The BBC has always infuriated political critics: in the early 1950s Winston Churchill described it as being ‘honeycombed with socialists’. But the arrival of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, and then as prime minister four years later, added a new dimension to the attacks. Now it was not merely that the BBC’s content was under fire but also that the very existence of the corporation was under threat, for an institution that operated outside commercial constraints – even if it was funded by its very own poll tax – was never going to find favour with a politician so firmly wedded to the free market.
The combative relationship between premier and broadcaster nags away through much of Jean Seaton’s splendid and enthralling book; part of the pleasure is seeing an irresistible force repeatedly making so little impact on an immovable object. During the Falklands War, Thatcher accused the BBC of ‘letting our boys down’ and