Radio 4 criticised for serialising Hilary Mantel’s Margaret Thatcher assassination story

Tories have objected to the short story being chosen for Radio 4's prestigious Book at Bedtime slot - and been dismissed by the Wolf Hall author as "tetchy commentators"

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Former Tory politicians Lord Tebbit and Lord Bell have taken the BBC to task for serialising double Booker-winner Hilary Mantel’s story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, on Radio 4.

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Former cabinet minister Lord Tebbitt told the Mail on Sunday: “It’s a sick book from a sick mind and it’s being promoted by a sick broadcasting corporation.”

Lord Bell, who was a former advisor to Thatcher, added: “The BBC is inevitably going to be accused of political bias.” 

Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries has also objected, protesting that Thatcher’s family is still grieving. “I think [the BBC has] made the wrong decision,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “They should have been a little bit more sensitive.”

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is the title chapter of the author’s recent short story collection, and imagines the former prime minister’s murder. It is one of several stories that will be read by Dame Harriet Walter for Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime.

Mantel has retaliated, claiming she is merely a pawn in the Sunday paper’s ongoing assault on the Corporation. “I recognise that this latest nonsense from the Mail [on Sunday] is not about me or my work; it’s a skirmish in a war with the BBC,” she told the Guardian.

“My title story has the form of a debate. It demonstrates how very easily history could have worked out in a different way. There is no need for me or any writer to justify or explain herself to people who have no interest in fiction except when it feeds their dim sense of being injured in some way. The story speaks for itself, and I stand behind it.”

She dismissed Tebbit and Bell as “the same tetchy commentators who made fools of themselves when my stories were first published. You think they’d learn.” 

A BBC spokesperson said: “Book at Bedtime offers the best of modern and classic literature and, in doing so, presents a wide range of perspectives from around the world. The work of Hilary Mantel – a double Booker prize-winning author – is of significant interest to the public and we will not shy away from the controversial subject matter that features in one of the four stories read across the week.”

Last year Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Lady Thatcher was serialised in Radio 4’s Book of the Week slot.

The BBC has also adapted Mantel’s Booker-winning novel Wolf Hall into a six-part drama starring Damien Lewis as Henry VIII and Mark Rylance as the Tudor king’s closest advisor Thomas Cromwell. It will be shown on BBC2 in the new year.

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Read our spoiler-free preview of Wolf Hall.