Documentary charting the story of two prime ministers who dominated a decade when Britain changed forever - the 1970s. Featuring interviews with colleagues and journalists.
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For ten tumultuous years from 1965 to '75,
two men fought THE heavyweight duel of 20th-century British politics.
One was the Labour leader and Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.
The Britain that is going to forged in the white heat of this revolution.
The other was the Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Edward Heath.
Away with all the short-term gimmickry and instant government we've had for the last few years.
Heath and Wilson governed in an era of huge upheaval - the swinging sixties and turbulent seventies.
On their watch, Britain changed irreversibly...
and become a nation state within Europe.
The future is yours!
But it also hit economic and industrial chaos.
Mr Heath has given the militants the charter they always dreamed of.
The Heath-Wilson duel spanned four elections...
their rivalry was both political and personal.
It was quite extraordinary how much they hated each other when they were opposite each other
in the House of Commons, and yet in some ways they were extraordinarily similar characters.
Harold Wilson and Edward Heath were the political titans of their era.
Two grammar school boys, born in the same year,
who grew into very different men, bound by political fate.
They were a double act for 10 years, we began to think
in those days, it would be like Gladstone and Disraeli, would this double act ever come to an end?
Their double act did come to an end.
But by then, the Heath-Wilson duel had redefined a nation.
# Hey, you, get off of my cloud
# Hey, you, get off of my cloud. #
In October 1964, Harold Wilson was elected British Prime Minister.
It marked a huge change from the public school toffs who had been running the country.
Wilson's Conservative predecessors had been the old Etonian aristocrat Sir Alec Douglas-Home,
and before him another old Etonian, Harold Macmillan.
Harold Wilson was cut from a very different cloth.
Country estates and grouse moors were another world.
Well, he were a Yorkshire lad, weren't he?
Come from Huddersfield.
I come from Keighley, which is not far away.
And I think the Yorkshire thing in Harold was very meaningful.
It meant a lot to him, as it always has to me.
It means being rather tough, and where there's muck there's brass.
I remember during the election campaign of 1964,
we were en route across from Lancashire to Yorkshire,
and he said, "Would you like to see the house where I was born?"
And we said, "Oh, yes, please!"
So we stopped en route outside his birthplace in Huddersfield -
a very ordinary terraced house - and he stood there,
and there was a certain humble pride and pleasure
in feeling that he had risen from
quite a humble background, with outstanding success.
'James Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour party,
'who could be the youngest Prime Minister for nearly 200 years,
'and perhaps the first with a Yorkshire accent.'
It was a breakthrough, that here was a grammar school boy,
no public school boy, done very well, won a scholarship
at University College Oxford,
got a first in PPE, and here he was,
the mascot, as it were, of the new Britain.
The self-made Yorkshireman, with his homespun pipe, Gannex raincoat
and humble tastes, revolutionised the political landscape.
He was, in some senses, quite deeply and naturally a man of the people.
When I say that, I mean when he chose to spend his holidays in Scilly
in a small seaside bungalow, that's what he wanted to do.
He wasn't trying to persuade the media that he was an ordinary man.
He just was an ordinary man.
But he was aware that the image
of the ordinary man with HP Sauce on his sausage,
drinking his pint of beer...
was helpful politically.
-# White light
-White light going messing up my mind
# White light... #
In the 1964 campaign Wilson told the British people that, after 13 years of misrule by old fogey Tories,
he would revitalize the nation with a planned economy and modern, scientific thinking.
We're restating our socialism
in terms of the scientific revolution.
I worked with him fairly closely on the manifesto.
He made the speech about the white heat of technology.
The Britain that will be forged in the white heat of this revolution
will be no place for restrictive practices, or for outdated methods on either side of industry.
He was mocked as someone who was going to put on a white coat
and go round and modernise the economy with a blow lamp.
Actually what he was saying was we are all going to be burned up
by technical change unless we plan for it.
NEWSREADER: 'The electorate has chosen.'
This new man, with his new message, struck a chord...
and Wilson won the October 1964 election, but only just.
'A fantastically close result, but a majority for Harold Wilson,
'When Wilson came in, in 1964...'
that was the great sun-rising moment
in the second half of the 20th century in Britain, other than,
I suppose, Tony Blair in 1997. It was the kind of new dawn.
The grammar school boy from Yorkshire was off to meet the Queen,
who would ask him to form the first Labour government in 13 years.
He was still in his underpants, as a matter of fact,
changing to go to the palace. And I remember so vividly
one of his colleagues said to him, "Harold, you can't go to the palace wearing red braces."
And Harold turned round and said, "Why not?
"I'm leader of the Labour party, why can't I wear red braces?" "But you can't do it.
"You've got to meet the Queen."
"But I haven't got any other braces."
"OK," said this person, "I'll go out to a local shop
"and buy you a new pair of black braces," which he did.
Harold changed from his red braces to his black braces and off he went to the palace.
The fusty old Etonian Tories had been a soft target for satirists,
like the magazine Private Eye.
The homespun but hi-tech Harold Wilson was harder to pin down.
Their solution was to invent a diary,
written by Mrs Wilson.
It was, in a way, a reaction against the image
that Wilson had projected of the super professional whizz kid,
to make him a comic bungler,
and his wife was a simple lady from the North Country, writing crap poems.
An early entry in Mrs Wilson's Diary imagined their first encounter with
the posh cook they'd inherited from Alec and Lady Douglas-Home.
I had the terrible business of Mrs Green.
There she was at the door, saying, "Oh, I'm so glad you've come,
"I've got a lovely cote de veau garni aux epinards in the oven for you."
"Thank you very much," Harold replied, "I think I'll just have some baked beans
"and a glass of Wincarnis if you don't mind."
Though the '64 election had been much closer than expected,
the Conservative Party was terrified by Wilson's success.
