12 October 1977

Teenage Hague lights up conference

On this day in 1977, at the age of 16, William Hague made his first speech at the Conservative Party Conference and achieved national notoriety as the archetypal ‘Tory Boy’. He would go on to serve as leader of the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001 and later became Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in David Cameron’s coalition government.

Although he will always be remembered his youthful conference speech, this was not his first television appearance. In 1969 he appeared on the children’s programme Blue Peter, and presented the team with 2,000 cotton reels for the Blue Peter Appeal. The mystery of why Hague chose to collect cotton reels, rather than the requested tin foil, was revealed in the following letter to the Daily Telegraph

William Hague with Margaret Thatcher in 1977

THE COTTON-REEL KID

Letter to the Daily Telegraph, October 2000

Although I am not a Tory supporter, I feel that William Hague has had some unfair publicity of late. First there was scepticism about his claim to have drunk 14 pints of beer a day as a teenager while delivering pop for his family’s soft drinks firm. Now people are ridiculing him for his role in the 1969 Blue Peter appeal for Africa.

It’s true that most children sent silver foil, as requested by Valerie, John and Peter. But Mr Hague’s donation of cotton reels was not as daft as it sounds.

I grew up in the same village as Mr Hague, and attended the local primary school. In those days, most children did not receive pocket money – they were given cotton reels instead. I don’t know how or why this practice began, but all my friends were ‘paid’ in cotton reels for household chores and so on. We used to collect them and swap them with one another, and because we couldn’t spend them in the shops, it encouraged us to get into the habit of saving.

I clearly remember William asking for cotton reels for the appeal, and we all dug deep. The total was about two thousand in all – a credit to Yorkshire thrift and big-heartedness!

Annette Middleton,

Bottomley, North Yorkshire

Picture: PA

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