Margaret Thatcher’s photographer recalls time at Number 10

JPCT 03-01-13 S13010195X John Jochimsen exhibition at Horsham Museum -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 03-01-13 S13010195X John Jochimsen exhibition at Horsham Museum -photo by Steve Cobb

A retired photojournalist from Southwater has shared fond memories of photographing Margaret Thatcher while she was Prime Minister.

John Jochimsen, who has also photographed The Queen and other Prime Ministers including James Callaghan, described Baroness Thatcher as a ‘marvellous woman’, and comparing her with other leaders before her was like comparing ‘chalk and cheese’,

Horsham photojournalist John Jochimsen's photograph of Margaret and Denis Thatcher outside Number 10 Downing Street for their Christmas card

Horsham photojournalist John Jochimsen's photograph of Margaret and Denis Thatcher outside Number 10 Downing Street for their Christmas card

He said: “I had done quite a lot of work for Number 10 so I was not in awe of Number 10, but she either liked you or she didn’t.

“I wouldn’t say she was great pals with me, but she could stand me. She used to called me John.

“You had to be careful about what you said.”

A member of the National Union of Journalists, John knew what it was like to be a unionist on her watch, but he admired her.

“I liked her. You could get on with her if she could stand you. I think she was a marvellous woman who did a hell of a lot for the country.

“If you were tied up with the unions, yes, she did stop the unions, but we were having strikes everyday before. She stopped that.

“She brought in poll tax, but also saved an awful lot of companies from going under.

“You did get to know her a little bit more about her than people watching her on the TV. She was one hell of a risk taker - look at the Falklands. She pulled it off and it worked.

“She was a bit Churchillian. I think we’ve had two great leaders - one is Churchill and Maggie Thatcher is the other.”

He remembers the time when he took a picture of her and husband Denis outside the famous Number 10 black door for their Christmas card (pictured).

In his book ‘80 Years Gone in a Flash’, he says ‘I was beginning to wonder who was taking the picture, the Prime Minister or the photographer’.

He explains: “She wanted the whole of Number 10 with flags up with her and Denis on the doorstep.

“I explained they would look like two peas in a pod and in the end we had this picture of the two of them with a couple of windows either side.”

This amusing extract from his book paints the picture of his experience with her that day:

“She basically wanted to show the whole of the front of Number 10 with the flags on top, with the two of them standing on the step. Everyone knows that the houses in Downing Street are high, with very little room to get back far enough, especially to get the flags in shot as well.

“Besides that, I had told Mrs Thatcher at the time that she and her husband would look like two small peas outside a large pod. She wouldn’t be put off – she wanted the flags as well as Number 10 head on. So, I went back, under the arch to the Foreign Office, to get as far away from the building as I could. I could get the full height of the house with the arch making a frame for the picture, but still couldn’t get the flags; all I could see was halfway up the poles. I was using a sixty millimetre wide angle on a five-by-four camera in the upright position, one of the widest lenses for that format. Also, as this was an architectural shot, I couldn’t tilt the camera, because the uprights would start to converge, and I couldn’t use the rising front, as it would show only more of the arch at the top. By this time Mrs Thatcher was looking in the ground-glass screen at the back of the camera, aware of my problem but not giving in.

“I suggested the flags be lowered to half-mast, for then I could just get them in, but she wouldn’t hear of that. By this time I was beginning to wonder who was taking the picture, the Prime Minister or the photographer, as she kept eyeing it through the ground glass. Eventually there had to be a compromise, so I did the shot without the flags but with the two of them looking like very tiny people. Once again I said to them it would be better for me to come in closer and just do a shot of the two standing at the door. But Mrs Thatcher would not have that, the shot had to be bigger, taking in more to left and right of that famous black portal.

“Eventually, that was the shot she picked, and COI, who had organised the assignment, got a lovely letter from her secretary in which she thanked me for taking the time with the final shots. I have the card as a memento of that day, unfortunately not signed.”

This extract is taken from “80 Years Gone in a Flash - The Memoirs of a Photojournalist” available from bookshops priced at £12.99