A steadfast consort, a lover of golf and fond of a tipple: Sir Denis dies

Generations of statesmen across the political divide mourn a 'legend' who supported Britain's first female Prime Minister
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Indy Politics

Tributes were paid to Sir Denis Thatcher, husband of the former Tory prime minister, who died yesterday aged 88 after a short illness.

Sir Denis, who was renowned for his love of gin and golf as well as for his role as the steadfast consort of Britain's first female Prime Minister, was hailed as a "legend" and "national institution" by politicians from across the generations and political divide.

The millionaire industrialist, who loyally supported Baroness Thatcher during her 11 years in power, died at the Lister Hospital in Chelsea, surrounded by his family.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader and a former protégé of Lady Thatcher, said he was "devastated" by Sir Denis's death. "Denis Thatcher was one of the most decent, determined and kind people that we have known," Mr Duncan Smith said.

"In a world that so often seems to have lost its manners, Denis Thatcher represented so much of what was best in the wartime generation."

Tony Blair conveyed his "deepest sympathy" to Lady Thatcher and her family. "He was a successful businessman, a devoted family man, loyal friend and always entertaining company," the Prime Minister said.

Sir Denis was born in 1915, the son of a paint manufacturer. During the Second World War he was mentioned in dispatches for bravery. He was married to Margaret Kempson when he first met Margaret Roberts, whom he went on to marry in 1951.

Although he had strong, right-wing political views of his own, he allowed his wife to steal the political limelight, quietly helping her to shoulder the burden of political office. Lord Carrington, a former foreign secretary, said: "Denis Thatcher was a legend in his time. People do not realise how much she relied on him."

Lady Thatcher once described Sir Denis as "the golden thread" running through her life, who "has made everything possible".

Sir Denis did not seem worried by his public image as the gin-sozzled, hen-pecked husband portrayed in Private Eye's fictitious Dear Bill column, which led to a West End show called Anyone for Denis?

He was always courteous and friendly and was known for his amusing quips. Once asked how he liked to spend his time, he replied: "Well, when I'm not completely pissed, I like to play a lot of golf." A question on who wore the trousers in No 10 received the reply: "I do, and I wash and iron them too."

When the Duchess of York complained to him that she was being hounded by the press after the revelation of her toe-sucking, she said: "Oh Denis, I do get an awful press, don't I?" He replied: "Yes, ma'am. Has it occurred to you to keep your mouth shut?"

Lord Brittan, of Spennithorne, who served in Lady Thatcher's cabinet, told BBC News 24: "He clearly had strong political views which were pretty right-wing usually, and I think very often they shared views, but she didn't always give effect to them, not because she disagreed but because she saw that it wasn't politically feasible to do so.

"He was always extraordinarily kind, extraordinarily courteous, extraordinarily friendly. He looked after her in a remarkable way. He didn't try to control her - that would have been an impossible task - but he was there, always with encouragement ... a tremendous influence for good."

Sir Denis attracted controversy after he sold the family paint business to the Burmah oil group in the Fifties. Burmah subsequently collapsed and Sir Denis, who had become a director of the company, was considered by some to share responsibility for its failure.

Mark, their businessman son, inherits the baronetcy and becomes Sir Mark Thatcher.

John Major, who succeeded Lady Thatcher as Prime Minister, said: "He was a substantial man in his own right and provided Margaret Thatcher with dispassionate advice that he was wise enough to keep private and Margaret was wise enough to accept." William Hague, who succeeded Mr Major as party leader, called Sir Denis "one of the kindest men I have ever known".