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Sir Gordon Reece
Reece in 1975
James Gordon Reece
28 September 1929
Romford, Essex, England, UK
|Died||22 September 2001 (aged 71)|
Downing College, Cambridge
|Occupation||Journalist, television producer, political/public relations strategist|
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth Johnson (m. 1957–1977; divorced)|
Sir James Gordon Reece (28 September 1929 – 22 September 2001) was a British journalist and television producer who worked as a political strategist for Margaret Thatcher during the 1979 general election, which led to her victory over then prime minister James Callaghan.
His father was able to send young Gordon to Ratcliffe College, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Leicestershire. (A contemporary was Norman St John-Stevas, later Lord St John of Fawsley.) He read history at Downing College, Cambridge, and decided on a career in journalism. He then worked for a time with the Liverpool Daily Post and then the Sunday Express. In 1960 he switched to train as a television producer and went on to work for ITN's News at Ten and produce religious programmes and chat shows.
In the 1970 and 1974 general elections he came into contact with Thatcher and helped when she launched her successful bid for the party leadership in February 1975. It was his idea that she should be filmed doing the washing-up, presenting herself as a housewife. By now he had established a cassette-video company, which was taken over by EMI. He took leave from the company to help Thatcher with her television appearances; it was her decision to make him Director of Publicity in February 1978. One of Reece's first moves was to appoint Saatchi & Saatchi Garland Compton as the Conservative Party's advertising agency in 1978. He worked to soften Thatcher's public image, hiring a voice coach used by Laurence Olivier, Kate Fleming. According to the Fleming archive, Thatcher then went on to have lessons from her for the best part of four years, from 1972 to 1976; Fleming died in 1978.
Reece then taught her to lower and deepen her voice, advised on clothing, accompanied her to her television and radio interviews, and made sure that she avoided combative interviewers who would make her strident.
Reece opposed a proposed television debate between Thatcher and Callaghan in 1979. He dismissed politicians' interests in television programmes, saying "You have to appeal to ordinary voters, who are not very interested in politics." She won the 1979 general election, and within a year of her victory, Reece had left for Los Angeles and a lucrative post with Armand Hammer, head of the Occidental Petroleum Corporation. For five years, he did his best to improve the image of his mysterious and rich employer. Upon his return visits, he kept in touch with Thatcher and newspaper editors. During the 1987 election he was appointed Thatcher's adviser for television, but he kept a low profile, because he had also been retained as PR consultant by Guinness in their controversial take-over battle with Distillers.
He was a frequent visitor to the Thatchers' at Christmas Day dinners, and continued to act as a troubleshooter for her with the media and colleagues: he was part of her team of advisers when she failed to retain the party leadership in November 1990. Unlike many of her entourage, he reportedly maintained good relations with Thatcher's successor as Prime Minister, John Major.
A depiction of Reece in his role in Thatcher's campaign for Conservative Party leadership and her subsequent election as PM is made in the 2012 motion picture The Iron Lady, in which he is portrayed by Roger Allam.
Reece was diagnosed with cancer, which would claim his life six days before his 72nd birthday in London. He travelled to the United States for treatment and remained there for a considerable period of time until he returned to spend his final days at home in the United Kingdom.
- Cockerell, Michael, "Reece, Sir (James) Gordon (1929–2001)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2009; online edition, 1 September 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2018 (subscription required)
- Thatcher: A Very British Revolution - Series 1 Episode 1 - Making Margaret
- "REECE, Sir (James) Gordon". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2018 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- Gordon Reece appointed Knight Bachelor
- Reece obituary in The Telegraph