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"He's the one!"

With interview over and photo done, The Canadian Press photographer Frank Gunn asked former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to sign the picture his "boss", had taken. She took the photo, shot more than decade ago and exclaimed, "He's the one!" Thankfully she still signed the picture.

Margaret Thatcher crosses her fingers


All that November day, in Paris 1990, we had been watching Margaret Thatcher in the hopes of making a telling picture of her that would carry the story until the next day when her caucus voted to decide her fate as leader and prime minister.   The outcome of the vote didn't look promising.

Each time the photographers were near she would smile a stiff pose that matched her coifed and heavily-sprayed hair.

At the start of a meeting of the 34 nation heads of government, where a nuclear arms reduction treaty would be signed, we were allowed a final photo op.

I headed for the back of the room where I had a better angle on the Canadian prime minister.  Margaret Thatcher was on the other side of the table and would have to be for the other photographers.

The media handlers called time a few minutes later and photographers began leaving the room.  While keeping an eye on our prime minister I slowly made my way toward the door from the far end of the room.  An annoyed media handler came up behind me and added pressure on the small of my back to hurry me on.

Thatcher had her back to me as I was hustled out.  From her vantage the media had left. Just as I was about to pass, she raised her crossed fingers to the person next to her, in what could only have been a reference to the caucus showdown. I grabbed the camera dangling around my neck, framed and fired a single frame as soon as the camera was to my eye.  The annoyed media handler pushed me out the door.

Knowing I had a hot one I hustled back to the AP office.  Editor Mike Feldman, a friend from numerous other assignments, was busy working on the film that had arrived earlier.

I held up the single roll of film, and breathlessly said, "Mike, you will want to process this now.  There may be a keeper!"  He called to the darkroom technician without asking what I had and handed the roll to him with instructions to process it ahead of the other film.

Mike then asked me what I had.  "It was a grab shot and I only have a single frame - it’s a picture of Thatcher crossing her fingers", I said.

Ten minutes later the film was handed to Feldman.  He punched a frame, clipped a strip of three images, put it into the Leafax scanner, then called London. "Let the papers know there is a good picture of Thatcher crossing her fingers coming." he said.  I was just relieved the picture was sharp.

After the picture was transmitted Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and senior editor in London, called to thank me for the picture.

The next day, every London paper fronted the picture and Margaret Thatcher was voted out of office.

Horst Faas wrote me a letter thanking me for the "great" picture and promising to buy me a beer on my next trip to London. The picture won the CP News Picture of the Month and earned a half page display in the "Best Pictures of the Year" edition of Life Magazine.

I am still waiting for the beer!

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