Premier League: From "Bad Ted" Heath to Well-Meaning John Major, Britain's 20th-Century Prime Ministers Have Shared Little beyond Their Famous Address. Simon Hoggart Remembers the Charmers, Bullies and Posers of Downing Street

By Hoggart, Simon | New Statesman (1996), October 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Premier League: From "Bad Ted" Heath to Well-Meaning John Major, Britain's 20th-Century Prime Ministers Have Shared Little beyond Their Famous Address. Simon Hoggart Remembers the Charmers, Bullies and Posers of Downing Street


Hoggart, Simon, New Statesman (1996)


One of the perks of being a middle-aged political hack is that you can remember a lot of people. For example, I have met--sometimes just shaken hands with, occasionally talked to at length--every British prime minister from Macmillan onwards. And what a disparate bunch they have been. You might imagine there would be some thread in common: restless ambition; adeptness at wielding power; even, if only briefly, a certain idealism. You can find connections between two individuals: Blair and Thatcher share a ruthless streak; Attlee and Douglas-Home fell unexpectedly into the job; Wilson and Major were more concerned with staying in their post than achieving anything very much while there. But nothing binds them. As Macmillan said to a colleague who was working on a book about the British aristocracy: "You might as well write a book about all the people whose names begin with the letter D." Now Haus Publishing's series The 20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century presents them in all this intriguing and sometimes puzzling variety.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Macmillan was a tremendous poser. When he spoke at a Young Conservatives gathering a few years before he died, he was guided--stooped, with stick in hand--to the podium, where he gravely told bemused delegates that "the arrows of death are plumed with the feathers of ambition". Afterwards, the young man who had brought him on stage--his grandson, I think--confided that he had marched briskly up to the wings and only then assumed the stick and the hobble for public consumption. He devoted his final years to the pleasures of being rude about his successor-but-two. ("We have a new car. It says 'put your seat belt on', or 'slow down'. It's a very bossy car. We call it Margaret Thatcher.")

Douglas-Home was diffident beyond measure. At some point in the 1970s, he was in the first-class compartment of a train to Scotland. A middle-aged couple in the corridor did a double take, then the wife said: "My husband and I think it was a tragedy that you were never prime minister." He replied courteously: "As a matter of fact I was. But only for a very short time." Interestingly, in a new Tory conference video, he was the only 20th-century leader not to be mentioned.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Harold Wilson was typically found with brandy and cigar in hand, sitting around at night with his kitchen cabinet. He was the last of the long-serving premiers, by and large, who let his cabinet get on with it. An adviser who worked with him told me: "I really don't know what he finds to do all day. He doesn't seem to have any work." Well, he kept the Labour Party together; in those days, that was thought an end in itself.

Edward Heath, meanwhile, was a Jekyll and Hyde. The "good Ted" could be marvellous and surprising company--he once turned up to a formal lunch in a turquoise and orange Miami Dolphins sweatshirt. The "bad Ted" was mean-spirited and vengeful. When one of his Treasury ministers, John Nott, approached him in the lobby to warn him about rising inflation, Heath refused to listen, growling: "If you want to resign, put it in writing." His successor, James Callaghan, quickly realised that the forces of change were about to sweep him away. He described private meetings with Thatcher, then leader of the opposition: "She wags her finger at me, and I have to remind myself who's prime minister."

This was not a problem any of us had while she was PM. While still in opposition, Thatcher made a remark that sums up everything about her, including her upbringing and her attitude to authority. She was guest of honour at the parliamentary press children's Christmas party and came upon a small boy crying into his dessert bowl. "They've given me blancmange, and I don't like blancmange," he sobbed. "That," she replied, "is what parties are all about--eating food you don't like." (I know that story is true because the Father Christmas told me. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Premier League: From "Bad Ted" Heath to Well-Meaning John Major, Britain's 20th-Century Prime Ministers Have Shared Little beyond Their Famous Address. Simon Hoggart Remembers the Charmers, Bullies and Posers of Downing Street
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.