jenny Lecoat.

Terry Alderton and Hardeep Singh Kohli will give their perspective on the Thatcher years while the lady herself will make a special guest appearance in the form of Steve Nallon, the impressionist who voiced the former Prime Minister on Spitting Image.

"It has never been the same since her," admitted Smith. "Left and right have become merged. Blair was Thatcher's son. They're all Oxbridge boys who look the same." Smith hopes to educate a younger audience about political comedy's great nemesis. "Kids today think the cry went 'Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!, Oy, Oy, Oy!' not 'Out, Out, Out!'. In Guildford though they go 'Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!'"

Although Mrs Thatcher herself notoriously lacked a sense of humour, she was an inadvertent boon to comedians such as Smith. "Along with Thatcher came this new comedy. We were the young Turks against these old comics who were off playing golf with no interest in the world.

"The irony is that Norman Tebbit told us to get on your bike. Well no one did that more than stand-up comedians travelling from gig to gig."

Spitting Image parodied Thatcher as a tyrannical Nazi. But Steve Nallon said: "Satirists made sod all difference. I did the same Thatcher jokes at CND benefits and IBM corporate gigs and they got the same laughs, for different reasons."

As the Baroness has retired from public life, so has demand for her in a comic form.

"I very rarely do Maggie now," Nallon said. "I'm going to get the frock out I last wore 25 years ago. Then I'll leave her behind. We're going to invite people to chuck custard pies at her at the end of the show."

The key to Nallon's uncanny Thatcher impression was mastering how "she was brilliant at turning hesitancy in her speaking voice into conviction".

The Oscar-winning film The Iron Lady humanised Thatcher. However, Nallon says: "Meryl Streep did a fabulous job of making Thatcher real but she couldn't do a two-hour show at the Hackney Empire."

He spent years trying to master a David Cameron impression, which will be unveiled in a new app-based animated caricature series, Phyzog.tv.

Nallon says: "What we've got now is a photo fit PM. He's hard to do because he's a Goldilocks figure, neither too hot or too cold.

"We're not as angry at the recession now. We seem resigned to it."

Smith is aware of the irony that alternative comedy's leading lights soon joined the establishment. "Ben Elton chumming up with one of the most prominent Tories (Andrew Lloyd-Webber) never really endeared himself to the cabaret circuit," he said.

Smith accepts that Thatcher was "one of the most significant prime ministers of the 20th century" and adds: "It's a tough dude who can stay angry for 30 years." But some habits never die. "Given it's at the Hackney Empire, the show is unlikely to be a paean of praise to Mrs Thatcher. She was the first one to deregulate the City, to give Rupert Murdoch a blow job and take power from the unions…."

Briefly, it's just like old times.

'Maggie, Maggie Maggie: ***! *** ! ***!' Hackney Empire, tonight, 7.30pm

How we laughed: The best gags

Spitting Image

[Thatcher is treating her Cabinet to a restaurant meal]

Waitress: "Would you like to order, sir?"

Thatcher: "Yes. I'll have the steak."

Waitress: "How would you like it?"

Thatcher: "Oh, raw, please."

Waitress: "And what about the vegetables?"

Thatcher: "Oh, they'll have the same as me!"

****

Thatcher: "We have to get rid of Enoch [Powell]. There is no room for racists in the Conservative Party – we're choc-a-bloc as it is!"

Jo Brand

"It was great when she became Lady Thatcher, because then she sounded like a device for removing pubic hair – you couldn't take her seriously after that."

Frankie Boyle

"Give her a state funeral because a lot of people will want to pay their respects and lot more people will want proof that she's really dead. It will be the first time the 21-gun salute shoots the coffin."

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power