Perse Heads have a tradition of keeping politically incorrect items in their studies. For years the Head’s Axminster carpet was protected by a tiger skin rug and prospective parents and pupils were welcomed to the Perse by a snarling piece of taxidermy. Another Head with a commendable passion for recycling used spent Veuve Clicquot Champagne boxes for filing. The resulting wall of orange upset Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee when she visited the Perse; she overlooked the recycling message and preferred to see the empty boxes as evidence of elitism in the independent sector.
My politically incorrect item is a signed photograph of Margaret Thatcher. The photograph was a present from my first Perse Politics Group who quickly spotted my interest in the Iron Lady.
I am much looking forward to Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher in the movie ‘The Iron Lady’ although I have mixed feelings about producing such a film during Lady Thatcher’s life. (The depiction of Lady Thatcher as a demented and confused old lady will be very distressing for her friends and family, but assuming she is aware of the movie water off a duck’s back to an impervious politician who did not shy away from controversy).
My interest in Mrs Thatcher lies in her outsider status and her ability to break the mould. She was not the first politician from a modest background to become Prime Minster, but she was the first woman to reach to the top of the UK political ladder at a time of significant sexism. Introduced into the Cabinet as a ‘token female’, Mrs Thatcher had to fight hard to be taken seriously by Ted Heath and the Tory grandees. There is a marvellous, fictitious moment in a trailer for ‘The Iron Lady’ when the lights go out during a Heath Cabinet Meeting as part of the electricity shortages caused by striking coal miners. Whilst male Cabinet Ministers stumble around in the gloom, at the far end of the Cabinet Table a bright light shines out in the darkness. The splendidly practical Mrs Thatcher has produced a torch from her famous hand bag and the resulting light brings order to the chaos. It is all wonderfully symbolic and very entertaining.
Mrs Thatcher’s premiership had many failings. However, in breaking the mould in British politics she showed that talent and determination can prevail, that hard work does pay dividends, and that sexist glass ceilings are there to be broken.