Soon afterwards, Sir Alec Douglas-Home withdrew to the grouse moor,
and the party began the search for its own Harold Wilson.
In July 1965, the man they alighted on was Edward Heath.
Ironically, why Heath became leader of the Conservative Party in 1965
was because the Conservatives decided they must have someone
who would be able to deal with Wilson.
Who was, if you like, although they wouldn't put it this way, a carbon copy of Wilson.
So I think Wilson, in a way, created Heath.
Heath would not have got the job if Wilson hadn't already become Prime Minister
and leader of the Labour party.
But it was instantly clear that Heath lacked Wilson's silver tongue.
Good afternoon, Mr Heath, how are you feeling now it's all over?
I'm feeling very pleased.
-Are you a very happy man today?
Are you going to celebrate tonight?
I have a whole series of TV interviews tonight.
Any chance of a holiday soon?
Not yet, no. Too much work to be done.
Thank you very much.
Ted Heath was born only months after Harold Wilson in 1916,
and though he hailed from the other side of the country,
he grew up in seaside Kent.
His background was every bit as ordinary.
He didn't talk a great deal about his boyhood.
His father was a small-town builder, his mother had been a ladies' maid,
and he'd emerged from that quite humble background
by working very hard, and his parents had sweated their guts out to give him a start in life.
He'd achieved that start in life partly due to his parents, partly due to his own hard work.
The funny thing was both men came from relatively humble backgrounds,
they didn't have connections to anybody who could forward or help them.
So it's hugely to their credit they did it on their own.
Like Wilson, Heath was a grammar school boy who made it to Oxford University in the 1930s.
He would win an organ scholarship to Balliol,
but at first it was touch and go as to whether he'd get there.
His parents weren't at all sure they, even with the help of Kent County Council,
would be able to afford a son at Oxford.
It was completely unknown territory to them.
When they went to Oxford in their Hillman Minx piled high with his possessions that first autumn,
it was the first time any of them had been to Oxford.
Heath's future rival was a year ahead of him, just around the corner at Jesus College.
It's said that Wilson used to occasionally
go to concerts in which Heath was playing the organ.
Well, he may have. I bet he did it pretty rarely, because he wasn't at all tuned in to classical music.
They lived in different worlds.
Heath quickly plunged into politics, Wilson had no time for these fripperies at all.
I was at Balliol with Ted Heath from 1936 until the war broke out.
And he was a year ahead of me so he was chairman of the junior common room
when I was his secretary, and we got on very well together,
although at that time I was in the Communist Party,
and he of course, as always, was a Tory.
Heath's conservatism went beyond politics,
and there were early signs of a continuing awkwardness about the opposite sex.
A mutual friend of ours had gone off to Banbury with his girlfriend, and Ted looked at me in alarm and said,
"You don't mean to say they're...sleeping together?"
I said, "I suppose so, but why not?"
He said, "I can't imagine anybody in the Conservative Association doing that!"
Unlike Heath, Wilson did not engage in university politics.
His priority was academic success.
He got a brilliant first, he got an alpha plus in economic theory, which was almost unheard of.
They did share one tutor, who compared them, and said that Wilson
was a brilliant analytical mind, profound thinker, Heath was a plodder.
Wilson's quicksilver mind was a sign of things to come.
Almost 3 decades after crossing paths at Oxford, on August 2nd 1965,
Wilson and Heath faced each other
in the House of Commons for the first time.
No-one yet knew how their duel would play out.
But expectations of Edward Heath,
the new man the Tories had elected to match Wilson,
It was a very new departure
for the Conservative party, and he was elected with much enthusiasm.
And, of course, my generation were all rather thrilled.
The thought was that Alec Home, who was his predecessor,
was just not up to taking Harold Wilson on on the floor of the house.
Whereas Ted Heath was much more belligerent, or appeared to be
much more belligerent at that stage, and would take Harold Wilson on.
-That's the way to do it!
-Oh, no, it isn't!
-How do you do it then?
-That's the way to do it! Ha-ha!
Heath's performance at the despatch box was a devastating disappointment.
Everyone expected him to be brilliant, to shatter Wilson's image.
Instead, he was ponderous, he was lumbering, he piled in far too many facts.
He failed to enthuse anyone, and he was outmanoeuvred and made to look silly by Wilson.
Even when Heath tried a joke about Wilson's brand new Technology Ministry, he was smoothly trumped.
The Minister of Technology is no tiger.
That is now plain.
The Prime Minister has put a tortoise in the tank.
I was grateful to the right honourable gentleman
for that memorable phrase about "the tortoise in the tank".
I must say that I liked that.
I liked it the first time I saw it in a Sunday Citizen cartoon on 27th June.
I am sure the House will always be ready to hear the right honourable gentleman again,
especially if he keeps reminding us of that phrase.
Wilson sort of waltzed round him.
And he was just witty.
Ted resented this.
Ted was not good at being laughed at.
Ted had this rather...at once, bland and pompous manner.
It's difficult to be bland and pompous simultaneously,
but Ted Heath managed it.
I always felt he was brushing Harold aside, swatting him,
but whilst he attempted, he always missed.
Wilson, I think it's fair to say, he really despised Ted Heath.
I can hear him saying to me down the years "Heath?
"Ha! I could knock him around the room any time I like." This kind of thing.
The personal animosity was palpable to MPs watching them.
Once, in the House of Commons, there was a slanging match going on
between the PM and the leader of the opposition,
and Manny Shinwell chipped in rather wistfully from the back bench,
"Is this a private matter, or can we join in?"
I think that was the slight worry
on the part of Heath's followers, that it was a private matter.
Heath, perhaps, was not the attack weapon his supporters had hoped for.
And his lack of ease came as a shock to them.
One of his previous jobs had been chief whip,
where he was remembered as being gregarious and sociable.
