Media: Thatcher: candid on camera: For once, You-Know-Who could not be in the driving seat. Owen Slot talks to the programme makers who were

For someone who was no stranger to news management, Baroness Thatcher has been unusually trusting in the making of Thatcher: The Downing Street Years, the four-part television series to accompany her memoirs which starts tonight on BBC 1.

The former prime minister sat through more than 50 hours of interviews for the series, but had no editorial control over the finished product.

Julian Seymour, the director of Lady Thatcher's private office and one of her chief advisers, says that editorial control was neither sought nor desired. 'It would mean the programmes wouldn't have any credibility. If it became public that we had any editorial control, they would be a laughing stock.'

The programmes - made by Fine Arts, an independent production company of which Hugh Scully (best known for Antiques Roadshow) is managing director - are unlikely to be simply paeans of praise. They include the reflections of Ken Livingstone and Lords Lawson and Howe, and the interviewing technique is bold.

'We were under contractual obligation not to reveal what was in the memoirs,' says Denys Blakeway, the series producer. 'But we intimated that she was absolutely frank and they'd better be frank in response.

'For instance, we were interviewing Geoffrey Howe and we said to him that it's well known that Margaret Thatcher had no time for the Foreign Office at all, and indeed her views on it are extremely strong. And he said: 'Absolute rubbish. How can you say such a thing?'

'Then we turned the cameras off and I said, 'Look, she is not going to be shilly-

shallying about the Foreign Office.' And he said, 'Oh well, in that case . . .' and he gave a proper, measured response. He changed his tune totally.'

Scully made his first approach to Lady Thatcher's office in March 1992, having read about the memoirs. He was one of a number of interested programme-makers, including the BBC. He was asked for a proposal, then summoned the following May for a meeting during which he was quizzed on a curious pair of subjects: his programme- making history, most notably last year's acclaimed series The Falklands War (also appreciated by Lady Thatcher); and - of all things - the Franco-Prussian war.

'She really wasn't interested in the programmes. I would have expected a lot of questions about what was involved. I went away thinking the meeting hadn't gone well.' However, the following day he had a call to say the contract had been awarded to Fine Arts.

'To this day, I've never really understood why,' Scully says. 'Money was only discussed after the initial agreement.'

Lady Thatcher's office confirms Scully's suspicion that it was the nature of his proposal that won the contract. Much of the competition, he believes, came from big-name interviewers whose proposed formats favoured extended one-to-one interviews.

'Margaret Thatcher doesn't watch television but she knows enough to realise that that would be rather boring and would probably be confined to the twilight hours.' The magnanimity of Fine Arts' proposal, and the intention to analyse Lady Thatcher's image abroad (interviews with Reagan and Gorbachev) also seem to have struck a chord. 'They were pretty well head and shoulders above the rest,' says Seymour.

Lady Thatcher's 'television memoirs' are the climax to a year of politicians trusting the camera. 'I didn't seek reassurances and they didn't seek to soothe me at all,' says Neil Kinnock of the makers of the four-part Kinnock: The Inside Story (LWT). 'In my view it was clear they had no interest in hagiography or in some sensationalist condemnation. I thought I could rely on them to be fair. I thought it was a good idea then and I still think it was.'

Kenneth Baker, who presented and rewrote the script for Kenneth Baker's Memoirs (BBC 2), similarly has no regrets. 'I did not consider it a risk because in effect I was in charge of the programmes. But I was prepared to be deprecated. Ken Clarke was delightfully rude about me.'

The results have not always been as happy. As Alan Clark, one of Mrs Thatcher's ministers, discovered in June when he was the subject of Love Tory, you can get your fingers burnt.

'I breathed a sigh of relief the first time I saw the programme; it really wasn't as bad as it could have been. But then I watched it a second time and I hated it. I didn't question its integrity, but I felt a marked distaste for the character who was portrayed,' he says.

'When I found to my horror and true anger that they were going to repeat it on BBC 2 I tried very hard to get it pulled, saying it's far too soon and extremely embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do about it. I don't even get a royalty for the second showing. It's miserable.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
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
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
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
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

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