Monday, 13 July 2009

Dear Bill by Richard Ingrams and John Wells

The Dear Bill letters in Private Eye were the fortnightly round-up of the week's events in politics during Margaret Thatcher's time in office. The Eye had previously satirised the Wilson administration with Mrs. Wilson's Diary, and they continued the theme during the Major Years with The Secret Diary of John Major aged 47 3/4, but Dear Bill was special. It was brilliant.

There's a family story that a copy of the letters, having been given to my father as a Christmas present, had been left lying on a table somewhere, when my Grandmother chanced upon them. She read a few and remarked that she didn't think that they ought to have been published! In my mind, Private Eye's Prime Ministerial satires have never achieved the humour that they did with this series, but I suppose I might be biased, as there are copious references to 'electric soup' and 'snorts' throughout, hence it's inclusion in the 120 Units blog.

The following is from 30 September 1988, and is my favourite. It gets quoted often, normally at length...

Dear Bill, Did Maurice get my obscene greetings from Madrid on his fax machine? I was left alone for hours in the Embassy while the Boss went off to discuss Gibraltar, and the Ambassador very kindly granted me the freedom of his den, complete with half a case of El Matador Knockout Infuriator. By the time I met up with the Boss in the Prado the horizon was performing a rhumba and when somebody mentioned El Greco I remember asking for a large one.

The letters somehow endeared Dennis to the nation as a sozzled old buffoon who was essentially harmless. I'm not sure that was the authors' intent, but it's telling that Wells finished up doing impersinations of Dennis by the end of the Thatcher's tenure in Downing Street.

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