The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

It was very rare after the first term of the Thatcher government for the Prime Minister to get a roasting on TV. But in one interview after the Falklands War, that’s exactly what she got from a member of the public. God knows, many ‘professional’ TV presenters at that time cowered in submission to the Iron Lady or were less than secret admirers. But this woman wasn’t going to accept Thatcher’s argument on the sinking of the Argentine ship the Belgrano.

What I find almost endearing is the level of knowledge this viewer has as she persists with her interrogation of Thatcher. Many people forty years ago had military experience, having even served in the Second World War or on British military bases around the world. So, Thatcher’s attempt to blind this person with pseudo-military-babble just didn’t wash. This viewer clearly knew how to use a compass!

The sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War was arguably the most controversial event during that conflict and one that haunted Thatcher for years. The Belgrano itself was an ancient bit of kit, launched in the 1930s, used by the US in WWII and then sold to Argentina in 1951. This would have been one of the last engagements for this warship had it not been hit by a missile fired from a British nuclear submarine.

The question that Thatcher struggled to answer – and we see her here getting an uncharacteristic roasting from a member of the public – was whether the Belgrano was sailing towards or away from the Falklands. Interestingly, Thatcher doesn’t claim that it was either inside the Exclusion Zone or even sailing towards the islands (in fact, she infers it was sailing away).

The Belgrano sinking became as notorious as the sinking of the Lusitania in WWI. That said, sympathy was in short supply among the majority of the population after the attack by Argentina on HMS Sheffield. But for the left, this issue became a stick to beat Maggie and this video certainly makes compelling viewing.

DISCOVER: Saturday morning TV in the 1970s

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