There has been so much coverage this weekend on the anniversary of the Falklands War, with many of the original war correspondents reminiscing 25 years on. One person who isn’t seen in print marking the anniversary though is Ian Macdonald, ministry of defence spokesperson who became a nightly figure in the nations’ living rooms.
Macdonald appeared on our TV screens providing briefings on the Falklands War, like a baddy in Dr Who he announced in an eerily monotone voice any bad news on the war front from the number of casualties to the explosion of a rogue exocet missile.
His diction made even the good news sound tragic. Unquestionably, the Falklands War turned Margaret Thatcher into a modern day Boudiccea and fuelled the Thatcher cult that went on to smash so many British standards with its belief in free markets, entrepreneurialism and privatisation.
During the Falklands War, Thatcher’s loyal PR bulldog, Bernard Ingham, became a constant nuisance for the media. Ingham was a civil servant who had cleverly learnt ways to the control the media to ensure that the Falklands War would be no Vietnam for the fledgling Tory government.
I am not sure if he was the person who employed Ian Macdonald, but certainly, Macdonald’s emotionless and idiosyncratic voice that appeared to control the war news with bizarre quotations from English literature, struck a chilling chord in me as a young publicist, and I felt we were going to receive many more controlled messages in this new era of government control.
The legacy of the Falklands and the manner in which it was reported began the embed system that became prominent in both the later Iraq conflicts. Neither allowed the media the access that had caused problems in previous conflicts. I’m not sure what happened to Ian Macdonald after the war, but perhaps his voice and overall demeanour might suggest a career in German expressionist horror cinema.
The interesting thing about him is that if you try to search his name in Google, he’s conspicuous for the lack of links and threads as the man who was the figurehead for the way that teams of civil servants generated a new method of leashing the media for future conflicts.
This interview with Margaret Thatcher underlines her steadfast determination to wage war at all costs, despite whether the correct protocol was observed or not.