Margaret Thatcher decided it might be a good idea to produce television sets that only aired ITV shows, secret government papers reveal.
Scores of revelations from the former UK Prime Minister’s office have been made available from the National Archives. They primarily cover subjects such as UK economic policy and UK-Soviet relations; records began in September 1979, just months after Thatcher took the country’s top office, the Radio Times notes.
But the documents also bring about other, more outlandish schemes conjured up by Thatcher. It seems she had a few ideas about shaking up the TV industry. Not only did she consider running ads on the BBC, but also proposed exempting the licence fee — which funds the BBC and currently sees people in the UK forced to pay £145.50 per year if they want to watch live television — for those who only fancied ITV shows.
Thatcher said it would be necessary for manufacturers to make sets that “could only be tuned in to ITV stations.” Had such a move been implemented, and still in place today, it means viewers would only be able to watch the likes of X Factor, I’m a Celebrity, and Coronation Street. It might have suited some — but it would have been a hugely restrictive service, obviously. No Dr Who, for example, or Sherlock.
Thatcher wanted to tackle what she believed to be “extravagant spending” by the BBC. At the time, the BBC had a deficit of £50 million. She also suggested some radio programmes should take on ads to help balance the books, the Radio Times explains.
But her desires, unsurprisingly, proved unpopular with many. Then home secretary, Willie Whitelaw, said such measures “would be extremely controversial and would be bitterly criticised by the BBC governors.”
The BBC has a reputation across the world and acts as an independent source of information that remains untethered by commercial financing. There were thoughts at the time that Thatcher’s BBC ads would damage its reputation for impartiality. In the end, Thatcher decided to rethink her plans for TV and they didn’t come of anything.
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