But once elected leader of the opposition, he began to display an alarming brusqueness.
Can you make any comment at all, Mr Heath? Nothing at all so far?
Anthony Howard went to visit him on holiday in France
for a Sunday Times feature.
He greeted me without any great enthusiasm, and said something like, "I suppose you'd like a drink."
I said, "That would be a good idea, thank you very much."
"What would you like to have?" I said, "Well, is there any whisky?"
So he went to a nasty plywood sideboard, opened the door,
looked at a half bottle of whiskey, saw that it was pretty nearly empty and said, "You'd better have coffee."
Heath may well have intended it as a joke.
But, as his friends acknowledge, his mordant sense of humour was an acquired taste.
Mentally, he was very sharp.
Sharp is the word, because often he said things which were meant
to be slightly humorous.
He cracked a joke, rather like Prince Philip,
he cracked a joke and was amazed when people took it very seriously.
He had the best sense of humour,
as well concealed as anyone's been able to conceal a sense of humour.
But what was so dementing is his ability to present himself in most angular possible form.
Gave one homicidal feelings about him quite often!
You're not even old enough to remember what was going on when we came to power!
There was... There was food rationing!
And sweets rationing!
You were just old enough to eat sweets, and you had to queue up with a little coupon to buy them!
That was the situation when we came into power!
It was actually a wooden leg that he wore all his life.
The more he latched onto the things that he wanted to do in life,
the more the wooden leg, this wooden manner, came into play.
We said, "Relax, be yourself!"
It didn't... The advice never really went down well,
because I think he wasn't sure what himself was.
He didn't have a ready-made persona, he didn't have a switch which he could turn on in the way that
many politicians did, Harold Wilson certainly did.
The image-conscious Wilson was always ready to milk the latest trend.
In 1965, it was the new age of pop.
Thank you very much for giving us this silver heart,
but I still think you should've given one to good old Mr Wilson.
Wilson had entered Downing Street promising a whirlwind of activity,
even comparing himself to America's most recent political hero.
What I think we're going to need is something like
what President Kennedy had when he came in
after years of stagnation in the United States, he had a programme of 100 days of dynamic action.
It was felt that the Government could do more by greater
intervention when Labour came in.
So almost every month there would be some form of tinkering
with the economy to try to get the level of activity exactly right.
I was secretary of the Budget Committee at the time and we used to be almost in constant session.
In spite of his awkwardness, Heath could sometimes score a laugh...
and Wilson's hyperactivity gave him an early chance.
'Comrades, we have managed to increase our productivity
'in the Cabinet - a budget in March, a budget in May, a budget in July.'
But despite his much-vaunted economic planning,
Wilson, from the very beginning, found himself at the mercy of events.
He was buffeted by pressure on the pound,
which then was set at a fixed exchange rate.
The obvious solution was to devalue it.
But Wilson was haunted by the previous Labour government's
devaluation in 1948.
It was a very odd thing in those days that we regarded
the devaluation of the pound as almost a test
of virtue in politics,
and so devaluation was almost a sin...
and that was absolutely ridiculous.
While the weak pound was the rod across Wilson's back, Heath's -
from the very outset -
was the whisperers in his own party.
Private Eye had named him The Grocer.
Heath had once been president of the Board Of Trade.
But for large sections of the Tory Party, that encapsulated
a disdain of the grammar-school boy with strange-sounding vowels...
who couldn't even beat his opponent.
The stupid people turned on him and began to mock his background
and mock the past that he came from.
"That's the sort of thing you get when you elect a grammar-school boy."
I knew quite a grand Tory lady, who was the wife of the chairman of the Party, Lord Latham.
I remember her saying to me, "What we all have to face about Ted,
"it's not his fault, poor dear, but he hasn't got any manners."
Heath's highly personal duel with Wilson,
and the savaging he was receiving in the House of Commons,
began to have a significant psychological impact.
He retreated into his shell,
comfortable only with his trusted circle of close advisers and friends.
It was politics at its juvenile-playpen worst.
What I didn't realize, until looking back on it,
it made an appalling and searing and lasting impression on Ted.
Wilson was oozing confidence.
In spring 1966, with his new opponent posing so little threat,
his highly-tuned political antennae sensed that the time was ripe to increase his slender majority,
before events began to overtake him.
Harold timed it exactly. I remember talking to Roy Jenkins,
saying, "When is the election going to come?"
and Roy saying, "Don't you and I worry about it.
"We can do some things. The man who will chose the election date
"to the 'nth degree, perfect on that date, is Harold Wilson."
For Harold Wilson, unlike Heath, elections, and the razzamatazz surrounding them,
were the stuff of life, ever since he'd first entered Parliament in 1945.
He was political to his fingertips.
I once said to him... I was talking politics to him, and he said that
it had always been his worry
in 1953 when the King died, he feared that Winston Churchill
would take advantage of that and call a quick general election.
I said, "I was too young to think like that in those days, Harold."
"Were you? I've thought like that since the day I was born."
The 1966 election trail threw Wilson and Heath's very different styles
onto streets and TV screens across the country.
That's where the mismatch between Harold and Ted came out.
One, the political arc lamps
came on full at the glimmer of being seen by outsiders
or the pubic, whereas Ted...
the arc lights tended to go off.
It was tragically ludicrous.
'The first point I want to make is, yesterday there was yet another warning from
'the Building Societies Association that the mortgage rates must rise...
Now, just to break for a moment before I turn to the other subject I want to deal with...
The half time scores are as follows...
It was a terrible campaign. We were fighting a losing battle the whole way through the campaign.
Wilson sat back and enjoyed the ride,
rarely deigning even to engage with his opponent...
'After all these words, what has been the result in productivity.
'Just 1 per cent.
'One miserable one per cent.
'Well, is Mr Wilson proud of it?
