Bernard Ingham

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Sir Bernard Ingham (born 21 June 1932) is a British journalist and former civil servant who is best known as Margaret Thatcher's chief press secretary while she was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Despite never having attended university himself, Ingham lectures in public relations at Middlesex University in London.[citation needed] He is also secretary to Supporters of Nuclear Energy (SONE), a group of individuals who seek to promote nuclear power[1] and he holds the position of Vice President of Country Guardian, an anti-wind energy campaign group.[2] Ingham is also a regular panellist on BBC current affairs programme Dateline London.


Ingham was educated at Hebden Bridge Grammar School, leaving at the age of 16 to join the Hebden Bridge Times newspaper. He attended Bradford Technical College on day release as part of the studies required to qualify for the Certificate of Training for Junior Journalists, which he describes as being "taken rather seriously in early post-war Britain".[3] He went on to work for the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Yorkshire Post, latterly as northern industrial correspondent, and The Guardian. While a reporter at the Yorkshire Post, Ingham was an active member of the National Union of Journalists and was vice chairman of the Leeds branch.[4] He is also likely to have been the anonymous and aggressively anti-Conservative columnist "Albion" for the Leeds Weekly Citizen – a Labour Party organ – from 1964 to 1967.[5]

Ingham's father was a Labour Party councillor and he was himself a member of the Labour Party[4] until he joined the Civil Service.

Ingham contested the safe Conservative Moortown ward of Leeds City Council in the 1965 council elections for the Labour party, having been nominated by the Fabian Society.[4]


Ingham's ancestry, revealing him to be of both Yorkshire and Lancashire lineage, with one ancestral line from Staffordshire, was published in an article in the September 2006 issue of the UK genealogy magazine, Practical Family History.[6] It showed that the Inghams originally came from Manchester and Salford, but Bernard's grandfather Henry Ingham moved to the Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge. On his maternal side, Bernard's ancestors were mostly from Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, while his maternal grandmother Jane Vernon descended from Staffordshire coal miners.

Press secretary to Margaret Thatcher[edit]

Ingham spent 11 years as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's chief press secretary in No. 10 Downing Street. In 1989–90 he was also head of the Government Information Service. In the course of his civil service career he was also press secretary to Barbara Castle, Robert Carr, Maurice Macmillan, Lord Carrington, Eric Varley and Tony Benn.

Although a career civil servant, Ingham gained a reputation for being a highly effective propagandist for the Thatcherite cause. The phrase spin doctor did not enter common parlance until after his retirement, but he was nevertheless a gifted exponent in what came to be known as the "black arts" of spin.

In those days, Downing Street briefings were "off the record", meaning that information given out by Ingham could be attributed only to "senior government sources". Occasionally he used this deniability to brief against the government's own ministers, such as when he described the leader of the House of Commons John Biffen as a "semi-detached" member of the government.[7] Biffen was dropped at the next reshuffle. This blurring of the distinction between his nominally neutral role as a civil servant and a more partisan role as apologist and promoter of Margaret Thatcher's policies led the late Christopher Hitchens to characterise Ingham as "a nugatory individual" and to criticise what he saw as the negative consequences of Ingham's time as Thatchers press secretary: "During his time in office, Fleet Street took several steps towards an American system of Presidentially-managed coverage and sound-bite deference, without acquiring any of the American constitutional protection in return."[8]

In 1989, three years after the Westland helicopter scandal led to the resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, former cabinet minister Leon Brittan revealed in a Channel 4 programme that Ingham was one of two senior Downing Street officials who had approved the leaking of a crucial letter from the then Solicitor General Patrick Mayhew, in which he questioned some of the statements that Heseltine had made about the takeover contest of the Westland helicopter company. Brittan's claim that Ingham and Charles Powell had approved the leak of the letter led to calls from some Labour MPs for there to be a new inquiry into the Westland affair.[9]

Ingham was knighted on Thatcher's resignation – and retirement – in 1990. His successor as press secretary was Sir Gus O'Donnell, who went on to become cabinet secretary and head of the civil service in 2005.

