Hak has a nice story about the fall of Thatch. I remember spending a day at work singing “Ding dong, the witch is dead!”
I’m pleased that the Wikipedia entry about her corrects the strangely widespread myth that she achieved a Double First at Oxford. The truth is she collected a Desmond—and I think we can safely say her performance wasn’t the result of her spending her evenings indulging in rock’n’roll debauchery or paralysed by feelings of self-doubt. Ronald Reagan was probably cleverer—and that isn’t meant as a backhanded insult, just a sober, at-a-distance estimate. Reagan was no fool; Thatcher’s foolishness was her undoing.
UPDATE: It’s been correctly pointed out in the comments that Thatcher couldn’t have collected a 2:ii because that degree classification wasn’t used when Thatcher was examined. I do distinctly remember reading Dorothy Hodgkin (Thatcher’s part two supervisor) damning Thatch with faint praise when asked to assess her former student’s intellectual abilities—and they liked each other. Since my own tutors’ assessment of me as an undergraduate varied from mostly “Let’s just send him down now and save ourselves the trouble later” to one (foolishly) betting on my getting a First, this probably isn’t very helpful either.
The “strangely widespread myth that she achieved a Double First”?
I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of time over the last twenty years reading about Mrs T., and I’ve never come across this one before…
You’ve probably not yet read the revised edition of Counsell’s Collected Assertions of Blokes In Polo-Necked Shirts During Arguments About The Legacy Of Thatcherism. Chapter titles include: “Before She Came Along The Dead Went Unburied In The Streets, You Know”, “She Put That Scargill In His Place And There’s No Doubt”, “Strong Leadership: That’s What This Country Needed”, and—particularly relevant to this discussion—“She Was A Real Thinker As Well, I Can Tell You”.
I don’t recall hearing ever she got a double first, but the internet is full of stuff saying that she got 2 degrees – one in chemistry and one in law. I seem to recall that I heard that even before (creak creak, I’m old) the advent of the internet.
It’s mentioned here in a Grauniad interview as a quote from Shirley Williams. Is that provenance good enough?
Oddly the Wikipedia entry doesn’t say anything about two degrees, though it manages to make a snide comment about her working on ice-cream and how her rich husband funded her to read for the Bar. But I’m sure the author couldn’t in any way be biased. It’s the Wikipedia after all.
Ah, good. I always like a printed source.
While we’re on the subject of books about Thatcher, incidentally, let me give an advance plug for my friend Ewen’s book, Thatcher, by E. H. H. Green coming out early next year, which will contain terrific material on lots of things, including the surprising history of the ideological pedigree of the “no such thing as society” quip, and details of a remarkable episode which reveals the extent to which she could not remember even the most basic details of her father’s life and, in this instance, death, despite her protestations of daughterly devotion, etc.
I have no idea whether Reagan was cleverer, but I think it’s fair to say that anyone who took 2 degrees at Oxford isn’t slow.
>It’s mentioned here in a Grauniad interview as a quote from Shirley >Williams. Is that provenance good enough?
Was it a degree? My copy of John Campbell, vol.1, is in my office now, so I can’t check, but I’d never heard of this, and while chemists who want to become lawyers do need to get a law qualification of some kind, it wouldn’t have had to be a degree. Williams may be confused because she’s spent too much time in America, where the standard way of becoming a lawyer is to go to a law school for three years to get a JD degree.
What, by the way, is snide about saying that she worked for Lyons “where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream” and that “She was a member of the team that developed the first soft frozen ice cream”? Described like that, that suggests a real contribution to human civilization.
(The rumour that I had heard once, since we’re on the subject of rumour, is that she worked on ways of reducing the food content of ice cream. I’ve no idea whether that’s true, but it’s certainly close to snide.)
So to answer your question directly, Kibi, I reckon that wikipedia doesn’t mention her two degrees, because she didn’t have two degrees, and does mention the financial support provided by a wealthy husband at a crucial stage in her career, because that’s a somewhat significant fact in her biography.
