Margaret Thatcher is a rather striking exception to this sentimental rule. When she held her birthday party on Thursday night at a grand hotel in London, everyone obliged to do so went through the motions. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh arrived, stayed for 20 minutes, and left, rather like young people looking in on their parents' boring cocktail party before going on to enjoy themselves, thus avoiding being seen anywhere near Sir Mark Thatcher.
The high-minded (Thatcher brings out high-mindedness in her critics) would have felt there was something appropriate about Sir Mark having come a cropper. The friends he made, and the business he did would certainly be good examples of what the late Ted called the Unacceptable Face of Capitalism.
And there it was, on Thursday night, primped and powdered and framed with a highlighted hairdo - the Unacceptable Face itself, the birdlike little mask, hiding bottomless humourlessness, which in glory days had allowed itself to be pecked respectfully by Ronald Reagan and General Pinochet and Cecil Parkinson. Tory grandees, right-wing journalists, and shyster industrialists, laughed their way through Peter Carrington's gracious speech. It no doubt had a Wodehousian charm, but the only person who could really pay a fitting tribute to Margaret would have been John Wells impersonating her husband. Both men, alas, had gone on before, to the 19th Hole in the Sky.
Margaret Dumont is said never to have seen what was funny in the Marx Brothers as she allowed herself to be whisked round dance floors by Groucho. Something of the same double-take always occurred with Thatcher, many of whose greatest supporters were notable buffoons. The comicality, intended or otherwise, of Woodrow Wyatt, Willie Whitelaw or T E Utley was, presumably, lost on her. Margot in The Good Life, who never saw the point of Tom or Gerry's jokes, must often have come to mind during cabinet meetings as, like Penelope Keith, Thatcher snubbed and snapped.
There is a feel to these things and, whereas Michael Foot or the Queen Mother at 80 attracted natural warmth, there was bound to be a certain chill about the Iron Lady's festivities. Of course, New Labour loves her memory. And some of the old Tories respect her for having helped smash the power of the trade unions. Her followers now will probably not raise a glass to her having forced the Single European Act through a reluctant House of Commons.
Many people admire Margaret Thatcher, but no one really likes her. While Sir Denis was alive, it was possible, especially when she was seen through his fictitious eyes in Private Eye, to make her seem funny. But a lifetime of being strident and rude does not leave much trace of fondness.
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