Denis Thatcher

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Person.png Denis Thatcher  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(businessman)
Denis Thatcher (cropped).jpg
Born10 May 1915
Died26 June 2003 (Age 88)
NationalityUK
Member ofThe Other Club

Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet was an English businessman. Married to Margaret Thatcher, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, he was the first male spouse of a British prime minister.

Granted the Thatcher baronetcy in 1990, he is the most recent commoner to have been awarded a hereditary title.

Early life

Thatcher was born in Lewisham, south London, as the first child of New Zealand-born British businessman Thomas Herbert "Jack" Thatcher and Lilian Kathleen Bird. At age eight, Denis entered a preparatory school as a boarder in Bognor Regis, following which he attended the nonconformist public school Mill Hill School in north London.

Thatcher left Mill Hill at age 18 to join the family paint and preservatives business, Atlas Preservatives. He also studied accountancy to improve his grasp of business, and in 1935 was appointed works manager. He joined the Territorial Army shortly after the Munich crisis, as he was convinced war was imminent a view reinforced by a visit he made to Nazi Germany with his father's business in 1937.[1]

Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher married twice, during wartime to Margot Kempson in 1942 (divorced in 1948), and in 1951 to Margaret Roberts.

In February 1949, at a Paint Trades Federation function in Dartford, he met Margaret Hilda Roberts, a chemist and newly selected parliamentary candidate. When she met Denis for the first time she described him as "not a very attractive creature" and "very reserved but quite nice".[2] They married on 13 December 1951, at Wesley's Chapel in City Road, London: the Robertses were Methodists. Margaret Thatcher was elected Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and won the 1979 general election to become the first female prime minister in British history. Denis Thatcher became the first husband of a British prime minister.[3]

In 1953, they had twin children (Carol and Mark), who were born on 15 August at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in Hammersmith, seven weeks premature.

Not long after the 1964 general election, Denis Thatcher suffered a nervous breakdown which put a severe strain on their marriage.[4] The breakdown was probably caused by the increasing pressure of running the family business, caring for his relatives, and his wife's preoccupation with her political career, which left him lonely and exhausted. Thatcher sailed to South Africa and stayed there for two months in order to recuperate. His wife's biographer David Cannadine described it as "the greatest crisis of their marriage", but immediately after he recovered and returned home, he maintained a happy marriage for the rest of his life.

According to John Campbell, a biographer of his wife, "their marriage was more a partnership of mutual convenience than a romance" quoting their daughter Carol in her biography of Denis[5]:

{{quote|If marriage is either a takeover or a merger, then my parents enjoyed the latter. There was a great deal of common ground and a tacit laissez faire agreement that they would get on with their own interests and activities. There was no possessiveness, nor any expectation that one partner's career should take precedence.

Business career

Thatcher was already a wealthy man when he met Margaret and financed her training as a barrister, and a home in Chelsea, London; he also bought a large house in Lamberhurst, Kent, in 1965. His firm employed 200 people by 1957.

Thatcher became managing director of his family's firm Atlas in 1947 and chairman in 1951, and led its overseas expansion. By the early 1960s he found being in sole control of the family company difficult; this, his wife's political career, and their desire for financial security caused Thatcher to sell Atlas to Castrol in 1965 for £530,000 (£Template:Inflation today). He continued to run Atlas and received a seat on Castrol's board; after Burmah Oil took over Castrol in 1966 Thatcher became a senior divisional director, managing the planning and control department. 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 Oil Thatcher was vice-chairman of Attwoods from 1983 to January 1994, a director of Quinton Hazell from 1968 to 1998, and a consultant to AMEC and CSX. He was also a non-executive director of retail giant Halfords during the 1980s.

Margaret Thatcher's biographer Robin Harris concludes: He was not, in fact, a particularly good businessman: he had inherited shares in a family firm which he managed, and he was lucky enough to sell his interest on terms that gave him a large pay-off and a good salary to boot. But it is significant that he left a very modest legacy at his death. This was because, throughout his life, and despite his training as an accountant and his eagle-eyed scrutiny of the Stock Exchange, he was a poor investor. Once his wife had become Prime Minister, and even after her retirement, it was Denis who lived off her and not vice versa. He matched Alf Roberts in his dislike of spending his own money. More generally, while (in contrast to certain of his successors) he did not raise eyebrows about exploiting his position, he certainly made the most of it. He was a celebrity exclusively because of whom he had married.[6]

Public life and perceptions

Thatcher refused press interviews and made only brief speeches. When he did speak to the press, he called his wife "The Boss". She often acknowledged her husband's support. In her autobiography, Margaret wrote: "I could never have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side." Thatcher 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.

In an interview with The Times in 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."[7] His public image was shaped by the satirical "Dear Bill" columns appearing since 1979 in Private Eye, which portrayed him as a "juniper-sozzled, rightwing, golf-obsessed halfwit", and Thatcher found it useful to play along with this image to avoid allegations of unduly influencing his wife in political matters.[8]

Given his professional background, Thatcher served as an advisor on financial matters, warning Margaret about the poor condition of British Leyland after reviewing its books. He often insisted that she avoid overwork, to little avail, sometimes pleading "Bed, woman!"[9] They otherwise usually kept their careers separate; an exception was when Thatcher accompanied his wife on a 1967 visit to the United States sponsored by the International Visitor Leadership Program.[10]

Thatcher was consistently strongly against the death penalty, calling it "absolutely awful" and "barbaric" and said he was against because of innocent people being wrongly hanged and because juries could also be afraid to convict for fear of making a mistake. Like his wife, Thatcher was consistently anti-socialist. He told his daughter in 1995 that he would have banned trade unions altogether in Britain. He had low regard for the BBC, thinking it was biased against his wife and her government, as well as unpatriotic. In his most famous outburst about the corporation, 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 Template:Ship on Nationwide in 1983.[11]

Thatcher was reported by New Zealand broadcaster and former diplomat Chris Laidlaw—at the time NZ High Commissioner to Zimbabwe—as leaning towards him during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, asking "So, what do you think the fuzzy wuzzies are up to?"[12]



References