Ingham's book Kill the Messenger, concerning his time as press secretary, was not well received, Paul Foot commenting that "... there is no information in this book. I picked it up eagerly, refusing to believe that someone so close to the top for so long could fail to reveal, even by mistake, a single interesting piece of information" and he was particularly scathing about Ingham's prose style, offering the following quotation from Kill the Messenger as representative of Ingham's use of English: "Like a mighty oak, it took more than one axe to bring Mrs Thatcher down. In November 1990 they were cutting into this solid timber from all angles. The frenzy was fearsome to behold. Heaven preserve us from political axe-men in a state of panic. They would cut off their grandmas in their prime if they thought it would serve their interests. And so they cut off a grandma in her international prime by the stocking tops, to borrow one of Denis's phrases, which Mrs Thatcher often used."[10]

Television script[edit]

Ingham helped Thatcher in the writing of the Yes Minister sketch which she performed in public with Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne.[11]

Brass Eye[edit]

Ingham appeared on the satirical television programme, Brass Eye. He was persuaded to appear in a short sequence, in which he issued a stern warning to young people about the dangers of a purported new drug, "cake", one of several celebrities who appeared not to recognise the satirical nature of the programme.[12]


Ingham derided Scottish nationalists as being "as greedy as sin", stating that "the only thing that fueled nationalism was the smell of oil and money in oil", suggesting that any nationalist sentiments were merely a disguised form of greed.[13]


Court case[edit]

On 8 March 1999, Ingham was bound over to keep the peace at Croydon Magistrates Court after he was accused of causing criminal damage to a Mercedes car owned by Linda Cripps, a neighbour, in Purley, south London. The charges were dropped when Ingham agreed to accept being bound over for 12 months in the sum of £1,000 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. Ingham denied that he had caused any damage to the vehicle. The Court was told that Mrs Cripps told Sir Bernard: "You have damaged my car", to which he replied "Good, I'm glad". Ingham denied he had damaged the car and said, "I did not cause the damage complained of and to resolve the issue I accepted advice that I should agree to be bound over. I have paid £792 to cover the cost of the alleged damage to the car." Mrs Cripps husband said after the case "We are weary of the constant bombardment that we have suffered. We are no match for Sir Bernard Ingham. Let's hope that he will now allow us to get on with our lives peacefully".[14]


Ingham is known for his comments concerning the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. In a letter addressed to a parent of a victim of the disaster, Ingham reiterated his belief that the disaster was caused by "tanked up yobs",[15] a view later proven inaccurate through subsequent investigations. In a letter written to a Liverpool supporter, Ingham remarked that people should "shut up about Hillsborough", comments he has since refused to apologise for.[16]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ "About SONE". Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "Campaign Country Guardian". Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Ingham, Bernard. "175 Heroes". 175 Heroes. Bradford College. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Harris, Robert (1990). 'Good and Faithful Servant' – The Unauthorised Biography of Bernard Ingham. London: Faber and Faber. p. 34. ISBN 0-571-16547-8. 
  5. ^ Harris, Robert (1990). 'Good and Faithful Servant' – The Unauthorised Biography of Bernard Ingham. London: Faber and Faber. p. 4. ISBN 0-571-16547-8. 
  6. ^ Practical Family History magazine, September 2006, No 105, pages 6–10; A Foot In Both Red & White Rose Camps; the family tree of Sir Bernard Ingham by Roy Stockdill
  7. ^ Harris, Robert (1990). 'Good and Faithful Servant' – The Unauthorised Biography of Bernard Ingham. London: Faber and Faber. p. 146. ISBN 0-571-16547-8. 
  8. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (10 January 1991). "What is this Bernard?". London Review of Books 3 (1): 9. 
  9. ^ Trotter, Stuart (6 April 1989). "Westland affair re-opened by Brittan". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  10. ^ Foot, Paul (27 June 1991). "Lunchtime No News". London Review of Books 13 (12): 8. 
  11. ^ Cockerell, Michael (1988). Live From Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television. London: Faber and Faber. p. 288. ISBN 0-571-14757-7.  The phrase "with the help of Bernard Ingham" is a quotation from this source. Other sources give Thatcher sole credit; some give equal credit between the two.
  12. ^ Morris, Chris. "Brass Eye". Drugs. Channel 4. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Ingham, Bernard. "Truth, Lies, Oil and Scotland". Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  14. ^ Marks, Kathy (9 March 1999). "Ingham bound over to keep the peace". The Independent. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  15. ^ Bartlett, David (17 January 2013). "Hillsborough mum tells of Sir Bernard Ingham's "hurtful" letters". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  16. ^ Hankin, Alex (16 January 2013). "'Shut up about Hillsborough': Sir Bernard Ingham not sorry for blaming Liverpool 'mob' for deaths of the 96". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  • Routledge, Paul, Bumper Book of British Lefties, 2003, Politicos (ISBN 1-84275-064-X) – provides further information on Ingham's early involvement with the Labour Party

External links[edit]

  • British Library Sound Archive - Interview with Brendan Bruce (former Director of Communications of the Conservative Party) for his book Images of Power
Government offices
Preceded by
Tom McCaffrey
10 Downing Street Press Secretary to Margaret Thatcher
Succeeded by
Gus O'Donnell