-'< He is.
-You think he is?
'Well, ask him why he doesn't come onto television
'and face me there and argue it out?!'
Harold would never put him on an equal level with him.
He'd never agree to a television debate or anything like that with him.
Wilson was a masterly electioneerer, partly by
ostentatiously appearing everywhere with his wife, therefore making it perfectly clear that poor Heath
as a bachelor didn't understand what was going on.
Heath's bachelor status was another gift to the whisperers.
In private,, Wilson relished alluding to it.
When he made the speech once about the importance of family, Harold's only remark was,
"Those who don't play the game shouldn't make the rules."
All these rumours about how he might be homosexual,
totally without foundation as far as I'm concerned, but they certainly swirled around, these rumours.
My feeling, for what it's worth, though I'm not medically qualified, is that he's one of these people -
they do exist - he was pretty asexual, it just didn't interest him.
'Let's say we average them out to around 4.5 per cent.
'which is the average of these four national polls,
'pointing to something like a 150 majority...'
On March the 31st 1966, in the first of their four general election battles,
Wilson humiliated Heath.
Labour's majority over the Conservatives was well over a hundred.
In the summer of '66, it seemed that Britain was rocking.
# Sunshine came softly
# Through my
# Window today
# Could have tripped out easy
# But I've a-changed my ways... #
England, for the first time, even managed to win the World Cup.
England's victory in the 1966 World Cup is now taken as
a kind of high point of the 1960s,
so we think that '66 is the culmination
of swinging London and the optimism and change and whatnot,
but I think there is a nice coincidence, because the day after England's victory
in the World Cup final is the day that the Colonial Office,
the very symbol of British imperialism and British power, closes its doors for the last time.
We won the war, but at great cost.
We were living with the end of Empire and there were people about,
including senior civil servants, who saw what we were doing as the management of decline.
Wilson was much much closer to those who thought we were in the business of managing decline than Heath was.
I think Heath had greater optimism.
Once again, it was the weak pound that seemed the overwhelming symbol of decline.
In the autumn of 1967,
Wilson and his chancellor, James Callaghan, were finally forced into devaluation.
What concerned Wilson more than anything was how to present this surrender to the British people.
That morning, I'd been rung by a brother-in-law from Leeds,
and he had said,
"Is my money in the bank going to be devalued?
"Will it be worth as much as it was yesterday?"
So when Harold was doing the "pound in your pocket or in your purse",
I suggested that he added "in your bank".
Wilson made the infamous statement,
implying nothing had really changed.
'From now on, the pound abroad is worth 14% or so less
'in terms of other currencies.
'That doesn't mean, of course, that the pound here in Britain,
'in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.'
I was an accomplice in that error, but it was
an error meant to reassure people,
..It has lived on in infamy ever since.
CROWD: Wilson out! Wilson out!
For Heath, devaluation was an affront.
He was extremely patriotic.
When Britain devalued the pound
in 1967, he thought this was a great humiliation for us
and said so.
Whereas, actually, economically there was a lot to be said for it,
but he forgot the economics and was just interested in the blow to our prestige.
'As Mr Wilson himself said a few years ago -
"Devaluation is an acknowledgment of defeat.
"Last Saturday night was defeat."
and the way it was presented,
was a psychological turning point in the Heath-Wilson duel.
# I know when I've had enough... #
For Wilson, it was the first real defeat.
He never regained full mastery of his colleagues...
and in the country beyond, he was never again as trusted.
For Heath, it was a vital stimulant.
Now more than ever he saw his mission as ridding the nation of Harold Wilson...
a man he deemed an unprincipled creature, who put style over substance every time.
Essentially, the great difference between them
was that Ted saw himself and felt himself to be
an outstanding, clean,
public servant, working for nation's good,
and he therefore thought of Wilson as being a scraggy politician.
Ted Heath would not have thought of himself as being a politician at all, despite having been chief whip.
Ted and Harold
had totally different approaches to the work of politics.
WORK of politics would have been Ted's attitude.
The GAME of politics was more Harold's natural habitat.
Ted used to get irritated by the behaviour of some MPs in the House.
Harold would encourage it.
Harold once described the Tory MP Bernard Braine as a misnomer.
Ted would never have thought of something like that.
Heath was a serious man, believed that Wilson stood for everything
that was wrong in British public life.
Gimmicks, government by press leak, all the rest of it.
He really morally disapproved of Wilson. I think that's true.
It wasn't just a political disagreement. He thought that Wilson
symbolized, and was the emblem, of everything that had gone wrong with Britain.
Heath's principled stiffness and Wilson's political adroitness was one key contrast.
Another was how they saw the world beyond Britain.
Wilson was a classic, little England,
He was only comfortable at home, really.
When he went abroad to conferences,
he would come back as quickly as possible,
and look for excuses to come back.
For his food, he loved all the traditional English foods.
He loved beans on toast, he loved HP sauce.
He once said to me, "I do go on holiday abroad,
"I go to the Scillies!"
And that for him was about the outermost Siberia of his imagination.
Heath was every bit as patriotic,
but he was an internationalist, with an appetite for seeing the world.
This went right back to his time as an undergraduate.
Oddly enough, we both cycled through Germany
in those days when Hitler was there.
I think all of us who did journeys through Europe before the war were enormously influenced
by it because, of course, of the terrible things that happened to Europe during the war itself.
He went to Germany as a soldier,
as an officer, and he saw the wreck and the ruin caused by the bombing.
He'd fought in the war. He'd been part of it.
Heath had a distinguished military record in the Second World War.
Wilson had been a civil servant on the Home Front, organizing coal stocks...
a vital role but somehow not quite the same.
It did leave...not a scar,
but he was always conscious of the fact
that he hadn't fought.
He was rather resentful about the fact that Heath got one up on him that way.
