National Archives: 1977 and all that

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The Independent Online

Let us give thanks for the National Archives and the 30-year old nuggets that they serve up for our delectation at this time of year. The year 1977 has produced a thoroughly vintage crop.

Picture this (and no laughing, please): Margaret Thatcher, on her first US visit as leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, stuck in the loo of her Houston hotel room because the handle would not work. She had, according to the British consul general, to be "released from bondage" on several occasions. We encounter Thatcher again some visit that must have been "engaged in a short wrestling match" for the microphone when the President of the Texas branch of the English Speaking Union foolishly tried to cut her off.

And how history repeats itself! Our old friend the Joint Intelligence Committee was even then at its clairvoyant best, forecasting a full-scale Soviet assault on Britain, complete with chemical and maybe biological weapons. They envisaged English-speaking Russian commandos dispatched to our missile bases in civilian dress, and fishing boats commandeered to lay mines in our waters.

That October, the Police were lobbying for an above-inflation pay increase that James Callaghan did not want them to have. Ministers feared an illegal strike that could bring the government down. The Police were demanding 15 per cent; the Government held them to 10.

All of which prompts us to ask what telling glimpses from the backrooms have been hidden from us in the past year. What was the reality of the Browns' move into No 10? How did David Cameron really fare in Washington? Roll on 2037, when all will be revealed.