Thatcher files: ‘Squiggly line’ revealed thoughts

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Beware the squiggly line – Lady Thatcher’s device for showing disapproval when reading official documents.

As the former prime minister’s 1982 private papers are published for the first time, a historian has described how she prolifically annotated paperwork with her notes often revealing as much as the documents themselves.

Chris Collins, from the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust, is the only historian to have studied the papers closely prior to release.

He has learnt several tell-tale sign which help reveal her thoughts.

“She would read prolifically, often two or three boxes of documents a day starting at 3:30am and continuing well into the night,” he said.

“It was a huge undertaking and she developed a particular style of systematically annotating the documents.

“Her note taking was far more extensive than that of any other prime minister I have seen.”

Mr Collins said Lady Thatcher did not adopt the use of a fountain pen until later life, instead preferring a felt tip, chosen for economy.

She would underline any passage which was of interest, often adding a second or third line for anything particularly significant.

An arrow would be used to identify anything she intended to take action on or raise at a later date.

She would use a “squiggly line” to mark on text anything which irritated her or which she disapproved of strongly – and a second or third squiggly line was not uncommon, he said.

Crossing out was common in her speech drafts.

Mr Collins said he did not believe this was intended to conceal anything but represented her thought processes as a speech evolved.

Mr Collins said: “Her annotation style remained amazingly consistent over the years and I think this reflects how she changed very little as a person from the age of 25 onwards.”