Margaret Thatcher branded ‘contemporary villain’ alongside Bin Laden and Hitler in V&A exhibition

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is facing criticism over exhibiton that puts former prime minister in same light as dictator and terrorist

Alexander Butler
Monday 18 March 2024 14:25 GMT
Baroness Thatcher, represented here by a Spitting Image style puppet, was described as a ‘contemporary villain’
Baroness Thatcher, represented here by a Spitting Image style puppet, was described as a ‘contemporary villain’ (The Independent)

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was described as a “contemporary villain” alongside Osama Bin Laden and Adolf Hitler in an exhibition at the V&A.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London named the late Mrs Thatcher alongside the terrorist and the dictator to illustrate unpopular public figures portrayed by Punch and Judy over the years.

The V&A said it would review the text and update the wording “if necessary” and that it welcomes all feedback from visitors.

The exhibit, which shows two puppets made in 1975, appeared to explain how Punch and Judy caricatures have changed over the last century.

The description read: “Over the years, the evil character in this seaside puppet show has shifted from the Devil to unpopular public figures including Adolf Hitler, Margaret Thatcher and Osama bin Laden, to offer contemporary villains.”

Text displays in the V&A exhibit mention Mrs Thatcher at the same time as Hitler and Bin Laden (The Independent)

A puppet of Baroness Thatcher from the satirical television show Spitting Image is also included in the comedy exhibition at the London institution.

The publicly-funded museum has faced angry backlash from Conservative MPs, who described the comparison as “ill-thought” and “mendacious”.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “Given the fact that MPs are now regularly receiving death threats, myself included, from extremists and others, this V&A exhibition is ill-thought and mendacious,’ he said.

“They must live in a bubble, away from the real world, to think that it is rational to propose that a politician of the stature of Margaret Thatcher would equate to any of those mass murderers and vile human beings.”

Nile Gardiner, a former aide to Baroness Thatcher and director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom, said: “Disgraceful from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It should be stripped of public funding.”

Critics described the exhibit as ‘ill-thought’ and ‘mendacious’, with calls for the museum’s funding to be stripped (The Independent)

According to 2022-2023 figures, the museum received most of its income, more than £67million, from the taxpayer via the Department of Culture.

In 2015 the V&A was widely criticised for refusing to accept a selection of her suits and handbags.

Her family offered hundreds of items, from her wedding dress to her red prime ministerial dispatch box, because they wanted them kept together on public display rather than auctioned off and scattered across the world.

But, according to reports, the museum “politely declined”, saying it collected only items of ‘outstanding aesthetic or technical quality’ rather than those with “intrinsic social historical value”.

A V&A spokesperson told The Independent: “The V&A is always open to feedback from our visitors. In response to some concerns around a caption in the Punch and Judy case of our Laughing Matters display – telling the story of British satire and comedy – we will review the relevant label text and update the wording if necessary.”

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