Denis Thatcher

Denis Thatcher
Sir Denis Thatcher
Denis Thatcher (right) greets US First Lady Nancy Reagan, 1988
Spouse of the Prime Minister
of the United Kingdom
In office
4 May 1979 – 28 November 1990
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Audrey Callaghan
Succeeded by Norma Major
Thatcher Baronets
In office
7 December 1990 – 26 June 2003
(&1000000000000001200000012 years, &10000000000000201000000201 days)
Succeeded by Mark Thatcher
Personal details
Born 10 May 1915(1915-05-10)
London, England
Died 26 June 2003(2003-06-26) (aged 88)
London, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Margaret Kempson
(m. 1942–1948)
Margaret Roberts
(m. 1951–2003)
Children Mark Thatcher
Carol Thatcher
Alma mater Mill Hill School
Occupation Businessman
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1938-1965
Rank Major
Unit Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment
Royal Artillery
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Bt, MBE, TD

Major Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, MBE, TD (10 May 1915 – 26 June 2003) was a British businessman, and the husband of the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. He was born in Lewisham, London, the elder child of a New Zealand-born British businessman, Thomas Herbert (Jack) Thatcher, and his wife (Lilian) Kathleen, née Bird.[citation needed] He is the most recent person outside the Royal Family to be awarded a hereditary title.


Early life

At the age of eight he entered a preparatory school as a boarder in Bognor Regis, following which he attended the nonconformist public school, Mill Hill. At school he excelled at cricket, being a left-handed batsman. Thatcher left Mill Hill at the age of 18 to join the family paint and preservatives business, Atlas Preservatives. He enlisted in the army shortly after the Munich crisis, as he was convinced war was imminent. This was reinforced by a visit he made to Germany with his father's business in 1938.

War record

During the Second World War, he initially served in the 34th Searchlight (Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment) of the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant. He transferred to the Royal Artillery on 1 August 1940.[1] During the war he was promoted to war substantive captain and temporary major. Although, to his regret, he saw no real fighting—despite serving through the Invasion of Sicily and the Italian Campaign—he was twice Mentioned in Despatches, and in 1945 was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The first Mention came on 11 January 1945, for service in Italy,[2] and the second on 29 November 1945, again for Italian service.[3] His MBE was gazetted on 20 September 1945, and was for his efforts in initiating and supporting Operation Goldflake, the transfer of I Canadian Corps from Italy to the North-West European theatre of operations. By this time Thatcher was based in Marseilles, attached to HQ 203 sub-area. In the recommendation for the MBE (dated 28 March 1945), his commanding officer wrote "Maj. THATCHER set an outstanding example of energy, initiative and drive. He deserves most of the credit for [...] the excellence of the work done."[4] He also received the French approximate equivalent of a Mention when he was cited in orders at Corps d'Armée level for his efforts in promoting smooth relations between the Commonwealth military forces and the French civil and military authorities.[5] He was promoted to substantive lieutenant on 11 April 1945.[6] Demobilised in 1946, he returned to run the family business, his father having died, aged 57, on 24 June 1943, when Thatcher was in Sicily. Due to army commitments, Thatcher was unable to attend the funeral.

He remained in the Territorial Army reserve of officers until reaching the age limit for service on 10 May 1965, when he retired, retaining the honorary rank of major.[7] He was awarded the Territorial Efficiency Decoration (TD) for his service on 21 September 1982.[8]


On 28 March 1942, Thatcher married Margaret Doris Kempson, (23 January 1918 – 8 June 1996), the daughter of Leonard Kempson, a businessman at St. Mary's Church, Monken Hadley. They had met at an officer's dance at Grosvenor House the year before.

Although initially very happy, Thatcher and his first wife never lived together. Their married life became confined to snatched weekends and irregular leaves as Thatcher was often abroad during the war. When Thatcher returned to England after being demobilised in 1946, his wife told him she had met someone else and wanted a divorce. Their childless marriage ended in the first weeks of 1948.[9] Kempson married Sir (Alfred) Howard Whitby Hickman, 3rd Baronet (1920–1979) on 24 January the same year. Thatcher was so traumatised by the event that he refused fully to talk about his first marriage or the separation, even to his daughter, as she states in her 1995 biography of him. Thatcher's two children found out about his first marriage only in February 1976 (by which time Margaret was leader of the Conservative Party) and only when the media revealed it.

In February 1949, while attending a Paint Trades Federation function in Dartford, he met Margaret Roberts, a chemist and newly-selected parliamentary candidate. They married on 13 December 1951, at Wesley's Chapel in City Road, London. That was because not only were the Roberts Methodists but also because as a divorced man, Thatcher could not at that time remarry in an Anglican church.

They later had twin children, Carol and Mark, who were born on 15 August 1953.


Thatcher financed his wife's training as a barrister and a home in Chelsea; he also bought a large house in Lamberhurst, Kent in 1965. His firm employed 200 people by 1957, but he sold it to Castrol on 26 August 1965 after suffering a mild nervous breakdown in 1964. He received a seat on Castrol's parent board, which he maintained when Burmah Oil took it over in 1966. He retired from Burmah in June 1975, four months after his wife won the Conservative Party leadership election.

In addition to being a director of Burmah, he was chairman of the Atlas Preservative Co, vice-chairman of Attwoods plc from 1983 to January 1994, a director of Quinton Hazell plc from 1968 to 1998 and a consultant to Amec plc and CSX Corp. He was also a non-executive director of Halfords in the mid-1980s.