She was part of a team which discovered how to bulk up ice cream by whipping air into it. That did mean the manufacturers (Lyons) could sell less for more. But actually customers preferred the whipped air taste, which is why most of the ice cream sold from vans is whipped.
See the 20th century section of
The brief biography and timeline at the Thatcher Foundation site doesn’t mention her two degrees, either! What a crazy, biased source that must be, just like Wikipedia…
Oh, and yet another note to Kibi: whatever form her legal training took, she didn’t do it in Oxford.
(I think I’m beginning to see, PG, how the myths of Thatcher’s intellectual omnipotence get propagated.)
It’s possible that you’re right – I don’t have any actual biographies so I don’t have anything to go on but internet searches and decades-old memories. I searched a bit more and couldn’t find a source more reputable than la Williams so I’ll concede that Mags was a dullard who merely studied successfully for the bar while pregnant after previously achieving an Oxford degree in Chemistry. How we ever elected someone with such a poor academic record I’ll never know. Thank heavens that polymath John Major came along afterwards to save us.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think she’s an idiot; she just isn’t anything like as clever as many of her admirers believe. I also think that almost any diligent, above-average student could, with good tuition, get an Oxford 2:ii in chemistry.
Well, I didn’t go to Oxford, I slummed it at UMIST & ManU. It’s not a criticism of you Damien but being a highly qualified (PhD? MSc? anyway, something clever in a subject I hadn’t even heard of 10 years ago) scientist who spends a lot of time around other intellec-chools it’s possible you have higher standards than the hoi polloi. Suggesting that “any diligent, above-average student could, with good tuition, get an Oxford 2:2 in chemistry” would get me smacked around a bit if I was to say it to some of my (non-degree-holding) friends.
I am not a historian enough to say whether she was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, but I remember the lights going out in our house in the “winter of disconent” and my parents being pissed off with the Labour government. I remember the miners’ strike and the appalling chaos the likes of Scargill were willing to unleash. Sure Thatcher was nasty – but nasty times bring nasty leaders to the fore, and all the nice things you can say for New Labour (if you can say them) came about because she rewrote the political lexicon of the UK so that rampant insane socialism was no longer acceptable. I only wish we had someone like her here.
Thatcher couldn’t have got a Bishop Desmond as Oxford didn’t divide its second class until many years after she graduated. She just got a plain Second.
From Kibi: “I have no idea whether Reagan was cleverer, but I think it’s fair to say that anyone who took 2 degrees at Oxford isn’t slow.”
Bless you, that brought back amusing memories of Duffers-I-Have-Known.
Lessee. I got a third so that makes her cleverer than me at least.
Ah dear Mrs T – she brought an end to doubt! Everyone was either certain she was perfect or else perfectly evil. I was very close to the latter and found it really difficult when her government did something sensible. I guess lots of people think just as blindly about Tony Blair. It’s curious that, in an increasingly obviously complex world, people nowadays seem so certain of their views. If it wasn’t that I still blame Mrs Thatcher for everything, I’d blame the meejah – especially what you up-to-the-minute chaps apparently refer to as the MSM.
I got a redbrick IIii but it can’t be that I’m thick can it?
Colin’s thought sounded right to me, and a quick google comes up with this from Geoffrey Alderman, writing in the Guardian:
“Even so, Oxford retained fourth class honours – and an undivided second class – until the 1970s.”
But a quick glance at vol. 8 of the official history of the university (on the shelf behind me, comically enough) suggests this isn’t quite right; p.63 tells me that the second-class degree was divided as late as 1986, and p.64 that the fourth made its last appearance in 1967.
So, Geek, you seem to be peddling a myth of your own!
Pootergeek, I’m sure Chris can tell you as well as I can how terrified her colleagues were of Thatcher’s ability to master a brief, her formidable memory etc. and the way she could terrorise them by using them. Are you seriously arguing that she wasn’t bright against the weight of just about everyone who ever encountered her on the basis of her university degree classification in the early 1940s?
