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Denis Thatcher

Sir Denis Thatcher
Denis Thatcher in 1984
Spouse of the Prime Minister
of the United Kingdom
In office
4 May 1979 – 28 November 1990
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Audrey Callaghan
Succeeded by Norma Major
Personal details
Born (1915-05-10)10 May 1915
London, United Kingdom
Died 26 June 2003(2003-06-26) (aged 88)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Margaret Kempson
(m. 1942–1948)
Margaret Roberts
(m. 1951–2003)
Children Mark Thatcher
Carol Thatcher
Alma mater Mill Hill School
Occupation Businessman
Religion Church of England
Awards Bt, MBE, TD
Military service
Allegiance 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

Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, MBETD (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. He is the most recent person outside the Royal Family to be awarded a British hereditary title, which he was granted in 1990.


  • Early life 1
  • War record 2
    • Awards and decorations 2.1
  • Marriages 3
  • Career 4
  • Public life and perceptions 5
  • Illness and death 6
  • Publications 7
  • References 8
  • Sources 9
  • External links 10

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 School. 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 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 Germany with his father's business in 1938.

War record

During World War II, 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 Marseille, 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. Because of 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] On 21 September 1982 he was awarded the Territorial Efficiency Decoration (TD) for his service.[8]

Awards and decorations

Award Ribbon Post-nominal letters
Member of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division) MBE
1939–45 Star
Italy Star
War Medal 1939–1945 with Mention in Despatches
Territorial Efficiency Decoration TD


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 officers' dance at Grosvenor House the year before.

Then-U. S. Vice President Barbara Bush with Margaret and Denis Thatcher at Chequers, 1984

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 completely refused 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 their mother was leader of the Conservative Party) and only when the media revealed it.

In February 1949, at a Paint Trades Federation function in Dartford, he met Margaret Hilda Roberts, a chemist and newly selected parliamentary candidate. They married on 13 December 1951, at Wesley's Chapel in City Road, London: the Robertses were Methodists. Margaret Thatcher was Britain's first (and only to date) female prime minister and Denis Thatcher was the first husband of a prime minister in British history.[10]

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


Thatcher was already a millionaire when he met his second wife and financed her 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.

Thatcher became managing director of 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 (£9,165,000 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.[11] 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 plc from 1983 to January 1994, a director of Quinton Hazell from 1968 to 1998, and a consultant to AMEC plc and CSX Corp. He was also a non-executive director of retail giant Halfords during the 1980s.

Public life and perceptions

Thatcher laughs with US First Lady Nancy Reagan at a banquet at 10 Downing Street, 1988

Thatcher refused press interviews and made only brief speeches. When he did speak to the press, he called Margaret "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 (as happened a year later).

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."[12] 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, commanding her to go to "Bed, woman!"[13] 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.[11]

Thatcher was consistently strongly against the death penalty, calling it "absolutely awful" and "barbaric". (Britain abolished capital punishment in 1965, but execution for murder was retained in Northern Ireland until 1973.) 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.[14]

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 and asking "So, what do you think the fuzzy wuzzies are up to?"[15]

In December 1990, the month after Margaret Thatcher's resignation as prime minister, it was announced that Denis Thatcher would be created a baronet[16] (the first such creation since 1964). The award was gazetted in February 1991, giving his title as Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, of Scotney in the County of Kent.[17] Thus his wife was entitled to be called Lady Thatcher whilst retaining her seat in the House of Commons. The baronetcy was a hereditary title that was to be inherited by their son Mark after Denis's death. It was the first British baronetage to be granted since 1964, and no baronetages have been created thereafter.[18] 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.

Illness and death

Plaques on the graves of Margaret and Denis Thatcher at the Royal Hospital Chelsea

On 17 January 2003, Denis Thatcher underwent a six-hour heart-bypass operation. He had complained of breathlessness in the weeks before Christmas 2002 and the problem was diagnosed in early January. He left 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 again complained of breathlessness and was taken to hospital. There pancreatic cancer was diagnosed, along with fluid in his lungs. He died on 26 June at Westminster's Lister Hospital in London. Denis and Margaret Thatcher had been married for almost 52 years.

His funeral service took place on 3 July 2003, at the chapel of the Chelsea Royal Hospital in London, followed by a cremation at Mortlake Crematorium[19] in Richmond, London. On 30 October a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey. His ashes were buried under a white marble marker just outside the Royal Hospital in Chelsea.[20] His wife's ashes were buried with his following her death in 2013.[21][22]


  • Thatcher's single public interview, which took place in October 2002, was released as a DVD, Married to Maggie, after his death. In it he called his wife's successor 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 Sir Winston Churchill.


  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34977. pp. 6182–6184. 22 October 1940. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36886. pp. 315–317. 9 January 1945. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37368. pp. 5791–5795. 27 November 1945. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  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.  
  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.  
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37279. p. 4740. 21 September 1945. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43646. p. 4565. 7 May 1965. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49114. p. 12237. 20 September 1982. Retrieved 30 October 2008.
  9. ^ ODNB
  10. ^ "Margaret Thatcher". Number 10. 
  11. ^ a b Scott-Smith, Giles (Winter 2003). Her Rather Ambitious Washington Program": Margaret Thatcher's International Visitor Program Visit to the United States in 1967""" (PDF). Contemporary British History (Routledge – Taylor and Francis) 17 (4): 65–86.  
  12. ^ The Times, page 7, 5 October 1970
  13. ^ Runciman, David (2013-06-06). "Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat". London Review of Books. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  14. ^ "TV's top 10 tantrums". BBC News. 31 August 2001. 
  15. ^ 'Tim Bale - Thatcher's Life and Legacy' radio interview on Radio New Zealand National, broadcast 2013-04-14
  16. ^ The London Gazette: no. 52360. p. 19066. 11 December 1990. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: no. 52443. p. 1993. 7 February 1991. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Notable dead at Mortlake" (PDF). Mortlake Crematorium. 14 December 2008. 
  20. ^ "'"Margaret Thatcher: 'Don't waste money on a flypast at my funeral. The Daily Telegraph (London). 9 April 2013. 
  21. ^ "Baroness Thatcher's ashes laid to rest". The Telegraph. 28 September 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  22. ^ "Margaret Thatcher's ashes laid to rest at Royal Hospital Chelsea". BBC News. 28 September 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 


Collins, Christopher (January 2007). "'Thatcher, Sir Denis, first baronet (1915–2003)'".  

External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Audrey Callaghan
Spouse of the 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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