Maggie Buys the Farm


Steve Bell's Thatcher

THE PASSING OF MARGARET THATCHER has ignited an explosion of obituary cartoons by a world of appreciative cartoonists - many of whom enjoyed ridiculing her in the 1980's; the decade of her prime.

Love or hate her politics (cartoonists tend towards the left and so were more inclined to the latter), "Maggie's" iconic style and powerful disposition brought inspiration to cartoonists the world over.

Indeed, she inspired an industry of satire in the form of theatrical plays, films, TV shows, paintings, songs and cartoons. BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz asks "Has any other post-war politician provoked so much artistic output?"

Author and satirist John O'Farrell notes that ""the arrival of Margaret Thatcher was the cue for the rise of political cabaret, Not the Nine O'clock News and Spitting Image”.

And when the Soviet news agency TASS coined the term 'Iron Lady' (not realising then that she would outlast the Iron Curtain that they owed their existence to), cartoonists and satirists swooned at the gifted metaphor. [read on]

 Thatcher & Blair [by Bell]Legendary British cartoonists Gerald Scarfe and Steve Bell established their credentials in their scathing attacks on the Iron Lady, as their objections to her policies fuelled some of their best work. It was Bell who discovered her crazy eye, and showed us that when Tony Blair eventually ended the Conservative Party's reign, he not only inherited and kept many of the hallmarks of Thatcherism, but with them, he adopted the crazy eye. 

Thatcher's union bashing (which extended to bashing the European Union as well), her Falklands adventure, her special relationship with American President Ronald Reagan and their resolve to destroy the USSR communist block, her restructuring of Britain's economy and iron grip on it's government - and then her dramatic demise at the hand of her own party, were all duly recorded by the world's cartoonists, many of them pushing the limits of their trade to express their distaste for her policies.

Interestingly, her perceived support of South Africa's apartheid government received more condemnation from cartoonists outside of the country than from those within, where almost every newspaper cartoonist agreed with their publication's stance against sanctions. Nanda Soobben was the only 'black' cartoonist working a mainstream paper in 1989, and the following cartoon of his tends to agree with her claim (currently being touted by her many supporters) that Thatcher strongly advocated for Mandela's release - and even suggests her support for his installation as national leader. Soobben now doubts whether she'd have said such a thing.

Maggie and Pik Botha [by Soobben]

Back in England, Steve Bell and his colleagues had a full go at Thatcher's South Africa policy. This cartoon, marking the ocasion of the ANC's victory in South Africa's first democratic election, reminds the Iron Lady of her (now refuted) claim that it would never happen.

by Steve Bell


What many people don't know, is that Margaret Thatcher - despite her iron clad conservatism and steely resolve, was a great fan of editorial cartoons. "Cartoons are very funny", she said; "And I think cartoonists are marvellous".

Her speeches, interviews and writing throughout her political career were dotted with references to cartoons by Low, Cummings (perhaps her favourite) and others, which she employed to illustrate her point. And she kept a private collection of original cartoons that she treasured.

This might come as a surprise to some, since the Iron Lady was not known for her sense of humour. Even her long term personal assistant, Cynthia Crawford admits; "Her sense of humour was very, very dry. In fact, so dry you could miss it". She goes on to explain that Thatcher's was a very serious world.

The Times' Ben Macintyre tells of the time at her last party conference as leader, when an adviser encouraged her to mention Monty Python's "dead parrot" sketch in her speech in mockery of the Liberal Democrats' bird logo. "Mrs Thatcher was shown the parrot sketch, repeatedly, until she could mimic John Cleese perfectly," writes Macintyre. “'It is an ex-parrot, it has ceased to be ... ' She never smiled and was still dubious. 'Monty Python?' she finally demanded, 'Is he one of us?’

Perhaps her appreciation could be explained by her admiration for the Gilbert half of Gilbert & Sullivan. She loved his  acute sense of political satire, she said: "He turned the House of Lords into fairies", speculating how a fellow parliamentarian might look with wings. It was not necessarily the humour, but the wit in cartooning that she admired.


Early on in her career she remarked on how cartoonists had taken to a particular hat she once wore; "I think that's sweet I only wore that hat once, the cartoonists have never forgotten it. It looks like a bullseye".

Her foundation's website notes with disapproval that at one protest, demonstrators carried banners with "cartoons of Mrs Thatcher—complete with varicose veins drawn on her legs— and shouted: "Maggie Out." She would later be lampooned far more scathingly than that - puckered up as a Labourite turkey's backside for example!

When asked about how she felt by all the ridicule, she admitted a sensitivity when people said hurtful things about her, telling one interviewer that "satire is cruel, satire and caricature are cruel because they take what they see as a characteristic and then they extend it and therefore it can give a false [impression] ... but satire again is part of life, it is part of theatre".

On another occasion she absolved satirists (above opponents, reporters and other critics) of any blame: "I don't mind people taking me off, I think it's rather funny...some of the lines are very very good, they're very apt. They're very sharp, comedians, so are cartoonists in the press. I often think the cartoonists have a very difficult job because, you know, by about one o'clock they've had to look at the news and think, now what am I going to make of the news today? And they put a whole message into a cartoon, and I just think they are very very bright, and very able and very talented".


Margaret Thatcher was a committed advocate of a free press, saying that "freedom would not last unless we have freedom of the press", and she warned "never (to) let government interfere with the press; you would lose everything you hold most dear".

Speaking to the Finchley Conservatives in 1990, Thatcher was "reminded of a cartoon when I came back from the last summit meeting in Rome. It was a cartoon of eleven men going one way round an athletics track. And me going the other. [laughter] What the cartoonist didn't know was that he had got the eleven going the wrong way round [loud laughter and applause] ... and me going the right way".

In her 1980 address at the British Press Awards (where she presented Jon Pilger with an award for his coverage of the war in Cambodia), Thatcher made an appeal for the next year's awards to recognize the work of the cartoonist.

The cartoon, she said, was "the most concentrated and cogent form of comment and just about the most skilled and the most memorable, giving the picture of events that remained most in the mind".

Margaret Thatcher will be missed. Not least of all by cartoonists, both left and right, who appreciated her as a subject as much as she appreciated their medium. But she'll be remembered by future generations, thanks in part to the great cartoon legacy she has left behind.
Maggie in Heaven [by Dr Jack & Curtis]

[Story by JOHN CURTIS, Publisher & editor,]



LISTEN AS 'THE WORLD'S' Carol Hills talks about the Iron Lady's obituary cartoons... while enjoying more cartoons via the links (which will open in fresh windows) below.

SEE AFRICARTOONS' COLLECTION of Margaret Thatcher cartoons (and please revisit for new additions).

STEVE BELL'S website is packed with over 1000 Maggie toons!

THE WORLD'S slide show of Margaret Thatcher's obituary cartoons.

CAGLE.COM'S Margaret Thatcher obituary cartoons.



Posted on Apr 13, 2013 by Africartoons Bookmark and Share