The fit news the NY Times did not print

Here's my contribution to the Jubilee. In the summer or early autumn of 1986 I was commissioned by the NY Times - Magazine, I think I remember - to write a piece on the queen and her then prime minister, who was Margaret Thatcher. There had been some trivial business about the two of them wearing the same dress, and this led to a piece in the (British) Sunday Times saying there was some tension between the two 60 year-olds. The tiff has been dredged up for the Jubilee and you can read a summary of it at



On making enquiries among friends, I discovered that there was some truth in the story that the queen had a down on Mrs T, and that the Iron Lady was miffed herself. My sources were impeccable. One of them was a cabinet minister, the Rt. Hon. John Biffen (who later became Lord Biffen and a personal friend, though I did not know him then). John Biffen was only the highest-placed of the several sources I had for the story that the queen and the PM were not seeing eye-to-eye over foreign policy.

         The crux of the matter was economic sanctions on the South African government. The Commonwealth, which represented what was left of the British Empire, was pressing hard for the UK to put in place sanctions against the South African apartheid regime. The queen, I was told, felt strongly that Britain should not only back the Commonwealth nations in this, but even give the lead.  Maggie didn't give a toss about the Commonwealth.

         Here she came up against the hard face of the monarchy: it is my Commonwealth, said the queen. We shall do what is required. And she meant it.

         I duly wrote this up for the NY Times, and explained the significance of what was nothing less than a constitutional clash. Moreover, I think I remember that I was even allowed to identify some of my sources. It was a dynamite story.

         But it was not published - "spiked" as we used to say. The reason: one of the NY Times editors had a flat in London, where he often stayed. He swanked about his inside knowledge of Britain and British politics, and this just didn't strike a chord with him. He couldn't see an argument over the Commonwealth as being even mildly interesting, let alone of sovereign-shaking importance. That it was true, a scoop for the NY Times and the first-ever indication of the queen having a controversial opinion about anything not to do with race horses just didn't float his boat. So I was paid a $300 kill-fee instead of the $3,000 contract-fee. And readers of the NY Times missed out on this story, not because it wasn't fit to print, but because it didn't fit an editor's prejudices.

May 28, 2012 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)

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This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on May 28, 2012 4:27 PM.

Should the Press preview the play? was the previous entry in this blog.

Morons on TV: the BBC and the Jubilee is the next entry in this blog.

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