The 17 year-old school boy who went from zero to hero after the day Maggie Thatcher came calling
- Credit: Archant
MARGARET Thatcher's visit to Fenland in 1978 remains etched in the memory of Louis Backer who went from zero to hero after lobbying her about Wisbech Grammar School.
Louis - then a 17-year-old sixth former - was so concerned that the school might lose its grammar school status that he and a dozen friends pushed their way to the front of other protesters outside the Hudson Sports Centre in Wisbech.
His behaviour meant he was summoned before headmaster Dr Douglas Anderson to be berated for gross disobedience - but a few days later Louis was called back to be given Mrs Thatcher's compliments by a member of the local Conservative association.
'We were told she had been impressed with our polite and succinct representation of our school's situation,' he said. 'I departed in a state of bemused elation. Returning to class I feigned a sore backside. The truth they found harder to believe.'
Louis is the son of Jara Backer from Long Sutton and Hugh Backer from Borehamwood.
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He said: 'It was an interesting afternoon for all of us. The strong topic of conversation at school was that we might lose our grammar school status, so we decided to petition Mrs Thatcher, knowing she was a former grammar school pupil.
'It was a hastily decided affair. I and a number of fellow pupils had sought leave to attend the meeting, but were denied sanction, so clearly it was done without the consent of the school.
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'We placed ourselves, much to the annoyance of other protesters including health workers, in the front on the steps of the Hudson Sports Centre. It meant Mrs Thatcher had no choice but to see us.
'Much to the annoyance of surrounding placard-waving protesters, she made a bee-line for us. I outlined our concerns at the possible loss of our grammar status. She was most sympathetic and insisted to her entourage that we all be allowed in to the meeting. She gave me assurance that the matter would be looked in to and offered her sentiments of support.'
According to a report in the Wisbech Standard that week, Louis told Mrs Thatcher: 'The grammar school is in danger of being closed because of the Labour government's policy and we hope that, when you come to power, you will save it.'
Mrs. Thatcher, then leader of the opposition and a year away from becoming prime minister, replied: 'If we come into office quickly enough, we can save it. I am all in favour of grammar schools.'
Louis said: 'Upon our return to school later that afternoon, myself and my school friends were summoned to the office of the then Headmaster, Dr Douglas Anderson. In unequivocal terms, Dr. Anderson berated us for gross disobedience and being that we were in school uniform, having sullied the reputation of the school by way of our unsanctioned petition.
'A few days later, I was singly summoned to see Dr. Anderson in his study. Fearing the worst, I walked heavy-hearted towards his door. Upon invitation I entered and was met with a disconcertingly beaming Dr. Anderson and stood at his side, a representative of the local Conservative association. My hand was grabbed and duly shaken and an apology given by Dr. Anderson.'
In the early 1990s, Louis spent several years working for Conservative Central Office under John Major and William Hague. He recalls: 'The spirit of Margaret Thatcher was omnipresent and personally, I found her an inspiration.'
Mr Backer added: 'The education I received at Wisbech Grammar School provided an instrumental foundation through my adult life.
'In addition to the academic curriculum, there was an encouragement of vocational pursuits.
'The school generously provided a room for me and a handful of school friends to practice and write music in our break times.
'Had my interest in music and its performance not been so encouraged, I suspect I may not have developed such a fruitful career.'