Michael Winner persuaded Margaret Thatcher to unveil a memorial for a victim of terror against the wishes of her advisers, confidential papers released this week by the National Archives have revealed.
The Jewish film director wrote to the then Prime Minister’s office several times in late 1984 requesting that she unveil the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, the policewoman murdered outside the Libyan embassy the previous April.
Mr Winner had helped establish the Police Memorial Trust to honour her and other fallen policemen and women.
The Death Wish director, who died in 2013, was initially fobbed off by Mrs Thatcher’s private secretary David Barclay, prompting him to write back that he had “read into this a preparation for a turning down” and that he would be “deeply disappointed if this was the case”.
Undeterred, he recruited a trustee of the Police Memorial Trust to make his case; a letter to Mr Barclay pointed out the director’s prominence — “it occurs to me that you may not know of Mr Winner” — and emphasised his regular support for the Conservatives on the BBC’s radio discussion show Any Questions.
Still without an answer six weeks later, Mr Winner wrote again, warning: “We are continually being deluged by the press asking why this memorial is not going up, and I am at a loss for words to explain the delay.”
The police and then Home Secretary Leon Brittan raised concerns about Mrs Thatcher’s appearance at the unveiling, citing security fears about the IRA and the Libyans. But after Mr Winner’s request was brought to her attention, she opted to attend. In a handwritten note she commented: “In view of the pressures on the police I should not refuse to unveil it.”
The memorial was eventually unveiled in St James Square on February 1 1985 in the presence of Mrs Thatcher and representatives of all the main political parties.
Mr Winner’s persistence did not stop at the Prime Minister. A letter from the file reveals that Labour leader Neil Kinnock was stuck in Athens before the ceremony, but Mr Winner personally arranged for him to fly home in time “on a Qantas flight… that usually takes no passengers”.