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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Remembering Sir Denis

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

There were always two Denis Thatchers.

There was the prime minister's silent partner who offered advice and support to his wife, but who avoided the limelight.

Sir Denis and Lady Thatcher
Sir Denis was well-placed to be prime ministerial spouse
And there was the author of the Dear Bill letters - the quintessential Tory buffer with "traditional" views and who let "the boss" have her own way for the sake of a quiet life.

The trouble for Denis Thatcher was that the two were at times virtually indistinguishable - and with good reason.

The sort-of-fictional Denis Thatcher of the Dear Bill letters was uncannily close to the real thing.

The love of sport and the occasional "tincture", the befuddlement at all things modern, and the affected hen-pecked image were common to both.

And it was quite clear that, as the Private Eye Denis became increasingly popular, so the real thing played up to his alter ego's image.

Denis Thatcher was pretty much the perfect prime ministerial spouse

In reality, Denis Thatcher was pretty much the perfect prime ministerial spouse. He was wealthy, devoted to his other half, and had wide experience of a world outside politics - particularly industry and the military.

But most important of all, he knew his place.

And that place was alongside his formidable wife offering advice and support in private but keeping the lowest of profiles in public.

Lady Thatcher summed it up best in her autobiography, "The Downing Street Years."

Derision

"I could never have been prime minister for more that eleven years without Denis by my side.

"He was a fund of shrewd advice and penetrating comment. And he very sensibly saved these for me rather than the outside world."

He refused interviews and would have treated the idea of having a spin doctor of his own, let alone a lifestyle guru, with derision.

He did regularly make after dinner speeches and was in much demand. But he always steered well away from overtly political comments.

The result, of course, was that he never caused his spouse embarrassment or contradicted her politically in public.

But anyone who ever saw the two of them together was in no doubt this was, most of the time, a partnership of equals.

Spirits

She was the grocer's daughter who knew how the economics of the corner shop could be applied to the country, he was the hard-nosed industrialist whose head was never turned by his position in No 10.

He sometimes appeared less than impressed by the prime ministerial lifestyle -particularly jetting around the globe, meeting world leaders.

But his spirits would always lift when the formalities ended and he could relax with his hosts over a drink.

He had a ready and mischievous sense of humour and was never intimidated by others - a trait which must have helped when dealing with his wife.

And there was never the slightest doubt that he and Margaret Thatcher were well matched and felt most at ease when the other was on hand.

He has his place in history as the husband of Britain's first woman prime minister. But the other Denis will have his footnote as well.


WATCH AND LISTEN
John Whittingdale, former aide to Baroness Thatcher
"Denis never, ever, put a foot wrong"




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