But more to the point, she didn’t get a 2:2 because there were no 2:2s in those days – just Seconds. I remember this very same argument about Blair’s degree classification a few months ago. He too got a plain Second.
And please remember that the classification of degree isn’t a foolproof test. I am sure I could have got a First if I’d taken a straight Politics degree, or if I’d concentrated wholly on the PPE degree I am now taking. But I preferred a broader course, and I would rather be spending a good portion of my time getting real experience working for politicians and think tanks than devote three whole years to nothing but the course. I’ll not regret that choice if I end up with a 2:1.
In the days when I worked for a living I was surrounded by a lot of very clever people. Many of them couldn’t be bothered to familiarise themselves with the facts before serious academic discussions even about their own highly specialised fields. I’m sure it’s far worse in government and in Whitehall. That sort of thing isn’t about being smart; it’s about being arsed. No one’s questioning her workrate. I write as a self-confessed plodder.
No. I’m not. And I’ve already said so. Picking up two Firsts at Oxford (especially in joint honours, which is what a Double First should mean) usually requires more than just being “bright”. I was pointing out that she didn’t achieve such a feat. In doing so I made an error of my own—now corrected above, but, as always on PooterGeek, keeping a record of my original mistake.
Thanks for that insight.
I agree, Peter, though not quite with every word: she took her Finals in 1947, I think, which isn’t really the “early 1940s”.
And this is of course a perfect opportunity to point out that my skepticism is informed by my having actually met the woman and talked science with her.
Chris, yes, that’ll be right – she was only born in 1925, and even she can’t have graduated less than twenty years later.
Pootergeek, in what way was she lacking, in her scientific discussion with you? If you aren’t saying she isn’t very bright, what is the point of your post beyond a combination of bizarre priorities and a sort of inverted chip on the shoulder whereby instead of someone saying “She got to be Prime Minister for eleven years six months, winning three elections and launching a counter-revolution without any of your fancy Oxford firsts, lar de da” you’re saying “Yeah, maybe she did all that but she could have got a higher score back at university!”.
BTW, I assumed when you took those photos at Marcus’ bash last month you’d be posting some of them. Is that your intention?
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She was simply slow on the uptake. I was talking to her about something that was nearly as new to me as it was to her, and something that wasn’t complex or subtle. She failed so completely to “get it” that I wasn’t sure if she was actually listening to what I was saying. I pride myself on being pretty good at explaining science.
See my latest post.
She was simply slow on the uptake. I was talking to her about something that was nearly as new to me as it was to her, and something that wasn’t complex or subtle. She failed so completely to “get it” that I wasn’t sure if she was actually listening to what I was saying.
Almost certainly the latter – I’ve heard many similar accounts from a great many people over the years.
My favourite was one from a former director of the V&A (I forget which, but whoever it was must have been in charge during her reign, which narrows it down) giving her an official tour and becoming increasingly exasperated at her total failure to even pretend to be interested – until she came across someone repairing a statue and asked him what kind of glue he was using.
“but I remember the lights going out in our house in the “winter of disconent”
No you don’t. It is possible that you recall the three day week (Tory government) or the power workers or miners disputes (Tory governments) but, although there was much wrong with the Labour administration that Thatch replaced, turning the lights off did not feature. It isn’t any wonder that history gets amended so easily.
although there was much wrong with the Labour administration that Thatch replaced, turning the lights off did not feature.
Well, the lights might have gone out incidentally during 1978-79 – or possibly it was a trick of the light caused by the vast piles of unburied corpses mounting up outside people’s homes. Now those I remember vividly.
Please don’t tell me what I remember, or that I am rewriting history. I have no idea if it was an “official” strike (I was 10) but the lights went out and my folks were pissed off.
[…] Further to my controversial (and originally wrong) post about Thatcher’s educational history, Chris Brooke notes that the current Conservative Shadow Cabinet has a lot of susstificates—albeit it ones in subjects in the humanities. […]