125 Facts About Harold Wilson


Harold Wilson was the Leader of the Labour Party from 1963 to 1976, and was a Member of Parliament from 1945 to 1983.


Harold Wilson was later an economic history lecturer at New College, Oxford, and a research fellow at University College, Oxford.


When Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell died suddenly in January 1963, Harold Wilson won the subsequent leadership election to replace him, becoming Leader of the Opposition.


Harold Wilson led Labour to a narrow victory at the 1964 election.


The Harold Wilson government oversaw significant societal changes in the United Kingdom, abolishing both capital punishment and theatre censorship, partially decriminalising male homosexuality in England and Wales, relaxing the divorce laws, limiting immigration, and liberalising birth control and abortion law.


Harold Wilson remained in the House of Commons until retiring in 1983, when he was elevated to the House of Lords as Lord Harold Wilson of Rievaulx.


Harold Wilson's reputation was low when he left office and was still poor in 2016.

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Harold Wilson's stated ambitions of substantially improving Britain's long-term economic performance, applying technology more democratically, and reducing inequality went to some extent unfulfilled.


Harold Wilson was born at Warneford Road, Cowlersley, in the western suburbs of the mill town of Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, on 11 March 1916.


Harold Wilson came from a political family: his father James Herbert Wilson was a works chemist who had been active in the Liberal Party, going as far as to be Winston Churchill's deputy election agent in a 1908 by-election, but later joined the Labour Party.


Harold Wilson's mother Ethel was a schoolteacher before her marriage; in 1901 her brother Harold Seddon settled in Western Australia and became a local political leader.


When Harold Wilson was eight, he visited London and a much-reproduced photograph was taken of him standing on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street.


Harold Wilson's father, working as an industrial chemist, was made redundant in December 1930, and it took him nearly two years to find work; he moved to Spital, on the Wirral Peninsula, to do so.


Harold Wilson did well at school and, although he missed getting a scholarship, he obtained an exhibition; this, when topped up by a county grant, enabled him to study Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford, from 1934.


Harold Wilson graduated in PPE with "an outstanding first class Bachelor of Arts degree, with alphas on every paper" in the final examinations, and a series of major academic awards.


Harold Wilson continued in academia, becoming one of the youngest Oxford dons of the century at the age of 21.


Harold Wilson was a lecturer in Economic History at New College from 1937, and a research fellow at University College.


Harold Wilson later became a statistician and economist for the coal industry.


Harold Wilson was to remain passionately interested in statistics, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1943.


Harold Wilson was instrumental as prime minister in appointing Claus Moser as head of the Central Statistical Office, and was president of the Royal Statistical Society between 1972 and 1973.


Harold Wilson was selected for the constituency of Ormskirk, then held by Stephen King-Hall.


Harold Wilson agreed to be adopted as the candidate immediately rather than delay until the election was called, and was therefore compelled to resign from his position in the Civil Service.


Harold Wilson served as Praelector in Economics at University College between his resignation and his election to the House of Commons.


Harold Wilson used this time to write A New Deal for Coal, which used his wartime experience to argue for the nationalisation of the coal mines on the grounds of the improved efficiency he predicted would ensue.


Harold Wilson stood instead for the new seat of Huyton near Liverpool, and was narrowly elected; he served there for 33 years until 1983.

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Harold Wilson was appointed President of the Board of Trade on 29 September 1947, becoming, at the age of 31, the youngest member of a British Cabinet in the 20th century.


Harold Wilson made it a priority to reduce wartime rationing, which he referred to as a "bonfire of controls".


Harold Wilson decided that the massive number of wartime controls was slowing the conversion to peacetime prosperity and he was committed to removing them as fast as possible.


Harold Wilson ended rationing of potatoes, bread and jam, as well as shoes and some other clothing controls.


In November 1948 Harold Wilson announced his Board of Trade had removed the need for over 200,000 licenses and permits.


In mid-1949, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford Cripps having gone to Switzerland in an attempt to recover his health, Harold Wilson was one of a group of three young ministers, all of them former economics dons and wartime civil servants, convened to advise Prime Minister Attlee on financial matters.


