I don’t mean the kitchen of the real Margaret Thatcher, of course, but the kitchen that appears at the end of For Your Eyes Only (1981). In this hilarious/cringeworthy scene (delete as appropriate), the then prime minister, played by Janet Brown, wishing to personally thank James Bond (Roger Moore) for his services, is put through to the superspy, only to end up speaking to Max the parrot.
We see Mrs Thatcher in her kitchen in the course of preparing some meal and preventing her husband (John Wells) from pinching a sprout. What else do we see in the kitchen, and how representative was it of Margaret Thatcher’s actual kitchen?
In what would have been quite a typical British kitchen, there is a toaster, scales, a rolling pin, a blender, storage jars of sugar and (?)coffee and some pots and pans. We see, also on the worktop, a loaf of bread that’s been sliced, a colander of the aforementioned sprouts, a dish of something reddish-brown (tomatoes or cocktail sausages?) and a bowl of eggs. The cupboard behind Mrs Thatcher as she speaks on the phone contains boxes of cereal – All-Bran and Alpen, as well as a range of larder items – flour, perhaps, and various tins and jars.
Judging by what we know about Margaret Thatcher’s culinary habits, this recreation of the prime minister’s kitchen is spot-on in some respects and inaccurate in others. Keen to cultivate her image as the housewife’s champion, Mrs Thatcher was photographed in the kitchen on several occasions. In one photo, she is at her stove, pouring gravy into a measuring jug. A bowl of eggs, just like the one in the film, can be seen in the background. In another photograph, she is at the sink, draining something through a colander.
As for diet, papers from Margaret Thatcher’s archive released in 2018 suggest that she didn’t go for cereals at breakfast. Instead, she unvaryingly had grapefruit and one or two eggs, sometimes having the grapefruit and eggs for lunch as well. Even if she didn’t have grapefruit for lunch, she’d almost always have a couple of eggs. No wonder there was a bowl of eggs in one of the photos. (She could even out-egg James Bond.) Lunch would also include tomatoes or spinach, while dinner might be a steak, fish or eggs (again), accompanied by salad items. Sunday was a real treat, with hot chicken for lunch and cold chicken for dinner.
Margaret Thatcher, a highly divisive figure, was also known for creating curious dishes that also divided opinion, involving as they did ingredients that should by law never ever be paired (well, it was the seventies, when such experimentation was commonplace). One of them was called ‘mystery starter‘ and was made from beef consommé, cream cheese and curry powder.
Just as we see the contents of the pretend Margaret Thatcher’s cupboard in For Your Eyes Only, there is a photograph of the real thing. This shows a stack of items, among them tins of Heinz baked beans, salmon, peaches in syrup, corned beef and gooseberries (she was apparently quite fond of gooseberry soufflé). The cynic in me would suggest that the photograph was very stage-managed, with products carefully chosen and arranged to promote British manufacturers and create a down-to-earth image, but I have to say such items were pretty standard in kitchens in British households in the 1970s and ’80s (tinned peaches and evaporated milk for me were a regular dessert item).
I wonder if the set-dressers and designers on the crew of For Your Eyes Only had seen some of these images. The set we see on screen does not seem to be very far from reality, even if it erred somewhat on the breakfast items.