Thatcher: 'Arnold, my television’s not working'

How telly trouble almost ruined Christmas at 10 Downing Street.


Thirty-odd years ago, Lady Avice Spicer of Spye Park in Wiltshire a formidable lady if ever there was one used to enjoy teasing her next-door neighbour, Lord (Arnold) Weinstock, then the boss of GEC. One day, the story goes, she rang him up because her TV wasn't working. "Arnie," she said. "My television's broken. You're an electrician. Can you come and fix it?"

I was reminded of this reading Tim Bell's account in The Times of what it was like to spend Christmas day at Chequers with Mrs Thatcher when she was prime minister.

It sounded grim: the same people came year after year and the routine never varied: carols on a loop, champagne in the hall, lunch, then the centrepiece of Mrs Thatcher's day, the Queen's speech. "She virtually curtsied when the Queen came on television," says Bell.

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But one year catastrophe struck. The Chequers TV broke down she and Denis had been watching a video of The Sound of Music and it got stuck in the tape player. Mrs Thatcher was in "a terrible state".

"What about the Queen's Speech?" she said. "It's a disaster!" So, like Lady Avice, she rang Lord Weinstock: "Arnold, my television's not working. It has to be fixed for the Queen's speech." And Weinstock found a GEC engineer and sent him round straight away to fix it.

This accomplished, everyone settled down in the Churchill library to watch the speech at 2.45pm, with "her Greatness, in the middle, right opposite the television, saying Shhh!' very loudly. You couldn't speak, you couldn't cough. You couldn't move." And all thanks to Lord Weinstock.

The month of the fitness bores

It's that time of year again: the health and fitness bores are out in force, boasting about their new diet and exercise regimes, suddenly obsessed with acquiring a perfect body. How I wish they'd all shut up, said an exasperated Barbara Ellen in The Observer.

"You can't move without tripping over somebody determined to eat only dehydrated seaweed until February, star-jump around the kitchen every morning, or imagine themselves with a gastric band via Paul McKenna's hypnosis exercises."

What's odd is that genuinely fit people rarely make a fuss. They just quietly get on with being fit all year round.

Gilded goldfish

A man in Norfolk has spent £300 on an operation to restore his constipated goldfish to good health. When I was a child, lots of people, including me, kept goldfish. Their lifespan was brief. We won them at fairs, transferred them from plastic bags to small bowls and, shortly afterwards, threw them away when they died. If it sounds callous, it was. So perhaps we should applaud the man from Norfolk. After all, said Deborah Orr in The Guardian, we've come a long way since then. "Even goldfish, it is now understood, need some level of attention to quality of life The Norfolk enthusiast has merely taken the trend to some kind of majestic apotheosis."

Tabloid money: MPs should do us a favour: get back on the battle bus

Some of us are old enough to remember when general election campaigns lasted no longer than a month, says Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. Now, "life is one long, interminable party political broadcast".

From now until election day, politicians will be like hyperactive children, demanding our attention. But for all the activity, the two main parties still struggle to keep their vote above 30%. It seems the more we see of them, the less we like them. There's a lesson for all politicians here.

"Stop patronising us, stop insulting our intelligence. Shut up, go away and keep your blatant lies and pathetic publicity stunts to yourselves. We don't want to hear from any of you again until a couple of weeks before polling day. So until then, do us all a favour: everybody back on the battle bus."

Germany has seen the rise of a new anti-migrant movement, Pegida. Its members are rallying in German cities to demand back their "Fatherland" from Muslims, says Oliver Harvey in The Sun. Supporters now include the middle-class, worried mums and pensioners. "Nazis in pinstripes," sniffed Ralf Jger of the Social Democratic party. But the demos are unnerving the German elite.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called them cold-hearted in her New Year message, and Ingo Kramer, head of the German bosses' union, is worried about them tarnishing Germany's image. "We need immigration for our labour market," he said.

By the time you read this, the average FTSE 100 chief executive will already have made more money than the average worker will in the whole year, says Chris Blackhurst in the Evening Standard.

By the late afternoon on the second day back at work "Fat Cat Tuesday" the bosses of Britain's biggest listed companies will already have raked in more than the national average salary of £27,200. No wonder the public's faith in big business is so low. If bosses want the "respect they crave", they should "stop giving further succour to their enemies".