I think it did change people's attitudes.
I mean, I don't suppose for one moment Harold Wilson
didn't feel exactly the same about preventing a world war,
but I think it coloured one's vision of things.
Ted Heath's wartime experience led to a lifetime ambition for a united Europe,
which could never again tear itself apart, with Britain at its heart.
The vision of a united Europe, to him, was civilisation.
It wasn't just politics.
It was the beginning of teaching the planet how human beings ought to live.
It was almost as big a vision as that.
Back in 1963, Heath had spearheaded Britain's first attempt -
by the Tory prime minister, Harold Macmillan -
to join what was then called the Common Market.
But it was rebuffed by the French president, Charles de Gaulle.
In 1967, Harold Wilson decided he'd have a go.
But for reasons rather different from Heath's.
I think Harold wanted to be a member of the community...
not for the rather grander reasons, or he thought, the grand design.
Harold was an economist. He regarded Europe as economies of scale.
I guess he decided that, on balance, it was in Britain's interest to be in.
The Labour Party had opposed the Heath-Macmillan attempt to join.
Wilson always had to balance his priority to keep his party united
against its traditional fear of joining Europe.
Harold's principle object in politics
was to keep the Labour Party together.
That's really like putting Humpty Dumpty together after he's fallen off the wall.
So he had to duck and dive and weave
and go with the flow, sometimes when the flow was bad,
but he never lost sight of the fact that we'd end up in Europe one day.
The next 10 years, the next 20 years,
the unity of Europe is going to be forged.
Heath was so anxious that Britain should go into Europe,
but I think he was slightly horrified when it looked, at one moment,
as if Wilson might be the man who would bring it off.
Heath needn't have worried.
The French President de Gaulle once again vetoed Britain's entry.
For Wilson, the timing was dreadful.
The veto came just one week after the trauma of devaluation.
At the close of 1967, his administration was on the skids.
Things weren't going to get much better in 1968.
# I'll take you to burn... #
As revolutions and riots erupted across the globe,
both Heath and Wilson had their own explosive issues to face at home.
For Heath, it was troubles with his own party again...
this time from the firebrand Enoch Powell,
who was exploiting the racial tensions emerging across Britain.
I told Mr Powell that he could not remain a member of the Shadow Cabinet
because of the inflammatory nature of his speech in Birmingham.
Wilson deftly managed to keep Britain out of the political minefield
that was Vietnam, despite pleas from the Americans.
'Phantom F4s... Napalm.'
But he faced an internal war of his own,
with Labour's traditional allies... the trade unions.
'Strikes, especially unofficial strikes, are a major factor in Britain's economic difficulties.'
The unions would be both Wilson's, and later Heath's, running sore.
Today one might say that banking or finance is the biggest problem for prime ministers.
At that time, it was clearly the trade unions.
In both cases, this huge interest didn't really see itself as part of society.
It saw itself as getting the most it could out of society for itself,
but not contributing to society, and both Harold Wilson and Ted Heath tried to bring
the trade union leaders into, as it were, sharing the responsibility.
CROWD CHANTS: Wilson out! Castle out!
Wilson and his employment secretary, Barbara Castle, tried to bring in new laws
to curb the unions and make them more democratic.
Their plan was quickly sabotaged by their Cabinet colleagues.
THEY CHANT: White paper out! White paper out!
After yet another failure, Wilson's prospects by the beginning of 1969 were pretty bleak.
I started at Number 10
in January 1st 1969,
and Harold was 23 points behind
in the opinion polls at that time. And he said to me quite early on,
"Joe, what can you offer me?" I said, "Complacency,
"because you've got too much of the other - hysteria!"
Violence in Northern Ireland, with British troops deployed on the streets,
added to the feeling that Britain was going off the rails,
and that the man at the wheel, Harold Wilson, was powerless to stop it.
Heath was looking more comfortable at the helm.
He'd become an ocean-going sailor,
with great success.
In the last days of 1969, he even won the highly-prestigious Sydney-Hobart yacht race.
That, I think, improved his image enormously in the country and also with the Party.
All the old grey beards who were very worried about him sailing a boat at all,
suddenly became enamoured with Ted Heath, about how wonderful he was.
I was there to arrange the parties and the receptions and so on, in case he won.
And he did win, and we had a great time in Sydney.
And, of course, it was politically advantageous.
It did ring a bell in people's minds because it was unexpected.
Wilson was being upstaged.
Mrs Wilson's Diary imagined him plotting his counter-strike.
"Harold, seated at the controls, wearing antique goggles and a balaclava helmet,
"with an Isodora Duncan scarf,
"gave Mr Kaufman the thumbs-up sign to remove the chocks.
"Then, with a cry of, 'This'll show Heath where he gets off!',
"he piloted the aircraft some 200 yards over the bumpy grass
"and turned with a roar of its tiny engine to begin the take-off.
"As the engine thundered to full throttle, there was a dramatic explosion
"and Harold was catapulted forward with a despairing cry, to land with a splash."
But just when Heath had seemed to be finally outdoing Wilson, something curious happened.
Their political fortunes went into abrupt reverse.
The economy was improving under a capable new chancellor, Roy Jenkins.
Somehow, the country seemed more at ease.
Life wasn't so bad after all.
The opinion polls began to show that Wilson was staging a remarkable recovery.
As the summer of 1970 approached, he had a double-digit lead.
For Heath, the infuriation was that it continued to seem all about style, not substance,
particularly in the cockpit of the House of Commons.
He used to say to me in moments of almost despair,
"What's gone wrong? Why can't I get it right?
"Why can't I perform better?"
I think he found it very very difficult.
The more difficult he found it, the worse it really became, because he became even more screwed up,
but he never got it right until the last appearance
before the general election in 1970,
and on that occasion he absolutely walloped Harold Wilson - so much so
that he said to me afterwards, "Why have I only just started doing this?
