Margaret on the Radio

This is post is kindasorta both a Tricky Dicky and a Psychic Landscape entry. It doesn’t quite fit into either series, but should – hopefully – be read in the context of them.


When Margaret Thatcher died in 2013, so many people downloaded the song ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’ from iTunes that the BBC were seemingly forced into the position of having to play it on Radio 1, in line with their usual practice of giving airtime to songs that are currently in the charts.  (In the end they copped out and played a clip – of a song that’s under a minute long anyway – with an explanation.  I didn’t hear it but I’d stake internal organs on it involving use of the word ‘divisive’.)  This awkward situation for the BBC, very much not of their choosing, created what is called a ‘row’, or a ‘controversy’, or a ‘scandal’.  This is when the right-wing media, rather than report the facts with headlines like ‘Thousands Celebrate Baroness Thatcher’s Death by Downloading…’, instead publish stories with headlines like ‘Outrage as BBC plans to Celebrate Baroness Thatcher’s Death by Playing…’.  The ‘outrage’ the paper is supposedly reporting is always illustrated with a few hysterical quotes from people the paper contacted to supply them with hysterical quotes.  For instance, the Telegraph contacted Cecil Parkinson, one of Thatcher’s erstwhile cabinet minions and staunchest loyalists.  Lord Parkinson proved a disappointingly philosophical commentator however, telling them – bizarrely – that Thatcher wouldn’t have cared because she’d have been too busy watching Songs of Praise.

For those of you who don’t know, Songs of Praise is the longest running television show in history.  It has been aired more-or-less weekly on Sunday afternoons on BBC1 since 1961, and features recordings of Sunday church services – from a different church each week – complete with lots of hymn singing, helpfully subtitled so the viewer can join in at home.   The show is notorious for depicting anomalously large congregations which fail to accurately reflect the reality of Christian worship attendance figures in the United Kingdom.  As such, it is also one of the most subversive television shows in history, albeit unwittingly, being a weekly demonstration of both the psychologically deranging effects of the spectacle, and an infallible index of some of the quintessential sins of the British middle classes: pride, vanity, hypocrisy, etc.

Lord Parkinson’s idea in saying what he supposedly did was, presumably, to emphasize both Mrs Thatcher’s admirable contempt for the opinions of the people of Britain, but also her Christian piety.  He didn’t bother to explain why watching a particular television programme would mean Mrs Thatcher wouldn’t find time to care about an unconnected issue.  As I recall, Mrs Thatcher was quite an efficient multi-tasker.  Also, based on the occasional instance of seeing Songs of Praise in my youth, I’d say that the show was singularly conducive to making the viewer think about other things… and in my day it was presented by ex-Goon Harry Seacombe, so there always seemed a muted possibility that the cloying air of respectable tweeness might at any moment be discarded in favour of an atavistic reversion to random gibbering and screeching. 

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