Public life and perceptions

In an interview with Kirsten Cubitt in early October 1970, Thatcher said, "I don't pretend that I'm anything but an honest-to-God right-winger—those are my views and I don't care who knows 'em."[10]

Thatcher agreed with his wife on most political issues, though he was strongly against the death penalty, calling it "absolutely awful" and "barbaric", while she favoured it. Thatcher was anti-socialist. He told his daughter in 1995 that he would have banned Trade Unions altogether in Britain. Thatcher hated the BBC, thinking it was biased against the Thatcher government, as well as unpatriotic. In his most famous outburst about the BBC, he claimed his wife had been "stitched up by bloody BBC poofs and Trots" when she was questioned by a member of the public about the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano on Nationwide in 1983.[11]

Margaret Thatcher was Britain's first (and to date only) female prime minister when elected to the position in 1979, meaning that Denis Thatcher was the first male prime minister's spouse in British political history.[12]

The public perception of his character was formed to an extent by a series of spoof letters published in the satirical magazine Private Eye in the 1980s.[citation needed] The "Dear Bill" column written by Richard Ingrams and John Wells after May 1979 took the form of a letter purported to be from Denis to his real life friend and golfing partner Bill Deedes (former editor of The Daily Telegraph), detailing life at Number 10. The letters portrayed Denis Thatcher as a reactionary interested only in golf and gin. John Wells used the character portrayed in the letters, and created the stage play Anyone for Denis (also shown on television). Thatcher started to play along—Ulster Unionist David Burnside recalled a reception in Blackpool "to which Sir Denis came along with his minder and declared: 'I don't know what reception I'm at, but for God's sake give me a gin and tonic'".[citation needed]

Thatcher refused press interviews and only made brief speeches. When he did speak to the press, he called Margaret "The Boss". One lapse, which he regretted for the ensuing controversy he felt was at his wife's expense, was in December 1979, when at a dinner of the London Society of Rugby Football Union Referees (of which he was treasurer, having refereed at a club level for many years) he made remarks criticising the sporting boycott of South Africa. Thatcher said, "We are a free people, playing an amateur game, and sure as hell we have the right to tour South Africa".[citation needed]

He was known as an irreverent, good-natured man with a talent for friendship. Margaret Thatcher often acknowledged her husband's support. In her autobiography she wrote: "I could never have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side." He saw his role as helping her survive the stress of the job, which he urged her to resign on the 10th anniversary of her becoming Prime Minister, in 1989, sensing that otherwise she would be forced out (as happened a year later). After his wife's third election victory in 1987, whilst watching his wife wave to the cheering crowds outside Downing Street, Thatcher said quietly to his daughter Carol, "In a year's time she will be so unpopular you won't believe it". In fact, this happened 12–18 months later than when he predicted, but was still accurate.

In December 1990, the month after Margaret Thatcher's resignation as prime minister, it was announced that Denis Thatcher would be created a baronet[13] (the first since 1964). The award was gazetted in February 1991 as Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, of Scotney in the County of Kent.[14] This meant that his wife was entitled to be called Lady Thatcher whilst retaining her seat in the House of Commons, and was also a hereditary title that was to be inherited by their son Mark after Denis's death. It was the last British hereditary honour to be granted to anyone outside the royal family. However, Sir Denis Thatcher's wife was created a life peeress as Baroness Thatcher in her own right in 1992 after her retirement from the House of Commons. He and his wife were one of the few married couples who both held titles in their own right.

Illness and death

On 17 January 2003, Sir Denis Thatcher underwent a six-hour heart bypass operation. He had been complaining of breathlessness in the weeks before Christmas 2002 and the problem was spotted in early January. He left the hospital on 28 January 2003, and appeared to have made a full recovery. He visited his son Mark in South Africa in April but by the middle of June, by which time he had turned 88, he complained of breathlessness once again. He was taken to hospital where pancreatic cancer was diagnosed, along with fluid in his lungs. He died of pancreatic cancer[15] on 26 June at Westminster's Lister Hospital in London. He and Margaret Thatcher had been married for nearly 52 years.

His funeral service was held on 3 July 2003, at the chapel of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, after which his body was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium[16] in Richmond, London. On 30 October his memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey.


  • Denis Thatcher's one public interview, which took place in October 2002, was released as a DVD, Married to Maggie, after his death. In it he called John Major a ghastly Prime Minister and said it would have been a good thing if Major had lost the 1992 general election. He also said he thought his wife was the best Prime Minister since Churchill.


  1. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34977. pp. 6182–6184. 22 October 1940. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  2. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36886. pp. 315–317. 9 January 1945. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  3. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37368. pp. 5791–5795. 27 November 1945. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  4. ^ "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Thatcher, Denis—Member of British Empire" (fee may be required to view full original recommendation). Documents Online. The National Archives. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  5. ^ "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Thatcher, Denis—A L'ordre du Corps d'Armee" (fee may be required to view full original recommendation). Documents Online. The National Archives. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  6. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37279. p. 4740. 21 September 1945. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  7. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43646. p. 4565. 7 May 1965. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  8. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49114. p. 12237. 20 September 1982. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  9. ^ ODNB
  10. ^ Page 7 - The Times - 5 October 1970
  11. ^ "TV's top 10 tantrums". BBC News. 31 August 2001. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ London Gazette: no. 52360. p. 19066. 11 December 1990. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  14. ^ London Gazette: no. 52443. p. 1993. 7 February 1991. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  15. ^ "Margaret Thatcher dementia fight revealed". BBC News. 2008-08-24. 
  16. ^ "notable dead at Mortlake". Mortlake Crematorium. 2008-12-14. 

Collins, Christopher (January 2007). "‘Thatcher, Sir Denis, first baronet (1915–2003)’". Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/90063. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 

External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Audrey Callaghan
Spouse of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Norma Major
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Scotney)
Succeeded by
Sir Mark Thatcher, 2nd Bt.

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