Thatcher to be hectoring Britain again

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HER STRIDENT tones struck fear into the heart of her male underlings. Now Baroness Thatcher's voice is likely to greet visitors to the Millennium Dome's Learning Zone after being deemed to epitomise school-marmish authority.

The former prime minister is thought to head a list of celebrities whose hectoring tones recall those of a teacher reprimanding a pupil. Other candidates include the television presenter Jeremy Paxman and Betty Boothroyd the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The list has been drawn up by the supermarket chain Tesco, which is sponsoring the Learning Zone and commissioned market research to identify the person with the "Voice of Authority".

The Zone will evoke childhood experiences by recreating the sights and sounds of school. Visitors will walk along a mock-up of a school corridor filled with the sound of children playing and the aroma of boiled cabbage.

A school bell will summon them to one of two "classrooms", where they can watch a video made by the film producer Lord Puttnam promoting the value of learning. They will also hear the unmistakable voice of a teacher telling off pupils.

The list was compiled after research carried out in Tesco stores and on customer panels. People were asked whose voice most reminded them of a fearsome schoolteacher.

Tesco said yesterday that a final decision had not yet been made. If Lady Thatcher is selected - and if she agrees to be recorded for the purpose - it will bring a wry smile to the lips of former cabinet colleagues who quaked in their boots when she raised her voice.

At present, she is in mixed company. Other candidates in the running include a quartet of actors: Sir Anthony Hopkins, Stephen Berkoff and Brian Blessed, and - perhaps surprisingly - Ross Kemp, who plays the menacing Grant Mitchell in the television soap EastEnders.

A Tesco source said that Lady Thatcher represented authority for an entire generation of Britons. "She is still vividly remembered for handbagging officials, Eurocrats and her fellow politicians," he said.