Harold Wilson was given the task during his Swiss holiday of taking a letter to Cripps informing him of the decision to devalue, to which Cripps had been opposed.


Harold Wilson had tarnished his reputation in both political and official circles.


Harold Wilson was becoming known in the Labour Party as a left-winger, and joined Aneurin Bevan and John Freeman in resigning from the government in April 1951 in protest at the introduction of National Health Service medical charges to meet the financial demands imposed by the Korean War.


At the bitter Morecambe Conference in late 1952, Harold Wilson was one of the Bevanites elected as constituency representatives to Labour's National Executive Committee, whilst senior right-wingers such as Dalton and Herbert Morrison were voted off.


Harold Wilson had never made much secret that his support of the left-wing Aneurin Bevan was opportunistic.


Harold Wilson, who had been runner-up in the elections, stepped up to fill the vacant place.


Harold Wilson was supported in this by Richard Crossman, but his actions angered Bevan and the other Bevanites.


Harold Wilson coined the term "Gnomes of Zurich" to ridicule Swiss bankers for selling Britain short and pushing the pound sterling down by speculation.


Harold Wilson conducted an inquiry into the Labour Party's organisation following its defeat in the 1955 general election; its report compared Labour's organisation to an antiquated "penny farthing" bicycle, and made various recommendations for improvements.


Unusually, Harold Wilson combined the job of Chairman of the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee with that of Shadow Chancellor from 1959, holding that position until 1963.


Bevan had died in July 1960, so Harold Wilson established himself as a leader of the Labour left by launching an opportunistic but unsuccessful challenge to Gaitskell's leadership in November 1960.


Timothy Heppell has explored how Harold Wilson won the Labour Party leadership election.


Harold Wilson had alienated the right wing of the party by his angry attempts to defeat Gaitskell in 1960 for the leadership, and George Brown in 1962 for the deputy leadership.


Harold Wilson took the lead on the first ballot and gained momentum on the second.

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Finally, Brown proved a poor campaigner, emphasizing divisive factors rather than his own credentials, allowing Harold Wilson to emerge, surprisingly, as the unity candidate, thus becoming the Leader of the Labour Party and the Leader of the Opposition.


At the party's 1963 annual conference, Harold Wilson made his best-remembered speech, on the implications of scientific and technological change.


Harold Wilson argued that "the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry".


Harold Wilson made capital without getting involved in the less salubrious aspects.


Labour won the 1964 general election with a narrow majority of four seats, and Harold Wilson became prime minister, the youngest person to hold that office since Lord Rosebery 70 years earlier.


Harold Wilson's government undertook the easing of means testing for non-contributory welfare benefits, the linking of pensions to earnings, and the provision of industrial-injury benefits.


Harold Wilson's government made significant reforms to education, most notably the expansion of comprehensive education and the creation of the Open University.


Harold Wilson's government put faith in economic planning as a way to solve Britain's economic problems.


Harold Wilson believed that scientific progress was the key to economic and social advancement, as such he famously referred to the "white heat of technology", in reference to the modernisation of British industry.


Immediately the pound came under enormous pressure, and many economists advocated devaluation of the pound in response, but Harold Wilson resisted, reportedly in part out of concern that Labour, which had previously devalued sterling in 1949, would become tagged as "the party of devaluation".


Harold Wilson believed that a devaluation would disproportionately harm low-income Britons with savings and poorer Commonwealth of Nations countries in the sterling area.


Harold Wilson was much criticised for a broadcast soon after in which he assured listeners that the "pound in your pocket" had not lost its value.


In retrospect Harold Wilson has been widely criticised for not devaluing earlier he believed there were strong arguments against it, including the fear that it would set off a round of competitive devaluations, and concern about the impact price rises following a devaluation would have on people on low incomes.


Harold Wilson built on foundations that had been laid by his Conservative predecessors, in the shape, for example, of the National Economic Development Council and its regional counterparts.


