Spanning Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in Downing Street, with Sex Education‘s Gillian Anderson becoming the latest star to take on the Iron Lady, The Crown’s fourth outing explores the prime minister’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth II, her controversial time in office and her position as a leader, mother and wife.
But what about the prime minister’s husband Denis Thatcher, who appears frequently throughout the series? Here’s everything you need to know about Sir Denis Thatcher – who he was in real life and what he did for a living.
Who was Denis Thatcher?
Denis Thatcher was the husband of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the first male spouse of a British prime minister.
Born in 1915, Thatcher joined his family’s paint and preservatives business at the age of 18 before enlisting in the Territorial Army and transferring to the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, eventually being promoted to temporary major.
He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1945 after being mentioned in dispatches – an official report written by a superior officer which commends certain soldiers – for his service in Italy.
Thatcher married his second wife – future prime minister Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts) – in 1951, and the couple had twins, Carol Thatcher and Mark Thatcher, in 1953.
Denis Thatcher died on 26th June 2003 at the age of 88 after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.
Who plays Denis Thatcher in The Crown?
Actor Stephen Boxer portrays Denis Thatcher in season four of The Crown.
The 70-year-old is best known appearing on Casualty, Doctors, Luther, Poldark, Humans and Midsomer Murders.
What was his marriage like with Margaret Thatcher?
Denis Thatcher married Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts) in 1951 after divorcing his first wife, Margaret Doris Kempson, in 1948.
Thatcher met the future prime minister at a function in Kent 1949 when she was a chemist and he was in charge of his father’s paint business. In letters written by Margaret Thatcher to her sister Muriel, she describes Denis as “a Major “not a very attractive creature – very reserved but quite nice” and a man with “plenty of money”.
The couple had two children in 1953 – twins Carol and Mark Thatcher – and lived in Chelsea, London with a country house in Kent.
Denis Thatcher’s lucrative business allowed him to finance Margaret’s barrister training, and according to John Campbell, the Prime Minister always paid “extravagant tribute” to his part in her career, giving her financial security to pursue both law and politics.
However in 1964, he suffered a nervous breakdown ahead of his 50th birthday. According to Thatcher’s daughter Carol, who spoke to her mother’s biographer Charles Moore, Denis Thatcher was “genuinely knackered” but also “didn’t like every aspect of being married to a politician”.
Denis Thatcher said himself: “I was working like nobody’s worked before…I was probably drinking a bit too much anyway,” before adding that he felt the pressure of running a family business but didn’t blame his wife’s career as a junior pensions minister.
However, Carol Thatcher said that she thought her father had not found a satisfactory role in relation to Margaret’s political career but “came into his own later on” after retirement.
Charles Moore writes in the former prime minister’s biography that her husband “may even have contemplated divorce” during his breakdown after reaching a crossroads in his life and his marriage, while another of Thatcher’s biographers – David Cannadine – described the episode as “the greatest crisis of their marriage”.
Denis went to South Africa for over two months to recover, and later sold his company Atlas, after which the pair’s relationship strengthened.
The couple’s marriage lasted over 50 years, which biographer John Campbell in Margaret Thatcher: The Grocer’s Daughter describes as “more a partnership of mutual convenience than romance”.
While Denis and Margaret lived independent lives, he would often sit in on informal meetings – “the Thursday economic breakfasts, late-night sessions with Gow and Wolfs, even her Tuesday and Thursday morning briefings before Prime Minister’s Questions – contributing his views without restraint,” Campbell adds.
Many of Lady Thatcher’s cabinet members often found that speaking to Denis was an effective way to “get through to her when all else failed”, while he was “infinitely skilful at supporting and protecting Margaret, talking to those she could not (or did not want to) speak to and deflecting people who tried to monopolise”. He travelled with Margaret on some of her most important overseas trips and became the prime minister’s consort.
However, according to Campbell, Denis was “not the least afraid of her” and would speak freely, feeling “perfectly self-assured with her”. He would often break up Margaret’s late-night speechwriting sessions by insisting that she went to bed. “At least at a superficial level, he never lost the masculine authority which a husband of his class and generation expected to assert over his wife.”
While the pair lived separate lives, “the Thatchers were closer in Downing Street than at any previous time in their marriage”, with the prime minister telling the 1980 Conservative Party conference: “There is just Denis and me, and I could not do without him.”
Did Denis Thatcher fly out to help search for Mark after he went missing?
When Mark Thatcher went missing in the Sahara during an international motor race on 12th January 1982, his father Denis flew out to Algeria to join the search for him while Margaret Thatcher stayed in the UK.
Denis stayed there until Mark was found two days later, 50km off course. He told reporters that he was “very, very happy” and flew back to Britain with Mark in the presidential Algerian plane.
What did Denis Thatcher do?
After serving in the Army during World War II, Denis Thatcher returned to his family’s paint and preservatives business, becoming the managing director of the firm in 1947 and chairman in 1951.
The company grew into a 200-employee business and expanded overseas, before Thatcher sold it to lubricant brand Castrol in 1965 and received a seat on the company’s board.
He later became a senior divisional director for Burmah Oil, after the company took over Castrol, but retired in 1975, four months after Margaret Thatcher won the Conservative Party leadership election – although Thatcher still had a “string of non-executive directorships as well as his drinking chums and his golding companions”, according to John Campbell.
However, according to the prime minister’s biographer Robin Harris, Denis Thatcher was “not, in fact, a particularly good businessman” as he was “a poor investor”, as revealed in Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher.
“Once his wife had become Prime Minister, and even after her retirement, it was Denis who lived off her and not vice versa,” he added.
What happened to Denis Thatcher after his wife resigned as PM?
After Margaret Thatcher’s resignation from office in 1990, Denis Thatcher was given the title of a baronet, making him Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet of Scotney in the County of Kent, and a year later, he was named a Commander of the Order of St John.
The veteran spent the last 10 years of his life dealing with various health issues, from prostate cancer to a heart-bypass operation.
He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2003 and died on 26th June, with his funeral taking place at the Chelsea Royal Hospital chapel.