"I ought to have been doing this for four years
"and the Party ought to have been supporting me for four years", but hadn't.
Wilson sensed that the time was ripe for the next round with Heath.
'The battle is on.
The Prime Minister has taken the plunge -
a general election on June 18th.
When we started the election, we were running about 10-12% behind the Labour Party,
having moved from, in the space of about three or four months, from being in a commanding position
to being in this very terrible position,
and so it looked as if it was going to be awful.
The 1970 election was the epicentre of the Heath-Wilson duel.
For Heath, it was personal.
'What I am going to create is a new style of government,
'which is honest, well thought out. and which takes account of
'the long term, away with all the short-term gimmickry and instant government
'which we've had for the last few years.'
Ted wanted not just a change of policy, but a change of style,
and that was all a dig at what he thought was the sheer flippancy of Wilson.
But Heath's serious message seemed to be
missing the mark...once again.
I was sat on by people...
from all over the country, who said that Heath was the drawback,
the grocer's mind, the lack of vision, the inarticulateness.
The candidates were tearing the photograph of the leader
out of the manifesto before putting it through people's doors when canvassing,
because it was... Ted was a complete turn-off.
There was a newlywed couple in a restaurant, I remember, and everybody was waiting,
the press, to see if Ted would go and talk to the couple and wish them well, and he didn't.
He didn't for about a quarter of an hour.
He sat there, rather solidly eating whatever he was eating, and then as soon as the
press had gone, he went up, and went over, and was very nice
and jolly, and they were impressed,
but he had completely missed the boat as far as the press was concerned, who scribbled,
"He can't even be bothered to pass the time of day with a newlywed couple."
This kind of episode was constantly happening.
Wilson, by contrast, was avoiding the issues...
but glad-handing the people
Prime Minister, you haven't actually kissed any babies yet.
You've come close sometimes.
-Why did you chose this style of campaign?
-I wanted to take the campaign to the people.
Not to ask them to come, especially on hot summer evenings or weekends,
to city halls, miles from where they live.
Wilson had treated the election as if it was a kind of coronation.
He went round the country waving at people.
He didn't really make any speeches or anything like that.
Harold had got the idea, he'd seen the Queen doing walkabouts,
so he concluded that his role would be to be seen around the place, being filmed everywhere.
He saw himself as being above politics, which he wasn't.
You can't be a prime minister and above politics.
And you couldn't play the part of the Queen, which he rather hoped he might!
It's Theresa's birthday, shall we sing for her?
# Happy birthday to you
# Happy birthday to you... #
Rather in desperation, because Wilson was doing so well
with his walkabouts, we put it in
and I remember, in Chatham and Rochester, we did that.
We did it in Edinburgh, and then we gained confidence, and he gained confidence...
and he was rather good at it.
'He's having to do, rather belatedly, what I started doing a week last Sunday.
'I'm sure he'll be encouraged to know
'that I'm 29 marginals ahead of him. He'll have to get round at quite a rate to catch up.'
'It doesn't bother me what he says.
'I've covered practically all the marginals in this country
'with our party work. I'd covered them all in-between elections.
'I've been speaking at meetings with workers from all the marginals.'
Some of the walkabouts were terrible.
I always remember one in Norwich, in which I had to participate.
We chose a half-day holiday anyhow.
We walked down a street in Norwich, a long street in Norwich
and there was absolutely no-one there at all!
There wasn't a sign of anyone.
It seemed that Harold Wilson was about to humiliate his rival once again.
And he was enjoying every minute of it.
Perhaps you could point to... the last election, in which
a party won the election
with its leading trailing behind the other leader in the personal ratings,
particularly if you can find one where he was trailing nearly 2-1 behind the other leader.
I mean, we had a 14% lead in the Daily Mail
the Friday before polling day, but then over the weekend,
and with the trade figures and everything else, it all fell apart.
Three days before the country went to the polls, the latest balance of trade figures -
then critical indicator of how Britain's economy was doing -
For the first time in months, they were in deficit.
Then, on election eve, one opinion poll put the Heath just ahead.
The experts said it was a rogue poll.
A very famous political correspondent Robert Carvel
said on the World at One, "The opinion poll's phoney.
"Take it from me, Labour is home and dry."
"I went to the Tory press conference this morning
"and saw Mr Heath fighting for the soul of the Conservative Party in defeat."
We waited then for the results to come in and the first result
that came in showed quite a swing towards us,
we could hardly believe our eyes when we saw the results coming in!
David Howell, Conservative - 27,203...
We drove back to London, and the radio kept on producing the most extraordinary news.
We were winning! We were not winning just this seat and that seat, we were winning
the whole damned election...
..I was delighted. I was delighted not so much because Labour was losing, but because
all those clever, well-informed people
who had been with us for the last fortnight were going to have to eat their words!
Two of them had actually been writing a book explaining why Ted had lost,
and they had to rewrite it rather rapidly.
I was with him in Bexley when it was clear he had won.
It was a great surprise, but he says not to him!
-'How do you feel at this moment?
-I feel in excellent form.
'I thoroughly enjoyed this campaign,
'I've enjoyed today particularly, here in my own constituency,
'and I'm delighted with tonight's result here in Bexley,
'and I'm much encouraged by the results of the rest of the country.'
'Labour has suffered serious losses in these...'
In his suite in the Adelphi Hotel, near his constituency in Huyton,
Harold Wilson watched the shock results come in.
'A great upset has occurred... #
That was a really really mortal blow to Wilson.
He'd actually gone to press conferences. People had asked questions about the Party's prospects
and he'd say, "You tell me the last time a party whose leader has lagged behind the rival by 12 points
"and the last time that party won the election." He was totally given to bragging, Wilson, and so he got
'Some applause from the people outside...
