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Harold Wilson

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James Harold Wilson was born near Huddersfield in 1916. His father was a chemist, his mother a teacher.

Aged 11, he won a scholarship to Royds Hall Secondary School in Huddersfield, moving on to Wirral Grammar School two years later.

He went to Jesus College, Oxford and stayed on as a lecturer in economics after completing his degree.

He was recruited into the Civil Service at the outbreak of the Second World War, with a succession of jobs at the Ministry of Supply, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Fuel and Power.

He was awarded the OBE in 1945 for his work behind the scenes during the war.


In 1945 he stood as Labour candidate for Ormskirk, winning a seat in the post-war general election and being immediately appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works.

In 1947 he was promoted to Secretary for Overseas Trade and after six months, President of the Board of Trade. He resigned in 1951 in protest over the introduction of medical prescription charges.

At the age of 31, he was the youngest Cabinet Minister for a century. His role was to improve the import-export balance to help replenish a Britain stripped of resources by the war.

In the 1950 general election, he stood for the new seat of Huyton, Lancashire and won, but resigned from the Government in 1951.

The Labour Party was defeated in the general election that same year. By 1963, Wilson was Leader of the Party in Opposition and in 1964 led Labour to general election victory.

After his first term as Prime Minister ended in 1970, he again led the Opposition. After the 1974 general election, he served two more years as Prime Minister until resigning as both Party Leader and Prime Minister on 16 March 1976.

The announcement came without warning. He drove to Buckingham Palace, told the Queen, and then instructed his press secretary “Tell the lobby correspondents you’ve got a little story that might interest them”.


The news stunned and baffled the political world, and speculation about what lie behind the decision raged. Mr Wilson claimed that he had decided a long time ago to retire about now, having led the Labour Party for 13 years.

But in the Parliamentary lobbies, both friends and foes indulged in colourful theories about him “getting out before some balloon he knows about bursts”. But what? Mr Wilson just smiled.

He was made a life peer, taking the title Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, in 1983 and sat in the Upper House until his death in 1995. He was survived by Mary, nee Baldwin, who had married him in 1940