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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Memories of an 'undiluted Tory'
Former BBC political editor John Cole
John Cole says Sir Denis's advice had his wife's best interests at heart

Former BBC political editor John Cole tells BBC News Online his memories of the life and times of Sir Denis Thatcher.

Sir Denis was only a casual acquaintance of mine, but like most husbands and wives he was a big influence in the former prime minister's life. She will be devastated by his death, even at quite an advanced age for him.

Margaret Thatcher did take quite a lot of notice of him as a disinterested observer of her political career, as well as a stern, old-fashioned and fairly right-wing Conservative.

She did feel that after she had discussed issues with colleagues, civil servants and other advisers that she could retire to the flat for an honest opinion from somebody who had nobody else's interest but hers at heart.

Of course, all BBC people are Trotskyites
Denis Thatcher to John Cole

As for my personal recollections of him, he was an undiluted Conservative.

Jeffrey Archer and later Lord McAlpine used to hold big parties which went on late into the night at the Conservative Party conferences.

Most members of the cabinet would go to these events, as would political correspondents to pick up bits of information after they had done their pieces on the evening bulletins.

True Tory

On one occasion, I arrived at the party after I had done a piece for the Nine O'Clock News and Sir Denis saw me as I came in.

We said "good evening" and he said: "You're late."

I replied that I had been doing something for the Nine O'Clock News and he asked what I had been saying in my report.

The Thatchers
Sir Denis had his own business life
I outlined the rather dull piece I had managed to carve out of the education debate at the conference.

Sir Denis listened with apparent interest and then said: "Of course, all BBC people are Trotskyites."

"I beg your pardon," I said.

"Oh, no offence, old boy," he replied.

He obviously thought Trotskyism was some sort of transferable disease which you could catch and it wasn't your fault.

Selling grass

Another side of Sir Denis was shown at a lunch for about a dozen lobby journalists, where I sat on the prime minister's table for the starter and main course and then moved to Sir Denis' table for the sweet and coffees.

He was agreeable and spoke about his business interests and how he was trying to sell grass lawns to people in Saudi Arabia.

He spoke quite well about it and the one lesson I learned was that he did have a business life quite separate to the prime minister's life in politics.

He was a man in his own right before he married Margaret Thatcher. The fact that we are interested in him as consort of a strong prime minister does not mean he was not his own man.

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Denis Thatcher was a loyal supporter and shrewd advisor to one of our major political figures"


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