Although I thought the business of his hereditary knighthood was a bit fishy, he was one of the great characters of British politics and for entirely fictitious reasons.
I refer to the Dear Bill letters that first appeared in Private Eye a couple of weeks after Mrs T was elected in 1979 and ran throughout her twelve year tenure.
We came to think that this comedy creation byRichard Ingram and John Wells was the real Denis – a gin soaked, golf obsessed old buffer. And of course he was, or at least his daughter said so in her biography of him.
The eponymous Bill is thought to be former cabinet minister and editor of the Daily Telegraph, Bill Deedes, but it’s hard to say for certain since we never saw his replies.
I have to confess that I became quite fond of Denis, or at least the fictitious version, and his endless attempts at the quiet and boozy life thwarted at every turn by The Boss.
Craig Brown over at the Daily Mail reminded me of what a wonderful character creation he was with this extract after Mark Thatcher managed to get himself in a car rally:
In 1982, when the Thatchers’ boy Mark (‘Honestly, what a prize twerp!’ comments Denis) gets lost with a French woman in the Sahara Desert, Margaret hammers on Denis’s door to ask him what he is going to do about it.
‘Answer, turn over and go back to sleep. Cue for maternal hysteria, call myself a man, etc, why yours truly always so pathetic in a crisis? Eventually, I found my glasses and endeavoured to pour a bit of oil on the troubled H20, arguing a) that a bad penny usually turns up in the end and b) that being inexperienced in these matters he had probably driven off on one of the B-roads with La Belle Frog.
‘Need I tell you this last analysis went down like a cup of cold sick, waterworks turned on, hanky out, male sex maligned, wailing and gnashing of teeth, all culminating in yours truly agreeing to jump on the first Laker to Timbuctoo in search of Prodigal Son.’
I have still got the collected works somewhere in my paperback collection, but I’m blowed if I can find it, so in loving memory of someone who endured a lot, I’ve ordered a hardback replacement from Amazon.