Margaret Thatcher on Good Morning Summer – Caroline Officer

Margaret Thatcher produced two autobiographies, ‘The Downing St Years’ and ‘The Path to Power’; it was this second book that brought her to Pebble Mill in June 1995 to be interviewed by Sarah Greene and Will Hanrahan round the kitchen table on Good Morning Summer. I booked her and had the responsibility of researching her and looking after her on the day.

Beforehand, the building had to be checked by plain clothes detectives and sniffer dogs because the IRA was still deemed a risk to her. We couldn’t give her a dressing room near the crush bar or in the basement, so we had to locate her in a room adjacent to the radio complex, which was re-decorated and dressed accordingly with oil paintings and sofas from the props store in Selly Oak, thanks to Julie Knee.

You didn’t mind when some guests arrived early, but she arrived at 9.30am, hair perfectly coiffured and in full make up, she required no time in hair and make-up. The thought of making small talk with Margaret Thatcher was daunting, particularly when your political views were diametrically opposite, but I somehow managed to get through the next two hours, at one point physically holding her back behind the doors in the radio complex, with her handbag on her elbow ready to go on, because she just wanted to get on with it.

The thing I will always remember was Sue Robinson, who was directing that day, calling down to say that I should warn her about the loud intro to the music number that followed directly after her interview. We had the Tribute to the Blues Brothers on and they were playing ‘Everybody Needs Somebody’ with a huge brass section and Sue couldn’t move her out of the interview area before they started. I began to explain the situation and then the film and then the type of music and then a list of the legends of soul who appeared in the film and I knew she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

I’ve actually found the 1995 interview on YouTube – here’s the link

Caroline Officer

Caroline Officer











The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Jane Mclean: ‘I did Good Morning Summer and don’t remember Her Maj being on! Hysterical you looking after her and Sue directing!! Got through half of it then found myself thinking of all the spoof Maggies. Don’t believe you found it on You Tube. Think you have your own copy….’

Sue Robinson: ‘I have NO memory of this! I obviously decided to erase it from my memory in case it gave me nightmares!’

Jean Thomas: ‘On her visit there was a request over the tannoy for a welcoming commitee in the foyer. I was somehow at the front thanx to the guys from the 7th floor. She had fierce looking security guys who came in first who stood in the front staring at us. You guessed she came in and headed straight for me. Cameras popping everyone watching, I wanted to dissapear. She was lovely………’

Caroline Officer: ‘Sue Robbo, you can’t remember this one?? And Jane, yes I probably do have a copy but I stupidly dumped all my Pebble Mill stuff on to a D3 tape before I scarpered to Ready Steady Cook.’

Andy Bentley: ‘I was on the roof during the visit with Police Marksmen so they could view the whole area.’

Raymond Lee: ‘Don’t remember the Good Morning visit, but do remember her at Pebble Mill during the Pebble Mill at One era. Sadly I can’t remember what year, but likely to be late seventies, or early eighties. She came with Dennis, and I remember them both being in the production gallery at one point in proceedings. It’s likely that it was before she had engendered much of a reputation.’

Sarah Dunning: ‘I can remember her visiting pebble mill, as when she was walking around the bottom quadrangle corridor we were weren’t allowed anywhere near her by the security guards incase anybody did anything untoward!!’

Tales from the Archive – Princess Anne prefers Coca Cola!

Princess Anne touring the Pebble Mill studios

Princess Anne touring the Pebble Mill studios














Copyright of the photo resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission. 

I had a trip down to the BBC Archives at Caversham on Thursday to get more of an insight into the history of Pebble Mill.

If you haven’t been to the BBC Archives, it’s a fascinating experience. You make contact by email, and you are assigned a researcher, who then gets back to you confirming whether or not they have files for you to search through. You then arrange a day when there is a spare desk, and go down to have a look through the files. All the information you’ve requested is on a trolley waiting for you.

