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Below the Parapet
Carol Thatcher

Below the Parapet
Carol Thatcher
London 1996

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The photographs in Carol Thatcher’s biography of her father nicely illustrate the affectionate, dryly humorous tone of the book. "Public Denis" is the familiar figure, fag in mouth, drink in hand, whilst in "Private Denis" he snoozes contentedly in his "favourite armchair". Other snaps show him flanked by Beefeater Gin girlies, or stoically suspended mid-air in a rescue harness for a Boat Show photocall. There is something about Denis’s cheery normality and piggy nostrils, his penchant for fine wines and tobacco, which make him instantly likeable.

Nothing in Below the Parapet – which refers to Denis’s head-down approach to being the prime minister’s husband – alters this favourable impression. He comes across as a thoroughly decent chap with an excellent head for business. Honest, straightforward, and rather modest, this is a man untouched by childhood trauma or dysfunctional families, although some psychoanalysts might disagree, citing his self-confessed insensitivity, "The war didn’t have a traumatic effect on me…" or his reaction to his new son and daughter, born six weeks premature, "My god, they look like rabbits. Put them back." But these are merely the norms of a previous generation, rather than symptoms of neurosis. His abhorrence of capital punishment, "an absolutely barbaric way of takling people’s lives… absolutely awful", one of the few things he disagreed with his wife about, shows empathy and humanity.

Denis’s spooky prediliction for blondes called Margaret resulted in two wddings and two Margaret Thatchers. Below the Parapet provides a fascinating, behind-the-scenes glimpse of Margaret II, in mother, wife and minsterial mode – the twins’ nanny recalls, "She was so ultra-efficient that it was very difficult to fault her" – and a portrait of an extraordinarily successful marriage. Carol has written a very good, often very funny account of a rather splendid dad.

Reviewed by Tara Howard


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