Anyone for Denis?

Denis ThatcherOne of the many things that slipped my mind about the Thatcher years amid this week’s sackcloth and ashes was her dear departed Denis, the man who put the T in Mrs T.

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.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 18th April 2013

    He was pretty much a cypher on this side of the pond. Pleasant enough, but with not much to say.

    • Trevor Rowley 18th April 2013

      Even in the UK, Denis rarely commented publically yet regularly was filmed either at his wife’s side or discreetly, slightly to the rear. A self made man (although he did inherit the family paints business) he was already a millionaire divorcee at the time of his marriage to Margaret Thatcher. He must have realised that he was the butt of many jokes from the press but just seemed to soldier on regardless as he continued to support his wife in her Prime Ministerial role. The main thing I recall about him was a TV programme where the press followed Maggie round some godawful factory or other. As Maggie was going round the place at a speed of knots, the press/cameras just couldn’t keep up with her. When they realised that their best efforts were futile, they fell back a little bit and tried to engage poor old Denis in meaningful conversation. He was having none of it and just remained totally dumb and repeatedly waved them away. In the end they got the message and completed a less than dignified retreat. I’ll bet this footage is out there somewhere – a classic.

  • John g 18th April 2013

    He always reminded me of a benign duke of Edinburgh….with a gin and tonic in his hand rather than a gun

    • Mr Parrot 18th April 2013

      I like that image John. One of the stories told about him is when he was stood on the stairs of Number 10 chatting to some politico, G&T in hand, when one of the security detail sidled up to him to tell him that The Boss was back, at which point he poured the lot into a potted plant before she caught him.

  • Waggy Pudding 19th April 2013

    It wasn’t the “T” that Denis put in Thatcher it was the small “c” every second Saturday of the month usually to the refrain of “Oh for God’s sake Denis, haven’t you done yet?” and he would say “Is the lady for turning?” with an evil glint in his beady eyes.


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