Maggie, monocles and mayhem

Margaret Thatcher, then Conservative leader, visits the Daily Express offices in Fleet Street in 1978, the year before she became Prime Minister. She signed this photograph for Rick McNeill, the man in the waistcoat leaning on the backbench squawk box. Next to Rick is the editor Derek Jameson.

Also in this newsroom picture are, from left, Joe Neal, Dougie Mann, Geoff Compton, Alastair McIntyre, Brian Izzard, Bill Montgomery (half hidden behind Maggie’s head), Nigel Lilburn and Bertie Brooks leaning over a desk. We think the man in the far distance behind Compton and McIntyre is picture desk clerk Roy Nelson. The chap in specs is an editorial messenger and the bespectacled man behind Thatcher looks like Don Higgs.

Compton remembers being bollocked by Mrs Thatcher for leaving a mound of litter on the floor round his desk. It was customary in those days to write a headline on a piece of paper, screw it up and throw it on the floor. The Tory leader proceeded to ram an empty waste paper bin over his head. He writes: ”This historic event was captured by a staff snapper but I lost the photo years ago. If anyone has a copy…”

As a matter of great interest, Bertie Brooks always referred to the waste paper basket as “the wagger pagger bagger” which is Oxford University slang, commonly known as the Oxford -er. Bertie, though, was a light blue, or a ligger blugger.

McIntyre writes: I remember the day well. After the first edition we all bundled into the editor’s office for some light refreshment. Ted Keeling liberated a bottle of gin and consumed most of it. 

Later, when Thatcher came out to meet the subs, she asked Ted a question and he was so pissed he couldn’t speak coherently. She moved swiftly on to Nick Pigott, who made no secret of the fact that he came from Grantham, Thatcher’s home town. There followed a long discussion about the merits of Lincolnshire grocery shops.

While all this was going on, several of us, having left our monocles at home, took out the plastic discs from the telephone dials and wore them instead.

Tell that to the kids of today and they wouldn’t believe you.

Here’s another pic (which includes Lloyd Turner, mysteriously left off Rick’s photo!)

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre