Before the Zeitgeist tape: How Thatcher prepared for Smash Hits interview

Written by David Singleton on 10 October 2017 in Diary

A Number 10 briefing paper talked about 'a strange bunch of anti-establishment acts'.

These days, prime ministers are regularly briefed on what’s happening in the real world, just in case they accidentally come in to contact with normal people. Or even worse young people.

David Cameron had an official 'crib sheet' for use in interviews, it was recently claimed by former Lib Dem minister David Laws. It is said to have included a run-down of the hit pop songs and movies of the day.

In The Thick Of It, spin doctor Malcom Tucker famously prepares a weekly digest for the prime minister called the Zeitgeist Tape, comprised of "EastEnders highlights, choice bits from all the reality shows, ten second music videos, that kind of thing".





In Margaret Thatcher’s day, there may not have been a Zeitgeist tape or a regular crib sheet. But we do now know the lengths her aides went to try to ensure she was not caught flat-footed by popular culture.

Files from 1987 released by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation show how the then prime minister was given a detailed briefing ahead of an interview with journalist Tom Hibbert for teen pop magazine Smash Hits.

The Number 10 briefing paper stated: "Mr Hibbert may ask superficial questions which betray a lack of understanding. The challenge of the interview will be for you to demonstrate that just because you are not part of the pop scene, you are still in touch with youngsters and understand their needs."

A history of punk was also attached, which described the 1976-1978 era as "a very basic musical style featuring a strange bunch of anti-establishment acts".

It added: "Most famous were the Sex Pistols with God Save The Queen and Anarchy In The UK. Other punk acts such as The Clash and The Damned were popular for a while. But when the Sex Pistols split up in 1978, the style died out, to be replaced by the current technological musical era featuring computers, synthesizers and videos."

In the end, Downing Street’s fears were unrealised as there were no tricky questions about the punk era in the Smash Hits interview. But the prime minister was asked about pesky left wing bands such as the Housemartins, the Style Council and Billy Bragg.

In response, she insisted she was relaxed about them not liking her: "I don't mind these … most young people rebel and then gradually they become more realistic. It's very much part of life, really."




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