'a small crowd of spectators.'
It was unpleasant on the day. I mean, I looked out the window
at Number 10 and there was a goodly crowd of Tories booing us
and waiting to see us go. It's not nice.
'To all intents and purposes you've given up any hope?
'I think the figures speak for themselves.
'When do you expect to go to the Palace?
'That I don't know.'
And we got to Number 10,
and there was quite a big crowd there, so we were feeling pretty pleased about life by that time.
Ted was in very good form, and of course we then wanted something to drink
and Harold Wilson's secretary said that all they'd got were a few sandwiches and a glass of beer.
I think we wanted rather more than that. I think we could do with a little champagne on
an occasion of that nature!
The Queen has asked me to form the next government, and I am indeed proud to accept.
To govern is to serve.
I was sitting with my predecessor in the Private Office and the door
opened from the Cabinet Room and the Prime Minister came in
and he looked at me and said, "Oh, are you here?
"It's going to be very hard work, you know",
and went back into the Cabinet Room.
And this seemed a very sort of off-hand...
rather off-putting way of welcoming me into the team,
but then he was like that, and you got used to it.
Heath offered the Wilsons the use of the prime minister's country house, Chequers,
while they looked for somewhere to live.
But there was a strange sequel- to do with Wilson's dog.
It was called Paddy.
A big, yellow Labrador that he was always being photographed with,
taking it down to the Scilly Islands and that sort of a thing.
I think he felt he ought to have a dog,
because when he left, he left the dog when he left Chequers.
To my total amazement when we went down there after he'd gone, the dog was still there.
I don't think Ted really liked the dog.
He thought that he was looking at Wilson every time.
I was a bit worried that it might bite, but it was actually quite a nice dog.
Wilson was gone...
and eventually Paddy went with him too...
but, for Heath, Wilson was to be out of mind as well as out of sight.
The first thing he wants to do is to he gets rid of every
taint of the dreadful Harold Wilson,
so the wallpaper goes. In comes all of Heath's furniture that he has been amassing over the years.
In comes the piano. And this is classic Heath. He basically...
He sees Wilson as a kind of disease that he wants to eradicate completely from British politics.
Instead of learning the lessons from Wilson's time, particularly Wilson's emphasis on
public relations, that all has to go.
Everything must go. Whitewash the lot, and that I think was a great failing of Heath's...
his over-obsession with Wilson.
The morning after the election, Wilson had shown some generosity to his victorious opponent.
'Could we look at the campaign for a moment. Just your feelings this morning
'towards Mr Heath. Do you admire him as an opponent?
'I've always admired him, and I've said this many times, much more than many other people.
'Even in his own party.'
But behind closed doors, Wilson was fuming - defeat had been unthinkable...
and it was now personal.
A few weeks later, over a very trivial matter,
he suddenly lost his temper.
I only, in all the time I knew Wilson,
only saw him lose his temper twice,
and that was one of the times.
The sheer dismay and disappointment must have been seething inside him.
He didn't like to talk about it, but he sometimes referred to it,
and how humiliating it was to be bundled out of 10 Downing Street.
Out through the back door with his furniture carried out,
while Ted Heath came through the front door.
His whole objective after that was to walk back into Number 10
as Prime Minister.
Heath pitched camp to tackle the serious business of government,
which he believed Wilson had so trivialized.
'We begin Panorama live from Number 10.
'People must face up to their own responsibilities, and when I say that I mean all of us,
'the Government has certain responsibilities - to change policies as we are doing.'
Wilson had arrived at Number 10 with the white heat of technology,
but that had fizzled out.
Heath's plans were even bigger.
Heath had a couple of really large ideas about how to change Britain...
entering Europe and also huge building projects.
Heath started building the Channel Tunnel -
that's lost to history now. He wanted to build a huge off-shore airport off the coast of Essex,
which is very similar to what Boris Johnson wants to do now.
So, Heath had big ideas.
But, almost immediately, Heath suffered a major setback.
His new chancellor, Iain Macleod, considered the cleverest Tory of his generation,
died suddenly in Downing Street.
The telephone rang at home and the prime minister came on the line and said,
in a flat kind of voice, "Iain's dead.
"You'd better come in."
And so that was half past ten.
I went straight in, of course, and I did then feel
that it was very lonely sitting up in that great house,
without a wife, without anybody close to him, as it were,
but always denied that he was lonely until very late in his life.
Heath had huge battles ahead.
Now he would have to face them without his closest ally.
# Now I'm a union man... #
First up were the unions that had so plagued Wilson.
# ..I'll say what I think That the company stinks
# Yes, I'm a union man... #
Within Heath's first months, council workers struck.
Then the lights went out in an electricity dispute.
# ..You don't get me I'm part of the union
# Till the day I die... #
Heath was determined to succeed where Wilson failed
and introduced new laws to control the unions.
In a foretaste of what was to come, the workers took to the streets in protest.
NEWSREADER: The 5,000 men who marched in Birmingham today
came mainly from the Austin-Morris factory at Longbridge.
'In a way, Ted was ahead of his time.
'We were trying to do things the country was not yet ready for.'
It's an extraordinary thing about the British -
we have to go through a lot of misery
before we actually decide what we want to do.
For the political satirists at Private Eye, the apparently humourless Heath was an easy target.
They cast him as the managing director
of an embattled company called Heathco Ltd.
Heathco was a sort of run down company operating
in the suburbs of London,
and it had all gone pear-shaped, and this man
was trying to keep it going
but was continually frustrated by the workers.
"To all employees.
"I would like to address a few words to all of you about our new code
"of industrial behaviour at Heathco's.
"Let me say, here and now, that I am fully conversant with the fact
"that some of you may find these new regulations a bitter pill to swallow."
The unions would be one common thread that bound Heath and Wilson.
The second was the irreversible change in Britain's identity.
