CRAIG BROWN: Revealed! The REAL story of Maggie's exit

CRAIG BROWN: Revealed! The REAL story of Maggie’s exit

For over 50 years, everyone thought the recording of Let It Be marked a particularly fractious period in the lives of the four Beatles.

But now Peter Jackson’s eight-hour documentary, Get Back, suggests they were happy and companionable.

Have we misunderstood other key events, imagining them to be traumatic when, in fact, they were cheerful?

On November 14, Michael Heseltine (pictured with Margaret Thatcher) turned to his wife and asked: ‘Do you think it might amuse Margaret if I were to mount a challenge for the Conservative Party leadership?’

In a new series, I examine the real story behind yesterday’s headlines. Today, Margaret Thatcher leaves No 10.

On November 1, 1990, Geoffrey Howe resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister.

In his resignation speech a fortnight later, he mentioned the problem of trying to negotiate with Europe when Mrs Thatcher was so openly dismissive of monetary union.

‘It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.’

Recently discovered footage of the House of Commons chamber shows that, far from being cross, Margaret Thatcher is rocking with merriment.

Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher and Douglas Hurd in the House of Commons in 1989

She turns to Kenneth Baker, to her right, and, wiping away tears of laughter, says, ‘Absolutely hilarious! Broken bats! Classic!!’

On the morning of November 14, Michael Heseltine turned to his wife, Anne, and asked her: ‘Do you think it might amuse Margaret if I were to mount a challenge for the Conservative Party leadership?’

‘Oh, yes! What a fun idea!’ replied Anne, ‘And Margaret’s always game for a laugh!’

Later that day, Heseltine announced his leadership challenge from his Belgravia home. New footage shows him on the telephone to Margaret Thatcher immediately before.

‘Switch on your telly, Margaret — you’re in for a bit of a giggle!’ he jokes. ‘See you later, love! Big kiss!’

As is well known, Mrs Thatcher emerged from the first leadership ballot four votes short of the required majority.

Heseltine and Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference in October 1981

Outside the British embassy in Paris, she was filmed declaring her intention to enter the second ballot.

But at this point the footage was edited. Her subsequent remarks have only recently been unearthed. ‘Mind you,’ she says to her Private Secretary, ‘I could probably do with a well-earned rest.

‘Chance to catch up on a spot of sunbathing and the new Jackie Collins. Politics isn’t everything. And poor Michael’s been after the job so long, bless him, it’s surely time he had a chance.’

The next few weeks were, it seems, full of fun and high jinks.

In footage taken behind the scenes, Mrs Thatcher can be seen urging her campaign manager, Peter Morrison, to take a more relaxed attitude, ‘and whatever happens don’t lose any valuable drinking time!’

Most evenings, Heseltine dropped by on her for what he describes as ‘a chin-wag and a bit of a laugh’. In one recently discovered scene, Mrs Thatcher takes to the piano, and she and Heseltine duet on a rousing version of The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down.

Kenneth Clarke in 1988. The Tory politician was the Home Secretary from 1992 to 1993 

On November 21, Thatcher’s Cabinet ministers were ushered into her office, one by one, offering frank advice on whether or not she should continue.

New CCTV footage from her office reveals that, far from being sombre, the evening was, in the words of one participant, ‘a hoot from start to finish’.

In the corridor outside her office, Kenneth Clarke, Cecil Parkinson and Kenneth Baker can be seen enjoying an impromptu round of Grandmother’s Footsteps with Norman Tebbit.

Inside, Michael Howard cheers Mrs Thatcher up with a ribald ‘Knock-Knock’ joke passed on to him by Neil Kinnock.

The next day, Mrs Thatcher told her Cabinet she would be dropping out of the contest. ‘After all, there’s a new series of Star Trek starting, and I don’t want to miss it.’

Later, when she left No 10, she was filmed saying: ‘We’re leaving Downing Street for the last time after 11 and a half wonderful years.’

She then stepped into her car with a wave. Unearthed footage shows Heseltine crouched in the back of the car, ready to surprise her with novelty party hats and brightly coloured balloons.

Historians no longer see this period in the history of the Conservative Party as bitter and divisive.

‘Far from it,’ says Peter Jackson, director of Thatcher: Happy As She Goes. ‘Not until Dominic Cummings said cheerio to Boris Johnson was the Tory Party ever so united.’

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