Was he the man who knew Margaret Thatcher best?
Almost certainly. To some, she was the heroine who made Britain politically and economically relevant; to others, she was the engine of the cold, mechanical combine that made a wasteland of the industrial North. To Sir Denis, though, she was a wife, best friend and mother to their twins, Mark and Carol. The former Royal Artillery major met the woman who would become his second wife in February 1949, at a Paint Trades Federation function in Dartford, Kent. They were married in 1951.
Was it love at first sight?
"Certainly not," a typically forthright Mrs Thatcher once said. Her husband was more complimentary, saying he noticed that she had a "good pair of legs". Nevertheless, they were a good match. His views were as right-wing as hers, and his money (he was a millionaire from his family's paint business) made her pursuit of power all the easier. He was once described as "a world-class chauvinist married to the supreme symbol of female equality", but he never became a source of embarrassment.
How did Private Eye see him?
The magazine's mocking "Dear Bill" letters, purporting to be his correspondence with a friend, were an affectionate caricature. The PM's husband was portrayed – not entirely inaccurately – as a far-right golfer who believed the Labour Party was full of communists. Sir Denis also liked a drink, or as he variously referred to it: an "opener", "brightener", "lifter", "tincture", "snifter" or "snort". While not quite as hen-pecked as the "vegetables" in the Cabinet, he remained subject to the demands of "The Boss". In reality, he was her "mainstay" and a "tower of strength" who helped her through the rough seas of political life. Their daughter, Carol, said: "Dad always used to defuse difficult situations with humour. If there was a crisis he'd pour himself a stiff gin and say: 'Let's just relax.' He lived on gin and cigarettes and made it to 88."
And what did Sir Denis have to say about the Iron Lady?
"I have been married to one of the greatest women the world has ever produced," he once boasted. "All I could produce, small as it may be, was love and loyalty."