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Sunday, January 11, 1998 Published at 13:18 GMT


Satirist John Wells dies
image: [ John Wells in his last TV role as a schoolmaster in the comedy 'Chalk' ]
John Wells in his last TV role as a schoolmaster in the comedy 'Chalk'

Satirist John Wells, best known for his caricatures of Denis Thatcher, has died from cancer at the age of 61.

Mr Wells, who co-wrote Private Eye's 'Dear Bill' letters and also portrayed former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's husband on stage and television, was first diagnosed with lymphoma more than a decade ago but appeared to have overcome the disease.

The only child of a dean from Bognor Regis in Sussex, John Wells first achieved fame appearing in 'Late Night Final' at the Edinburgh Festival. He then became a schoolmaster at Eton.

But the lure of the stage was too strong for him and he began to move away from teaching in 1962 when he appeared in a cabaret with Barbara Windsor.

[ image: Wells in his most famous role as  Denis Thatcher]
Wells in his most famous role as Denis Thatcher
An all-round humorist, Mr Wells was also one of the original writers for Private Eye when it was launched by Richard Ingrams.

Mr Wells was initially most associated with Mrs Wilson's Diary, detailing the fictional life of the wife of the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

He repeated that success in the 1980s with his 'Dear Bill' letters, chronicling Margaret Thatcher's Premiership through the eyes of her husband.

The letters, purportedly written to the veteran journalist WF Deedes, lampooned Mr Thatcher as a gin-drinking reactionary interested in little other than golf.

Mr Wells built on that success by portraying Denis Thatcher on both the stage, in his play 'Anyone For Denis', and on television, in each case looking alarmingly like the original.

Mr Wells himself was ambivalent about the huge popularity of 'Anyone For Denis' and the 'Dear Bill letters'. He once claimed that he had done more than the Prime Minister's own image-makers to endear the Thatchers to the British public.

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