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Britain's National Archives Releases Thatcher's Secret Cabinet Papers

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Reporters in Britain always get a gift at the end of the year. The U.K. releases secret documents from 30 years earlier, and journalists get to do what they love most - find embarrassing details. Here's NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: You'd think it was the 1980 again in London - everyone talking about Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher - because there are some great gossipy tidbits from this document dump, like how President Reagan talked with Margaret Thatcher before a nuclear arms summit. And he told her, if you really want to understand the Soviet Union's intentions, you should really read the Tom Clancy thriller, "Red Storm Rising." Thatcher was reportedly not impressed with the president's choice of foreign-policy reading material. These document releases rarely break much big news. But Shona Lowe from the National Archives says they try to make it into an event.

SHONA LOWE: These are the files that generate masses of interest among the media and the general public. So it tends to be that we do it at this time of year. There is a fairly quiet news period, so we often get lots of publicity from them.

SMITH: So you actually know that this is the slowest news week of the year and that we're all very excited.

LOWE: (Laughter) Apparently it's a holiday period.

SMITH: And God help the politician that screws up on a slow news week, like Oliver Letwin. He's the policy chief for the current prime minister. But he shows up in these old memos saying some pretty racist things, like how Britain shouldn't encourage black entrepreneurs because they would just set up in the, quote, "disco and drug trade." Letwin is spending his New Year's Eve apologizing. He's almost as unloved right now as Richard Nixon's moon rocks. In one of the weirder memos released, it is revealed that Nixon gave the historic moon fragments as a gift to the British prime minister. But the case it came in was ugly, and no one liked it. And the U.S. moon rocks ended up shoved in a cupboard at 10 Downing Street. Robert Smith, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.