Harold Wilson took a characteristically more subtle approach: No significant expansion of public ownership took place under Harold Wilson's government he placated the party's left-wing by renationalising the steel industry under the Iron and Steel Act 1967 creating the British Steel Corporation.


One innovation of the Harold Wilson government was the creation in 1968 of the Girobank, a publicly owned bank which operated via the General Post Office network: As most working-class people in the 1960s did not have bank accounts, this was designed to serve their needs, as such it was billed as the "people's bank".


Harold Wilson's government presided over a rate of unemployment which was low by historic standards but did rise during his period in office.


Harold Wilson had entered power at a time when unemployment stood at around 400,000.


Harold Wilson personally, coming culturally from a provincial non-conformist background, showed no particular enthusiasm for much of this agenda.


Education held special significance for a socialist of Harold Wilson's generation, given its role in both opening up opportunities for children from working-class backgrounds and enabling Britain to seize the potential benefits of scientific advances.

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Harold Wilson continued the rapid creation of new universities, in line with the recommendations of the Robbins Report, a bipartisan policy already in train when Labour took power.


Harold Wilson promoted the concept of an Open University, to give adults who had missed out on tertiary education a second chance through part-time study and distance learning.


In 1966, Harold Wilson was created the first Chancellor of the newly created University of Bradford, a position he held until 1985.


The Travel Concessions Act 1964, one of the first Acts passed by the First Harold Wilson Government, provided concessions to all pensioners travelling on buses operated by municipal transport authorities.


Harold Wilson's government made a variety of changes to the tax system.


Across his two periods in office, Harold Wilson presided over significant increases in the overall tax burden in the UK.


When taking into account all benefits, taxes and Government expenditures on social services, the first Harold Wilson government succeeded in bringing about a reduction in income inequality.


Harold Wilson believed in a strong "Special Relationship" with the United States and wanted to highlight his dealings with the White House to strengthen his prestige as a statesman.


President Lyndon B Johnson disliked Wilson and ignored any "special" relationship.


Harold Wilson's policy angered the left-wing of his Labour Party, who opposed the Vietnam War.


The only point of total agreement was that both Johnson and Harold Wilson emphatically supported Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.


Harold Wilson consistently avoided any commitment of British forces, giving as reasons British military commitments to the Malayan Emergency and British co-chairmanship of the 1954 Geneva Conference.


Harold Wilson's government offered some rhetorical support for the US position.


On 28 June 1966 Harold Wilson 'dissociated' his Government from American bombing of the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong.


Shortly afterwards, in January 1968, Harold Wilson announced that the proposed timetable for this withdrawal was to be accelerated and that British forces were to be withdrawn from Singapore, Malaysia, and the Persian Gulf by the end of 1971.


Southern Rhodesia was not granted independence, principally because Harold Wilson refused to grant independence to the white minority government headed by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith which was not willing to extend unqualified voting rights to the native African population.


Harold Wilson was applauded by most nations for taking a firm stand on the issue.


Harold Wilson declined to intervene in Rhodesia with military force, believing the British population would not support such action against their "kith and kin".


Harold Wilson had a good relationship with Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, the two leaders attempted to work together to find a solution the question of Biafra in Nigeria.


Harold Wilson responded to this apparent recovery in his government's popularity by calling a general election, but, to the surprise of most observers, was defeated at the polls by the Conservatives under Heath.

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Harold Wilson considered Heath's claims "irresponsible" and "damaging to the nation".


Harold Wilson survived as leader of the Labour Party in opposition.


Harold Wilson was unable to get into the boat and was left in the cold water for more than half an hour, hanging on to the fenders of the motorboat.


Harold Wilson was close to death before he was saved by Paul Wolff, the father of novelist Isabel Wolff.


When word of the incident became public the following month, Harold Wilson downplayed its severity; it was taken up by the press and resulted in some embarrassment.


Harold Wilson gained a three-seat majority in another election later that year, on 10 October 1974.


The Second Harold Wilson Government made a major commitment to the expansion of the British welfare state, with increased spending on education, health, and housing rents.


