Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hilary Mantel attacks critics over BBC’s Margaret Thatcher story broadcast

Hilary Mantel, left, has hit back at critics over the BBC’s decision to broadcast her story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: PA

Hilary Mantel attacks critics over BBC’s Margaret Thatcher story broadcast

Exclusive: Author makes spirited response to Mail on Sunday after corporation decides to air The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher on Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime

Caroline Davies
Sunday 14 December 2014 20.47 GMT

Man Booker prize-winning author Hilary Mantel delivered a spirited attack on her critics after the BBC was condemned over plans to broadcast her “mischievous” short story on the imagined assassination of Margaret Thatcher.
Outraged Tory grandees had clamoured to denounce the announcement that the Wolf Hall author’s “twisted” fantasy, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, would feature in the coveted Book at Bedtime slot on Radio 4 in an article that appeared in the Mail on Sunday.
In a robust response, Mantel, who has twice won the Man Booker prize, claimed her work had been hijacked by BBC bashers. “I recognise that this latest nonsense from the Mail [on Sunday] is not about me or my work; it’s a skirmish in a war with the BBC,” she told the Guardian.

The BBC might have anticipated a brouhaha. There was vociferous criticism from Thatcher’s friends and supporters when the Guardian first published The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983, in September. The story imagines the killing of the prime minister in London by an IRA sniper, who uses the narrator’s window as a vantage point. It is set four years after Thatcher assumed office in 1979 – a few months before the real-life Brighton bombing that came close to ending her life.

Revealing the BBC’s decision, the Mail on Sunday condemned the work as an“insignificant catchpenny squib” and wondered if the corporation’s “massive bias to the left”, was responsible for it having been chosen for the prestigious slot.
Mantel responded: “A couple of days back I spoke in praise and support of the TV adaptation of Wolf Hall, which the BBC will show next year. Possibly this has triggered the bout of froth and bile.

“I do wonder about the journalists involved. The paper doesn’t write itself,” she said. “Sooner or later, surely, they must start to feel ashamed of their paper’s attempt to bully and censor?”
Both former cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, and Lord Bell, former adviser and friend to Thatcher, criticised the BBC decision in the Mail on Sunday , with Tebbit telling the paper: “It’s a sick book from a sick mind and it’s being promoted by a sick broadcasting corporation”. Bell added the BBC is “inevitably going to be accused of political bias”.
Mantel added: “As for ex-politicians who have weighed in: the same tetchy commentators who made fools of themselves when my stories were first published have been persuaded to do it again. You’d think they’d learn. I was bemused when Lord Bell suggested the police should interest themselves in the case of a fictional assassination of a person who was already dead. I wouldn’t like to be the lawyer who had to frame the charges.
“I am delighted the BBC has decided to broadcast a selection of stories from the book. My title story has the form of a debate. It demonstrates how very easily history could have worked out in a different way.
“There is no need for me or any writer to justify or explain herself to people who have no interest in fiction except when it feeds their dim sense of being injured in some way.
“The story speaks for itself, and I stand behind it.”
The Guardian published the story after the Daily Telegraph refused to for fear of offending its readers, even after the paper had paid a substantial sum to secure the exclusive rights.
At the time, Mantel explained her story was an examination of why Thatcher “aroused such visceral passion in so many people”. The author was criticised last year in similar sections of the press for describing the Duchess of Cambridge as a “plastic princess born to breed” in a lecture on “Royal Bodies”.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Book at Bedtime offers the best of modern and classic literature and, in doing so, presents a wide range of perspectives from around the world. The work of Hilary Mantel – a double Booker prize-winning author – is of significant interest to the public and we will not shy away from the controversial subject matter that features in one of the four stories read across the week.”

The station’s commissioning editor, Caroline Raphael, pointed out in a blogpost that Charles Moore’s official biography of Margaret Thatcher was Book of the Week on Radio 4 when it was published last year.

Raphael wrote: “We believe our audience is sophisticated enough to accept a broad range of viewpoints, and we are loth to censor or avoid significant works of literature because they might be controversial.”
BBC Radio 4 Publicity said online: “In Hilary Mantel’s mischievous story, a knock at the door announces an unexpected visitor who has plans to alter the course of history as people know it.
“The stories selected from Mantel’s collection The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher are dark and sharply observed.

“From the middle-class woman with powerful feelings about a former prime minister to the woman trapped in her apartment in Jeddah to the two young girls who during the heat of the summer holidays venture into forbidden territory, … each of the stories deals with psychological unease, and at the same time is wickedly witty.”

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