Major: `Thatcher was intolerable'

JOHN MAJOR will make his first public attack on MargaretThatcher in a BBC programme to be broadcast this autumn. Her resignation was, he says, the start of a "Greek tragedy". Whether he is referring to his predecessor's inability to come to terms with her loss of office or his own premiership is unclear from the snippets released by the BBC so far. What is quite clear is the contempt Mr Major has for Mrs Thatcher's sniping from the sidelines.

In his first full-frontal onslaught on Baroness Thatcher, Mr Major says: "In retrospect I think her behaviour was intolerable. I hope none of my successors are treated in that way."

And he goes on to widen the attack, in the series The Major Years, saying that his resentment of his predecessor dates back to her remarks when he became Prime Minister. Her assertion that she would be "a very good back seat driver" was to plague his early years in office, he says, and "drove a wedge between us". Mr Major has recorded more than 30 hours of interviews for the series, which will be screened as three one-hour programmes in October. Lady Thatcher refused to be interviewed.

The BBC says that Mr Major talked at length about his predecessor's "incessant plotting". But it is not just Lady Thatcher that Mr Major has in his sights. Moving swiftly down from the heights of Greek tragedy, he laments his treatment by the press, claiming he was the victim of some of the worst treatment ever meted out to a Prime Minister, according to sources at the BBC. And he talks openly about how leaks from Cabinet drove him "almost to distraction".

One of the strangest insights is into Mr Major's feelings about his roots. It emerges that he was physically sick when he returned to Brixton in 1992 to make a film about his early years. Chris Patten, a former chairman of the party, says: "He was marched down to Brixton to do it and threw up. I mean he hated it, he hated every minute of it. I think in a way it was to his credit, though not to his political advantage. Most people in politics would have paraded a background like that."

The BBC ineptly managed to create its own item of controversy at the launch of the programme yesterday. Donna Sharp, the producer of The Major Years, said that one of the reasons she could not reveal much about the series was that she had to respect the serialisation deal the Sunday Times had negotiated with Mr Major's publishers.

A BBC spokeswoman said later that there was absolutely no arrangement between Rupert Murdoch's News International and the BBC. She added that Ms Sharp should not have said what she did.

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