Tories have a new leader

February 11: Grocer's daughter Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the Tories, becoming the first woman boss of a British political party. The news was greeted with enthusiasm by women of all political persuasions.

Margaret ThatcherThe 49-year-old mother of twins beat off competition from four male rivals in the battle to succeed Edward Heath. Her victory was overwhelming - she won almost double the votes of her nearest rival, William Whitelaw. Also-rans were Sir Geoffrey Howe, James Prior and John Peyton. A confident Mrs Thatcher had already arranged a Press conference before the poll began. Her supporters at Westminster were talking of the victory as a rehearsal for her "coronation".

March 7: Young Midland heiress Lesley Whittle was found dead at the bottom of a 60ft sewer shaft in a Staffordshire country park two months after her meticulously-planned kidnap by the notorious Black Panther. The 17-year-old Wulfrun College student had been strangled using wire. Her killer was already wanted for three post office murders including one in Langley, Oldbury. Lesley WhittleLesley's family owned the Whittle coach business, based at Highley and Kidderminster, one of Britain's biggest private coach firms. Det Chf Sup Bob Booth, who led the murder hunt, said she was never intended to be returned. In December Donald Neilson was arrested near Mansfield after forcing two policemen to drive him in their Panda car at gunpoint. The officers managed to overpower him with the help of passers-by who handcuffed the gunman to the railings of a fish and chip shop.

April 17: The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh surrendered to the Khmer Rouge without a fight after the defending forces are ordered to cease fire. Standing on the pavements waving to the incoming black-clad insurgents, the citizens welcomed the Communist-led rebels with white flags and banners on every building in the city. Many among the crowds were Government troops who had hastily changed into civilian clothes. The surrender came at the end of a three and a half month siege, and a war that lasted five years, killing 250,000 people and devastating the country.

October 10: In Botswana, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor married for the second time in a mud hut village deep in the African bush. Ambrose Masalia, the district commissioner who married them, said the ceremony lasted 20 minutes. "They exchanged rings, held hands and I pronounced them man and wife," he said.

"Then they went off to take photographs near a river. They drank champagne toasts with two hippos and a rhino looking on." The Burtons, both 49, divorced last year after 10 years of marriage but were reconciled in August and had been spending a second honeymoon in a Botswanan game park.

December 6: IRA terrorism came to the streets of London in the infamous Balcombe Street Siege. It began with a running gun battle through the streets of the capital as police pursued two men wanted for the cold-blooded murder of television personality Ross McWhirter.

The wanted men burst into the Balcombe Street flat of a middle-aged couple, John Matthews and his wife Sheila. The men phoned Scotland Yard, declared that they were IRA and demanded an aircraft to fly them and their hostages to Ireland.

The message from Scotland Yard was blunt and simple: no deal. Over the next six days police negotiator Superintendent Peter Imbert performed a classic exercise in wearing the pair down. Requests for food were refused.

The siege was the first time such a drama had been seen on mainland Britain during the IRA troubles. The spectacle of police in flak jackets brandishing revolvers in a London street was followed live by millions of TV-watching Britons. Six days after the siege began it ended with the terrorists surrendering. The Matthews were tired but unharmed.


In brief

February 6. Jensen, the West Bromwich-based luxury car firm, announced 700 sackings, two-thirds of their workforce.

February 28. Underground crash at Moorgate killed 35 after the 8.37am commuter train overshot the platform.

March 1. Aston Villa won the League Cup against Norwich at Wembley with an 80th minute goal from Ray Graydon.

March 4. Silent screen star Charlie Chaplin was knighted at the age of 85.

April 3. Anatoly Karpov became the youngest world chess champion, at 23, after the holder American Bobby Fischer failed to meet the entry deadline.

April 24. Unemployment passed the million mark.

April 26. Wolves striker Derek Dougan played his last match as a professional footballer against Leeds.

June 5. The Suez Canal reopened after eight years in a gesture of peace.

June 6. In a referendum, Britons voted overwhelmingly to stay in the Common Market.

June 14. Ambulance services in the West Midlands began a ban on non-emergency calls in a dispute over pay and hours.

July 17. The commanders of a joint Russian-American space flight shook hands through the hatches of their crafts after docking 140 miles above the Atlantic.

September 9. Teenage Czechoslovakian tennis champion Martina Navratilova defected to the United States.

September 30. Muhammad Ali beat Joe Frazier to retain his world heavyweight title.

October 13. Wolverhampton motor cycle plant Norton Villiers employing 1,600 people was officially wound up.

October 30. Dutch elm disease was reported to have killed 6.5 million trees in Britain.

November 22. Juan Carlos sworn in as King of Spain two days after the death of General Franco.

November 29. British racing ace Graham Hill was killed when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed in freezing fog.

December 31. International Women's Year comes to an end with two major legal victories - the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.