How Real Should a PM Be? Writing Fiction about British Politics Involves a Difficult Decision - Can You Plausibly Change the Name of the Prime Minister? since the Days of Margaret Thatcher, Maybe Not

The Evening Standard (London, England), April 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

How Real Should a PM Be? Writing Fiction about British Politics Involves a Difficult Decision - Can You Plausibly Change the Name of the Prime Minister? since the Days of Margaret Thatcher, Maybe Not


Byline: MARK LAWSON

AT MY secondary school in Hertfordshire, our head teacher had the practice of reading the news headlines over a classroom Tannoy system at lunchtime. This was unusual but useful to an aspiring journalist.

But, on the morning of 16 March 1976, he cut into an English lesson with a newsflash: the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, had suddenly resigned.

I remember the building filling with cheers and stamped feet (most boys had adopted their parents' Tory politics) but also immediately thinking that this couldn't be a simple retirement. It was a Catholic school and a picture of the faith's only American president, John F Kennedy, hung on the wall next to one of Pope Paul VIs. So perhaps the ghost of Kennedy conspiracy theories influenced my reaction to the only example in modern politics of a leader leaving office with apparent willing.

Over the past 30 years, new details and theories about Wilson's end have emerged in numerous books, ranging from the autobiography of Roy Jenkins through the diaries of Tony Benn and Barbara Castle to the notorious Spycatcher by Peter Wright. I've tried to draw them together into one coherent story of Wilson's jump or push in a novel called Enough is Enough.

Both that phrase and the subtitle - The Emergency Government - were codewords in one of the many plots to force Wilson out of office during the Sixties and Seventies.

At first, I thought of writing the story as a roman c clef: perhaps Wilson could be "Henry Worthington", the name Peter Wright claims he was given in his MI5 file. This, though, would make the story seem more fictional than it is. Deciding to use names from real party-membership cards and security passes throughout the book, I came to the conclusion that the central problem in fiction about politics is the baptism of the characters.

Frederick Forsyth's 1979 thriller, The Devil's Alternative, marked a turning point in Westminster fiction.

The American president, William Matthews, is a pretty standard fictional leader, described as a very tall former governor from a Southern state, presumably to distance him from the rather short ex-Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, who was running America at the time. But, when Forsyth's invented president encountersthe British premier, it's clear from the moment the PM is addressed as "Ma'am", that Margaret Thatcher is in charge.

Among her other impacts, Mrs Thatcher gave a problem to the political novel.

Previously, Number 10 was generally occupied in books by pseudonymous amalgams of contemporary politicians, such as "Vincent Telfer" in Maurice Edelman's The Minister (1961).

But for more than a decade after 1979, any story in which Britain was run by a man advertised itself not merely as fiction, but a kind of science fiction.

And, if the leader were a fictional woman ("Mary Roofer"), she would inevitably be taken by readers as the only real-life model of a female PM. So Forsyth, in his Eighties thrillers, came to the sensible solution that she must appear as herself.

Many subsequent novelists agreed: most notably Alan Hollinghurst, in the Man Booker-winning The Line of Beauty (2004). There was a reverse during the Major years, which were anonymous enough to be presented pseudonymously (most memorably by "Francis Urquhart" in Michael Dobbs's House of Cards trilogy). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

How Real Should a PM Be? Writing Fiction about British Politics Involves a Difficult Decision - Can You Plausibly Change the Name of the Prime Minister? since the Days of Margaret Thatcher, Maybe Not
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.