World News

Teddy Bears and Whisky: The Files on Thatcher

LONDON — The Iron Lady loved teddy bears.

Posted Updated
Switch to classic

Yonette Joseph
, New York Times

LONDON — The Iron Lady loved teddy bears.

Newly released documents have pulled back the curtains on such lesser-known aspects of the life and times of Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister from 1979-90.

The documents, mostly from 1988, were published online Saturday by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. They are searchable, and some documents can be downloaded.

Here are some of the more intriguing insights from the papers:

— Backing a Single Market

Decades before Britain voted to leave the European Union, Thatcher gave a celebrated speech on Sept. 20, 1988, in the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium, that spoke of the need to keep ties to the bloc:

“Britain does not dream of some cozy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the community.”

But while not backing an exit, a draft of another speech, made in April the same year at a Lancaster House conference on the single market, Thatcher noted:

We must get this right. Too often in the past, Britain has missed opportunities. How we meet the challenge of the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor in our competitive position in European and world markets into the 21st century.

“Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers — visible or invisible — giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people. Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It’s not a dream.”

“Above all, it means a positive attitude of mind: a decision to go all out to make a success of the single market.”

As the foundation wrote:

“The speech did not seem so vital at the time ... But from the perspective of 2018, with Britain convulsed by Brexit, Bruges grows ever larger in significance, to a degree that could cause us to overplay the speech. MT did not expect or intend it to have quite the role some would now suppose: In no way was Bruges a manifesto for withdrawal. Indeed, she expressly and emphatically asserted the opposite, lest other elements in the speech leave any doubt on that question.”

— A Thing for Teddy Bears

A Thatcher Foundation spokesman told The Guardian newspaper that Thatcher was “into” her teddies. Thatcher collected at least two teddy bears, named Humphrey and Mrs. Teddy, the documents show.

She was presented one teddy bear around the time she was visiting the headquarters of the supermarket chain Asda in Leeds, England, in December 1988.

During the visit, she also observed a “Christmas pudding microwave demonstration” and was shown how to cook turkeys safely, according to The Yorkshire Evening Post.

Thatcher revealed her meat preferences and those of her husband: “I like the white meat best, but Denis always goes for the dark meat.”

As for the teddy bear, she said she would place the toy under her tree.

The files reveal that the bears were quite popular, and Thatcher was often asked to loan them out to various museums and for events. In one letter from No. 10 Downing St. to the Marquess of Bath, Thatcher wrote:

“Thank you so much for returning Humphrey. I am sure that he had a lovely time at Longleat.” Even when requests for the bears were snubbed, the prime minister intervened. For example, Gyles Brandreth, a broadcaster, former lawmaker and the founder of the Teddy Bear Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote before the opening of the attraction in 1988:

“If you have a teddy bear you felt able to loan to The Teddy Bear Museum, you could rest assured that he would be beautifully cared for, properly acknowledged, fully insured and obviously could be returned to you at a moment’s notice.”

The prime minister’s office drafted a reply: “Unfortunately, they will not be able to join you as they have other commitments that month.” Thatcher, however, overturned the refusal, and a loan was made to the museum.

Other requests were not so fortunate. A charity teddy bears’ picnic in Havant, on the south coast of England, was told the bears had “other commitments,” and an event at Covent Garden to commemorate 50 years of the British Diabetic Association received a note saying that Humphrey “will not be able to join you because he is already engaged for this date.”

Brandreth told The Guardian that Thatcher had said collecting teddy bears was a “very sensible hobby” for a member of Parliament.

— Biographical Notes

The documents also opened a window into how Thatcher and her husband put together a guest list of 229 names for a gala at Downing Street.

Denis Thatcher personally vetted the list, adding red check marks to “those who I would personally like to see included” as guests, he wrote. (More than one tick meant “super person and a known friend and wonderful to have them here.”)

He wrote question marks next to “those who I believe do NOT help,” the files show.

Among the latter were former Beatle Paul McCartney, naturalist David Attenborough and singer Shirley Bassey.

But composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber and actress Judi Dench got a thumb’s up. So did TV personality Rolf Harris, later convicted in a sexual abuse scandal.

The archive will be open to the public starting Monday, according to The Associated Press.

More private documents on Thatcher, housed at the Churchill Archives Center in Cambridge, have previously revealed or confirmed such tidbits as:

— Her ancestry: Her father, Alfred Roberts, was Welsh on his father’s side and Irish on his mother’s.

— Some of her favorite things: Her favorite color? Turquoise. Favorite drink? Whisky and soda. She also had a soft spot for chocolates. And her favorite TV programs were “Yes Minister,” “The Professionals” and “Cannon.”

— An absence of pets: The files say: “PM has no pets. However, Wilberforce, the No. 10 tabby cat, patrols the corridors.”

Thatcher died at 87 in London in 2013.

Copyright 2022 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.