Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, died about two weeks ago. Her politics weren't my politics, nor her country my country, so I just planned on ignoring the whole thing. But then I read something online that referred to her as a "pop culture figure." No, she wasn't! She was a political figure. Just because someone's on TV a lot doesn't qualify them as pop culture. The woman lived at 10 Downing Street, not Graceland!
Still, I wondered, is there some pop culture angle here I'm missing? Meryl Streep played Thatcher a couple of years ago in a movie, but that was long after she left office. How about when she was still serving the British public or whomever? I seemed to remember a Maggie Thatcher imitator popping up on TV and movies in the 1980s. Or it was it imitators, plural? I did some research and found out it was indeed the same woman, a Scottish actress by the name of Janet Brown.
Even if you don't feel like watching the video, look closely at the still picture above. See that box of Kellogg's Bran Flakes right behind the phony Thatcher's bouffant? Would it be highly irregular of me to suggest that the film's art director thought the real Maggie might benefit from adding such to her diet?
Janet Brown's Maggie Thatcher finally made her American TV debut in 1983 (the accompanying video says 1985, but various sources I've cross-referenced say otherwise.) The occasion was a prime-time special titled Johnny Carson's Practical Jokes, a forerunner to the popular TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes, which in turn was a forerunner to Punk'd, a show that plays Candid Camera-like stunts (another forerunner--whew!--a lot of forerunning around, huh?) on celebrities, in this instance Joan Rivers, who'd been making fun of the Royal Family. The faux Maggie Thatcher took Rivers to task:
That slap at the end was all staged. Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers remained close friends for another, oh, six, seven, eight months, until she got her own, ultimately ill-fated talk show opposite his.
After Thatcher was ousted as Prime Minister in 1990 (by her fellow Conservatives; they do things differently there), Janet Brown's star generally faded, though she continued to be a working actress well into her 80s. When she died two years ago, it made the BBC evening news:
As I don't live in Britain I can't say for sure, but I suspect, talented as she may have been, Janet Brown will soon fade into obscurity. But what about the person who inspired her act?
Here's a clue. For a couple days last week the song "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" sat at number 2 on the British pop charts. Why is something that originally debuted in a 1939 MGM musical suddenly so popular? It's all part of a coordinated effort among left-leaning Brits to infuriate right-leaning Brits on the eve of the Iron Lady's funeral. The infuriation seems to be working. Though no lyrics were changed and it's sung by Judy Garland, who died in 1969 not knowing or caring about Margaret Thatcher, the BBC has refused to play anything more than a seven second snippet of the song until passions cool.
Unlike Janet Brown, Margaret Thatcher won't be forgotten anytime soon. Though her admirers may wish some people would forget about her.