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My Life with Harold Wilson

Peter Jenkins, 20 December 1979

Final Term: The Labour Government 1974-76 
by Harold Wilson.
Weidenfeld/Joseph, 322 pp., £8.95
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... I did not know Harold Wilson until he became leader of the Labour Party in early 1963. The first personal encounter I can remember was when he stopped at a party and engaged me in arcane small talk about the world price of wheat and its consequence for the price mechanism of the Common Agricultural Policy. I was blinded with science ...

Harold, row the boat aground

Paul Foot, 20 November 1986

Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister 
by Harold Wilson.
Weidenfeld/Joseph, 214 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2775 7
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... It was, believe it or not, a Labour Party meeting, and the main speaker was the Labour leader, Harold Wilson. The ‘warm-up’ was a brilliant speech by the MP for Stechford, Roy Jenkins, who described his leader as ‘the greatest Parliamentarian of his generation’. The acclamation for Wilson as he rose to ...

Wilsonia

Paul Foot, 2 March 1989

The Wilson Plot: The Intelligence Services and the Discrediting of a Prime Minister 
by David Leigh.
Heinemann, 271 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 434 41340 2
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A Price too High 
by Peter Rawlinson.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £16, March 1989, 0 297 79431 0
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... with arguably the greatest political scoop of our time: he or she would finally reveal why Harold Wilson, to the astonishment of the entire political and journalistic world, suddenly took himself off to obscurity. Harold Wilson had dominated the political scene for 13 years before his resignation in March ...

Say what you will about Harold

Christopher Hitchens, 2 December 1993

WilsonThe Authorised Life 
by Philip Ziegler.
Weidenfeld, 593 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 297 81276 9
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... Since it can be properly said that nothing in Harold Wilson’s political career became him like the leaving of it, there is some justice in the fact that he is now best-remembered for one photograph and for one action. The photograph shows him next to the Duke of Grafton while assuming his stall at Windsor as a Knight of the Garter, and the action was the compiling (would that be the word?) of a resignation honours list that rewarded those who – oh, dash it, I don’t know – shall we say made money rather than earned it? Anyway, in the photograph Wilson looks like nothing so much as a grinning monkey on a stick, and in the matter of the honours list he achieved the near-impossible feat of discrediting the discredited and making a laughing-stock out of something already rather disagreeably risible ...

Cowboy Coups

Phillip Knightley, 10 October 1991

Smear! Wilson and the Secret State 
by Stephen Dorrill and Robin Ramsay.
Fourth Estate, 502 pp., £20, August 1991, 9781872180687
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... Intelligence Service had penetrated British life. The MI5 officer quickly dispensed with the Wilson Government – its penetration was taken as read – slandered Wilson’s own loyalties and those of several members of his Cabinet, and then moved on to the Royal family. The thrust of his accusations was that ...

So much was expected

R.W. Johnson, 3 December 1992

Harold Wilson 
by Ben Pimlott.
HarperCollins, 811 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 00 215189 8
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Harold Wilson 
by Austen Morgan.
Pluto, 625 pp., £25, May 1992, 0 7453 0635 7
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... On 4 July 1934 Harold Wilson, an 18-year-old schoolboy waiting to go up to Oxford, proposed to Gladys Baldwin, the pretty young typist he’d first seen playing tennis only three weeks before. Gladys (who later came to prefer her second name, Mary) was somewhat bemused, particularly since Harold, already, in Pimlott’s words, ‘cheerful, boastful, absurdly sure of himself and confidently planning the future’, went on to tell Gladys that he intended to become an MP and, ultimately, prime minister ...

Christopher Hitchens states a prosecution case

Christopher Hitchens, 25 October 1990

Crossman: The Pursuit of Power 
by Anthony Howard.
Cape, 361 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 02592 9
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... On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Then Harold Wilson raised the issue of Anthony Howard. He has just been appointed by the Sunday Times to be the first Whitehall correspondent in history, looking into the secrets of the Civil Service rather than leaking the secrets of the politicians ...