In May 1974, when back in office as leader of a minority government, Harold Wilson condemned the Unionist-controlled Ulster Workers Council Strike as a "sectarian strike", which was "being done for sectarian purposes having no relation to this century but only to the seventeenth century".


Harold Wilson refused to pressure a reluctant British Army to face down the Ulster loyalist paramilitaries who were intimidating utility workers.


Document went on to claim that the Doomsday plan was devised mainly by Harold Wilson and was kept a closely guarded secret.


Harold Wilson claimed that he had always planned on resigning at the age of 60 and that he was physically and mentally exhausted.


Harold Wilson's doctor had detected problems which would later be diagnosed as colon cancer, and Wilson had begun drinking brandy during the day to cope with stress.


Harold Wilson was appointed in 1976 to chair the Committee to Review the Functioning of Financial Institutions which reported in June 1980.


The pilot episode proved to be a flop as Harold Wilson appeared uncomfortable with the informality of the format.


Harold Wilson hosted two editions of the BBC chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning.


Harold Wilson famously floundered in the role, and in 2000, Channel 4 chose one of his appearances as one of the 100 Moments of TV Hell.


At Christmas 1978, Harold Wilson appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.


Eric Morecambe's habit of appearing not to recognise the guest stars was repaid by Harold Wilson, who referred to him throughout as 'Morry-camby'.


Harold Wilson was not especially active in the House of Lords, although he did initiate a debate on unemployment in May 1984.


Harold Wilson continued regularly attending the House of Lords until just over a year before his death; the last sitting he attended was on 27 April 1994.

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Harold Wilson had a picture taken with other Labour Lords on 15 June 1994, just under a year before his death.


Harold Wilson died from colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease on 24 May 1995, aged 79.


Harold Wilson's death came five months before that of his predecessor Alec Douglas-Home.


Harold Wilson regarded himself as a "man of the people" and did much to promote this image, contrasting himself with the stereotypical aristocratic conservatives and other statesmen who had preceded him, as an example of social mobility.


Harold Wilson exhibited his populist touch in June 1965 when he had the Beatles honoured with the award of MBE.


Critics claimed that Harold Wilson acted to solicit votes for the next general election, but defenders noted that, since the minimum voting age at that time was 21, this was hardly likely to impact many of the Beatles' fans who at that time were predominantly teenagers.


In 1967, Harold Wilson had a different interaction with a musical ensemble.


Harold Wilson sued the pop group the Move for libel after the band's manager Tony Secunda published a promotional postcard for the single "Flowers in the Rain", featuring a caricature depicting Wilson in bed with his female assistant, Marcia Williams.


Harold Wilson won the case, and all royalties from the song were assigned in perpetuity to a charity of Harold Wilson's choosing.


Harold Wilson coined the term 'Selsdon Man' to refer to the free market policies of the Conservative leader Edward Heath, developed at a policy retreat held at the Selsdon Park Hotel in early 1970.


An opinion poll in September 2011 found that Harold Wilson came in third place when respondents were asked to name the best post-war Labour Party leader.


Harold Wilson was beaten only by John Smith and Tony Blair.


Harold Wilson pledged not to devalue sterling, but did exactly that in 1967; he promised to keep unemployment low, but had by 1970 accepted a higher rate of joblessness than the Conservatives had managed.


In 1963, Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn is said to have secretly claimed that Harold Wilson was a KGB agent.


Harold Wilson retracted that claim, saying there was only one man.


Harold Wilson told two BBC journalists, Barrie Penrose and Roger Courtiour, who recorded the meetings on a cassette tape recorder, that he feared he was being undermined by MI5.


The first time was in the late 1960s after the Harold Wilson Government devalued the pound sterling but the threat faded after Conservative leader Edward Heath won the election of 1970.


Harold Wilson has found no evidence of any truth in the allegations.


Harold Wilson has given me his personal assurance that the stories are false.


Also in 2006, a street on a new housing development in Tividale, West Midlands, was named Harold Wilson Drive in honour of Harold Wilson.

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