“Nice to have you back where you belong..”

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visits Arnold School, Blackpool, in February 1983 and returned for the Conservative conference in October that year, during which she celebrated her 58th birthday
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visits Arnold School, Blackpool, in February 1983 and returned for the Conservative conference in October that year, during which she celebrated her 58th birthday
0
Have your say

The funeral on Wednesday of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has seen local historian and former teacher Kenneth Shenton remembering when Hello Dolly became Hello Maggie.

Looking through his scrapbook, Kenneth shares two photographs taken 30 years ago, when Mrs Thatcher was the principal guest of honour at Arnold School, South Shore. He also recalls one of the Fylde’s most popular MPs.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visits Arnold School, Blackpool, in February 1983 and returned for the Conservative conference in October that year, during which she celebrated her 58th birthday

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visits Arnold School, Blackpool, in February 1983 and returned for the Conservative conference in October that year, during which she celebrated her 58th birthday

Kenneth says: “It was a social occasion organised by the North West Area Conservative Association in February, 1983.”

One photograph is of the Prime Minister with the school band, who had heralded her arrival into the Memorial Hall with a stirring rendition of Hello Dolly, suitably abridged to Hello Maggie.

The second photograph is of the-then Headmaster, Richard Rhodes and his wife Stephanie, welcoming Mrs Thatcher and her husband Dennis to the school.

Kenneth says: “Looking on is the chairman of the governing council, Keith Gledhill and his wife Margaret. In the background with the moustache is the popular Conservative MP for North Fylde, Sir Walter Clegg.

Margaret Thatcher at the Imperial Hotel on her birthday on October 13, 1983, one of two visits she made to Blackpool that year - the other being Arnold School

Margaret Thatcher at the Imperial Hotel on her birthday on October 13, 1983, one of two visits she made to Blackpool that year - the other being Arnold School

“Born in Bury in 1920, the grandson of a Lancashire weaver, Sir Walter was educated at Arnold School, later studying at Manchester University Law School. Articled to the Town Clerk of Barrow-in-Furness, having qualified as a solicitor in 1947, he later became a partner in the firm of Ingham, Clegg and Crowther, based in Fleetwood. During the Second World War, he served with the Royal Artillery.

Kenneth says: “In 1955 he was elected to Lancashire County Council, unsuccessfully contesting Ince in the 1959 General Election. As chairman of the North Fylde Conservative Association, in 1966, he beat off a strong challenge from Nigel Lawson to be adopted as the parliamentary candidate for the North Fylde Constituency. He was subsequently elected to the Commons later that year.

“Initially serving in the Whips’ Office, he became successively Vice Chamberlain and Comptroller in Her Majesty’s Household. In 1975, elected to the executive of the influential 1922 Committee, he became its Treasurer the following year. Sadly, heart problems prevented him becoming Government Chief Whip.”

Kenneth says: “Sir Walter had met his wife Elise, when she was working as a reporter on The Gazette. Assigned to cover the proceedings at the local Magistrate’s Court, there Clegg was defending a client.

“In true romantic style, he not only won the case but the girl as well. The couple were married for 42 years.”

Kenneth says: “Like Margaret Thatcher, Sir Walter also narrowly escaped death in the IRA’s bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984. His bedroom was immediately above the explosion, and he was badly cut around the face. Characteristically, he insisted that help should first be concentrated on those who had been more seriously injured.”

Knighted in 1980, Sir Walter retired from Parliament in 1987 and died in 1994.

Meanwhile, retired Blackpool hoteliers knows that, just like the old saying, you cannot have your cake and eat it!

He recalls that the line rang so true for Margaret Thatcher when, stepping out of a Blackpool hotel lift, she was surprised to be presented with a splendid birthday cake - a gift from the hotel staff - which she gave away.

It was in the days when the major political conferences still chose Blackpool as a venue on alternate years and the resort’s top hotel, The Imperial, was by tradition the conference HQ.

John Herdman, general manager at that North Promenade hotel from 1980 to 1991, says: “The cake was made by our head chef Louis Robert and decorated with the message ‘Happy Birthday Margaret’ for her 58th birthday on October 13, 1983. It was a big surprise for her and we greeted her with the cake and a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ as she stepped out of the lift. She was thrilled that somebody had taken the trouble and asked if we could take it up to Victoria Hospital to be shared around.”

Mr Herdman, who will be 84 on April 25, says: “Conference season was always a colourful time with so many big names of the day coming and going. People might assume that Mrs Thatcher received extra special treatment from the Imperial, but we always prided ourselves on treating everybody with the same respect as a guest of ours, no matter whether they were staying in one of the suites or taking a break on a tighter budget.

“We never lost sight of the fact that they had chosen to stay at the Imperial in the first place.”

As for Mrs Thatcher, John says: “She was the perfect kind of guest, with impeccable manners, who was never demanding on the staff.”

Follow us on twitter @The_Gazette and like our page on facebook to keep up with all the latest news.