Maggie movie puts world TV in her bag

SHE MAY BE Yesterday's Woman here, but from Tokyo to Amsterdam she is a box-office hit, and the Germans think of her as a star in the class of Baroness Thatcher's revealing television documentary, The Downing Street Years, has sold to more than a dozen countries, netting the BBC a million dollars and making her the hottest property since Michael Palin for Around the World in Eighty Days.

The Beeb, which used to being on the receiving end of the former prime minister's waspish tongue, is now dishing out royalty cheques to her, and plans to issue the four-and-a- quarter-hour blockbuster on video next month.

This astonishing TV sale of the century has come as no surprise to Hugh Scully, presenter of the Antiques Roadshow, whose Finite Productions persuaded Lady Thatcher to unburden herself in front of the camera. 'We knew as soon as she signed the contract that we had something extraordinary, but we didn't know how frank and forthcoming she was prepared to be,' he said last night. 'She was as good as her word.'

Maggie, The Movie, has been sold to television networks in Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Saudi Arabia (for several Middle East countries), Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, Portugal and Canada. Negotiations are continuing in the United States, where her price - about dollars 250,000 ( pounds 170,000) - is said to be meeting resistance.

Not surprisingly, she is also exciting strong interest in Germany. 'The Germans are fascinated by three women, apparently,' says Scully. 'Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher.'

Quite what these foreign audiences will make of the political melodrama, with its saintly heroine whose downfall is plotted by horrible men in suits, is another matter.

One omission from the mini-series is likely to disappoint the hundreds of millions to whom it will be screened later this year. Although Lady Thatcher amazed Scully by her frankness in the 40 hours of filming, she refused to discuss the Other Woman who fascinates foreigners, the Queen.

Scully said: 'I asked her what the Queen said when she went to the Palace to tender her resignation. She said she couldn't go into that, and changed the subject.'

What a pity. But at least Lady Thatcher can count her royalties while queening it round the world. This week, she sets off for Brazil, Chile and Mexico at the invitation of the Brazilian bank Garantia. All her engagements are private, ticket-only affairs to which 'a cross-section of businessmen, bankers and VIPs' are invited, says her office coyly. And somebody pays, but 'that's private'.

BBC Enterprises, itself a legacy of the Thatcher years, is in no doubt why the series is so popular. 'She was a colossus on the world stage. Her name is known from Moscow to Madagascar.'