The Common Touch

Paul Foot, 10 November 1994

Hanson: A Biography 
by Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe.
Fourth Estate, 336 pp., £20, September 1994, 1 85702 189 4
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... Hanson, his gentle Yorkshire lilt fascinated her almost as much as his millions. She assumed, as Harold Wilson had several years previously, that Hanson was typical of the self-made man, the hard-working puritan who started at the bottom and worked twenty hours a day until he achieved fame and fortune. Like ...

Dingy Quadrilaterals

Ian Gilmour: The Profumo Case, 19 October 2006

Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir 
by David Profumo.
Murray, 291 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 7195 6608 8
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... involved ‘the Doctor, the Lord, the Spy’ and Profumo himself. The leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, dubbed them ‘this dingy quadrilateral’, though, as will soon appear, a much dingier quadrilateral was composed of four very different people. The origins of the Profumo family were Sardinian. Jack Profumo’s great-grandfather, who ...

Keeping Left

Edmund Dell, 2 October 1980

The Castle Diaries 
by Barbara Castle.
Weidenfeld, 778 pp., £14.95, September 1980, 0 297 77420 4
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... must be ascribed to Tony’s ill-health during that period. He was no longer the man he had been. Harold Lever is portrayed as a man too devoted to playing bridge with the Establishment – his membership of a Labour Cabinet was increasingly inappropriate. I myself disagreed frequently with Harold’s views on ...

Secret Meetings

Arthur Marwick, 20 May 1982

Battered Cherub 
by Joe Gormley.
Hamish Hamilton, 216 pp., £7.95, April 1982, 0 241 10754 7
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... by Gormley (very warm in his references to Heath, who, he says, was ‘badly advised’) is that Harold Wilson was to blame for the all-out strike. At that time of strict statutory pay limitations, the dodge was to find special reasons (such as the notorious ‘unsocial hours’) which could lead to more money being paid without there being a formal ...

Tam, Dick and Harold

Ian Aitken, 26 October 1989

Dick Crossman: A Portrait 
by Tam Dalyell.
Weidenfeld, 253 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79670 4
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... it is a great deal deader in this segment of the population than in any other. That the Attlee and Wilson governments had such a heavy complement of Oxbridge intellectuals owed as much to the fact that deference still existed at the grass roots of the Labour Party in the Thirties and Forties as it did to the willingness of graduates to put themselves ...

Questionably Virtuous

Stuart Middleton: Harold Wilson, 7 September 2016

Harold WilsonThe Unprincipled Prime Minister? Reappraising Harold Wilson 
edited by Andrew Crines and Kevin Hickson.
Biteback, 319 pp., £20, March 2016, 978 1 78590 031 0
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... There has​ never been a bad time to reappraise Harold Wilson. He was a politician so enigmatic, so elusive even to his own associates, that he seemed to demand near continuous reappraisal throughout his career. On the verge of office in 1964, he appeared to more than one observer as a latter-day Lloyd George, a radical tribune sprung from provincial nonconformity to drive the nation before him with wit and moral exhortation ...

Labour and the Bouncers

Paul Foot, 4 June 1987

Prime Minister: The Conduct of Policy under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan 
by Bernard Donoughue.
Cape, 198 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 224 02450 7
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Time and Chance 
by James Callaghan.
Collins, 584 pp., £15.95, April 1987, 0 00 216515 5
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... corporations it represented were not the only enemies of the elected government. Like Joe Haines, Harold Wilson’s adviser in the first part of the 1974-1979 Labour Government, Bernard Donoughue finds plenty of important people lurking in the background to defend the existing order from any levelling which the Labour Government might threaten. He ...

Babylon

William Rodgers, 30 March 1989

European Diary 1977-1981 
by Roy Jenkins.
Collins, 698 pp., £25, March 1989, 0 00 217976 8
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... and he and his supporters had been cast into outer darkness. Then the pendulum swung again. Harold Wilson, now back in office, sought, after a period of mainly bogus ‘renegotiation’, endorsement in a referendum of Britain’s continued membership of the European Community. Roy Jenkins led the all-party ‘Britain in Europe’ campaign, and ...

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