Museum labelling Margaret Thatcher a villain is not right – Culture Secretary

The V&A has said that the the label text will be reviewed and will ‘update the wording if necessary’.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum (John Walton/PA)

The Culture Secretary has raised concerns about an exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum which appears to describe former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher as among “contemporary villains”.

The puppet of Baroness Thatcher, which was used in satirical production Spitting Image, is being shown at the London museum as part of a Laughing Matters display.

The V&A has said that the exhibit’s text will be reviewed and it will “update the wording if necessary”.

When asked about the museum reportedly labelling Baroness Thatcher alongside Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and al-Qaeda plotter Osama bin Laden on LBC, Lucy Frazer said: “Yes I saw that and I didn’t think that that was appropriate.”

Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (James Manning/PA)

She also said: “Well, I think in describing objects, in museums and galleries, I think the creator has an important role to look at history to make sure that their objects are understood. But these are matters for those individual institutions.”

The Government “recently put out some guidance on history and how you explain history”, Ms Frazer also said.

She added: “And I’m very much in favour overall of not whitewashing history.”

In October, her department published new guidance to ensure historic statues which have been subject to removal campaigns are kept in place following a depiction of 17th century merchant and slave trader Edward Colston being pushed into Bristol Harbour in 2020.

A Margaret Thatcher puppet from Spitting Image
A Margaret Thatcher puppet from Spitting Image

A V&A spokesperson said:  “The V&A is always open to feedback from our visitors.

“In response to some concerns around a caption in the Punch and Judy case of our Laughing Matters display – telling the story of British satire and comedy – we will review the relevant label text and update the wording if necessary.”

According to the Independent, a V&A description read: “Punch and Judy is seen as traditionally British, but it evolved from the 16th-century Italian street performance commedia dell’arte.

“Although aimed at a family audience, the original narrative in its Victoria heyday featured domestic violence, hangings and racist caricatures – a jarring and inacceptable combination for modern audiences.

“Over the years, the evil character in this seaside puppet show has shifted from the Devil to unpopular public figures including Adolf Hitler, Margaret Thatcher and Osama bin Laden, to offer contemporary villains.”