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Below the Parapet: The Autobiography of Denis Thatcher by Carol Thatcher

20 December 2007

This book doesn’t quite fall into the ‘diaries/memoirs’ or ‘dead politicians’ category, so I’ve set up a new ‘biographies’ category that ought to do the trick.

Below the Parapet: The Autobiography of Denis Thatcher by Carol Thatcher

It’s always interesting to see children of the famous writing biographies of their parents, and even more interesting when these biographies are not overly coloured with bitterness for any neglect or lack of attention that the parents might have displayed when their offspring were growing up. And Carol Thatcher’s book about her father overcomes quite a bit of established opinion in its attempt to make Sir Denis Thatcher less of a caricature and more of a real person.

The general image most people have of Denis Thatcher is that of a bumbling, stumbling sot, given to making inappropriate comments about people of colour and always slinking away to the golf links whenever he can wriggle out of the iron grip of She Who Devours A Red Box And A Permanent Secretary At Breakfast Each Morning. Private Eye‘s ‘Dear Bill’ letters have most of the responsibility for that image, but Denis Thatcher tended to play along at times, most notably when he replied to a woman’s question about what he did all day by saying, ‘Well, when I’m not completely pissed I like to play a round of golf’. On the whole, though, much of his time was spent ‘below the parapet’, quietly working as an executive at his fairly successful paint-making business and keeping out of the limelight as much as possible.

Below the Parapet is very much the story of a daughter trying to promote her father as a man in his own right, out of her famous mother’s shadow. And she succeeds, for the most part, though there are times when the careful reader can see the cracks in her attempts to play up the idea of the Thatchers as a family who just happened to be famous. (She certainly doesn’t have much time for her brother Mark — and from the sound of the book, neither did her father — and there’s an undercurrent of uneasiness in the way she talks about her mother.) It’s a fairly subdued sort of autobiography, and goes well with the fairly subdued sort of man Denis Thatcher was.

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