anonym_mouse (anonym_mouse) wrote in linguaphiles,

The lady is not for turning

Leaving aside the political side of the event, here is a question about one of the more recognizable phrases produced by Mrs Thatcher. I saw the matter discussed elsewhere without people producing sensible explanations, therefore this post in linguaphiles.

Thatcher's predecessor when the situation got worse, instituted a "U-turn" in his policies, as it became known, and began to supply money to relieve joblessness in UK, etc. etc.

Thatcher, when a few years later unemployment numbers reached twice those levels were not for U-turning (as prof. David Harvey's research shows, Mrs Thatcher headed the policy of Bankers' Revanche launched simultaneously in the USA and UK in 1980, and so could afford being hard-nosed). Her famous speech at some Conservative Party conference had this passage in it:
    To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the 'U-turn', I have only one thing to say: "You turn [U-turn] if you want to." (laughter when the audience perceives the pun) And next, very deliberately: "The lady's not for turning." (laughter, applause)

So the question is: if everyone is laughing, what was the joke?
I find the standard answer (see Wikipedia etc) that the speechwriter referred to the title of a 1948 play "The Lady's Not for Burning" pretentious and rather far-fetched: hardly everyone in the conference could have known the title of some play (treating some medieval events), but everyone laughed. Therefore, even if what gave the speechwriter his idea indeed was the play title, it was perceived on a different level.

Could some native speakers clarify what is supposed to sound funny in this case, and what the double entendre (if one can be found here) refers to?

Thank you for clarifications
It seems the play was widely known (on the both sides of the Atlantic), and the rest of the audience may have reacted to the first joke, i.e. the "U-turn/you turn" pun.

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