The files themselves are pink card folders, carefully catalogued with a reference number and dates. The files I’d asked for were mainly full of memos, often from the Controller of the Midland Region, to other BBC Staff, including the Director General. Each file had been certified by my researcher as suitable for me to look through, i.e. not containing any very sensitive or confidential material. I suspect that the vast majority of the memos hadn’t been read since they were filed away!

One file I came across was all about the Opening Ceremony of Pebble Mill in 1971. There were some fascinating insights into the politics of the occasion. ATV had secured Princess Alexandra to open their Birmingham television centre, and Pebble Mill did not want to be upstaged! There were discussions with the Director General about whether to ask Prince Charles or Princess Anne. It was felt that a Royal from the younger generation was more appropriate for a forward looking broadcasting centre. Princess Anne was agreed upon, and then there was a strategy of how and when to make the approach. Letters flew backwards and forwards to Buckingham Palace, and, after the original date was rearranged to avoid the Princess’s holiday in Scotland, the 10th November 1971 was confirmed.

The timetable and itinerary for the visit were also interesting. The Princess was to arrive at midday in a Wessex helicopter and land at the Police Training Centre across the Pershore Road. A BBC car would then take her over to Pebble Mill, whilst the Royal car carried her Personal Standard. The Personal Standard would be raised up the flagpole on arrival. A bouquet was to be given to the Princess by the eight year old daughter of the Controller of the English Regions, Patrick Beech, following which the Princess would unveil the plaque in the foyer, which read:

“This Broadcasting Centre was opened by Her Royal
Highness the Princess Anne on 10th November, 1971.”

Lunch for 150 guests was to follow at 12.45, after which there was a tour of both the television and radio studios. A highlight of the tour was to be the presentation of a gold-minted Archers’ medallion to commemorate 21 years of the drama! Signing the Visitors’ Book was to end the visit, with Princess Anne’s helicopter departing at 14.50.

I also found a memo about the menu for lunch, the food was to consist of:

Melon with Parma ham,
Steak chasseur,
French beans,
Parmentier potatoes,
Norwegian Cream,
Cheese and coffee.

A rather inferior buffet lunch was available for members of the Press, with a special roast turkey dinner being laid on for staff in the restaurant. Members of staff had to fill out a form, requesting the lunch, and they were then issued with a special ticket.

lunch ticket from Gail Herbert

lunch ticket from Gail Herbert














There was also a note about protocol on the day, about how to address the Princess, that she doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t want to be offered cigarettes, and about the fact that she would drink wine only when a toast was involved, and that otherwise she would like a soft drink, preferably Coca Cola! When people were to be presented to her, husbands would go first and shake hands, followed by wives, and ladies must always curtsey!

Vanessa Jackson

The following comments were added on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Stuart Gandy: ‘It was great positive time for Birmingham to get this great new broadcasting centre, and it became so well known thanks to PM @1, nationally too. sadly, it’s a very different story today.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘A fascinating piece of research, well done Vanessa. how far away it all seems now when the Mill was all sparkling new and clean and full of enterprising management and teams ready to make the place famous. As Stuart says what a different story for Birmingham today.’

Jean Thomas: ‘Yes I remember the day very well. Remember Prince Charles, Diana, Margaret Thatcher visiting also. John Smith the new Labour leader a lovely man, he passed away not long after his visit. Those occasions will always stand out to me.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘Re the Margaret Thatcher visit I remember ending my shift at about 4pm when she was in the building and being unable to get out of the front doors and guided by Security all the way round to the back followed by men in suits until I exited the North road. Overhead a sombre looking aeroplane was circling round and round on ‘secret security duty’ apparently according to a bobby on patrol.’

Jean Thomas: ‘I didn’t notice the plane. But special branch with their guns in the roof. I was at the front when she came in. You’ve guessed she headed straight for me. Cameras popping all over the place. I just wanted to disappear…’.