Britain had ceased to be an imperial world power.
For Heath, its new role had to be the one he'd so long dreamed of
at the heart of a unified Europe.
France's General de Gaulle had first rebuffed Harold Macmillan in 1963,
then Harold Wilson in 1967.
But there was now a new French President, Georges Pompidou,
and Heath made it his business to make Pompidou open the door.
On 22nd January, 1972, Heath took Britain into Europe.
That was a personal achievement. Whether you think it is right for us
to be in Europe or not,
I think he has to be credited with that achievement.
'Certainly Ted Heath felt a sense of triumph,
'of personal triumph...'
..to have won where Wilson had failed added a certain extra savour to the achievement.
Wilson was profoundly irritated that Heath had succeeded where he'd missed out.
Though Heath's terms of entry were much the same as Wilson would have accepted,
he now used them to perform a political somersault.
But the terms Mr Heath accepted mean that Britain has to accept
terms and burdens and sacrifices
which no other members of the six would have accepted for themselves.
Our hopes have been fulfilled. We have succeeded.
There is nothing that infuriates the prophets and apostles of gloom and defeat
more than success.
Heath, understandably, took a low view of this kind of volte-face that Wilson had committed.
Basically, he got the party to stand on its head
and waggle its legs in the air and pretend it had never
stood in favour of Europe at all but it had.
It's Heath who gets it through so Wilson manages to rain on
even that parade. Tellingly, he won't even go and mark the event
in Brussels or in London or whatever.
He goes off to watch a football match instead,
when Britain accedes to the European Community.
Heath's great achievement came amid gathering economic gloom.
Two days before he signed the treaty, unemployment in Britain,
which had quietly been creeping up since the 1960s,
finally reached one million.
'When unemployment hit a million,'
the House of Commons had to be suspended,
there was so much opposition and so much noise.
The very fact that unemployment went to three million or more
under Margaret Thatcher and very nearly as high again under Labour a few years later,
didn't alter the fact that for unemployment to reach a million
was regarded as being a terrible political blunder.
Heath was deeply troubled.
Unemployment went against everything he believed in.
It marked the beginning of a terrible few weeks
On 30th January 1972, 13 men were shot dead on the streets of Derry by the British Army.
Then the miners walked out on strike - the first national miners' strike since 1926.
The crucible was a coke depot on the outskirts of Birmingham - Saltley -
where the miners were using flying pickets to block lorries.
Heath knew this was where the battle would be won or lost.
The climax came during a cabinet meeting on 10th February.
Ted asked Reggie Maudling, who was Home Secretary at the time,
whether he could give us any information on it
and Maudling said he'd just been talking
to the Chief Constable of Birmingham who had said
that under all circumstances he was going to keep the gasworks open.
An hour later, a message came in from Reggie Maudling
to say that the Chief Constable
had just rung up to say that the pressure had become too great.
He had closed the gates
and no lorries were getting in or out and, therefore,
the unions had won.
Heath had lost the first big battle of wills with the unions.
Harold Wilson sniffed his opportunity.
He'd kept a low profile since his election defeat.
But now it was time to take on his adversary once again.
Mr Heath was going to deal with strikes. He was going to end them once and for all.
In fact we've lost far more man days through disputes
under this government in 20 months than in the whole five years, eight months of the Labour government.
It was only halfway through Heath's administration when things started to go badly wrong.
Wilson pricked up his ears and said, "Back into the battle."
One million unemployed had seriously rattled Heath.
He'd been elected on a promise to make British industry competitive
and let lame ducks go to the wall.
But in 1972, he went into abrupt reverse
and poured in government money to rescue failing businesses,
most notably Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in Glasgow.
He took the view that unemployment was such an evil thing to happen
that he decided that he had to do what was then known as a U-turn.
Of course, looking back on it, I think he was wrong because the welfare state had intervened
and unemployment, though awful, didn't have the same sort of horrors
that it had before the Second World War.
# Ch-ch-ch-changes... #
Heath's U-turn astonished the nation.
And it was only the beginning.
He now decided that government, far from letting the free market rule,
should run the economy itself in collaboration with business and the unions.
It sounded just like Harold Wilson.
They are both really Social Democrats.
They both believe in a large state and quite high taxation.
They both hold positions at various times,
almost deliberately holding the opposite position to the other and as soon as they are elected,
they switch back.
'Wilson once told me, "Do you know I am quite surprised that Ted Heath ever became a Tory."
'Famously, when Ted Heath completely turned the Tory party'
in a terrific U-Turn,
he once criticised Ted Heath with the jibe,
"He's just a socialist."
And I don't think Heath liked that.
TV ANNOUNCER: 'Do you know Britain's favourite game?
'It's called inflation...'
Heath was battling rocketing inflation at home,
and complex global economic forces.
In October 1973, oil prices soared after war broke out in the Middle East.
Heath introduced government control of prices and incomes,
pleading with the unions to work with him.
Mr Barker Brierfield, would you please put your question to the Prime Minister?
CALLER: What is the purpose of discussing prices and incomes
with the TUC when it is known
they could never be seen cooperating with a Tory government?
I wouldn't accept your final point,
that they could never be seen cooperating with a Tory government.
We've been having these talks over the past 15 few months and they've been extremely valuable.
But now, at Heath's moment of maximum weakness, the miners came back for more.
'By the second time, it was not just money they were after.'
It was to overthrow the government.
The miners went on strike.
Heath introduced a three-day week and restrictions on energy to conserve coal stocks.
I was, for about ten minutes, Secretary for Energy when there wasn't any.
There was no light, the three-day week and everybody was miserable.
It was a horrible time. One didn't see an end of it and there couldn't
be an end of it until you settled the miners' strike.
HEATH: It is the fall in coal production and delivery,
as a result of industrial action, that makes today's severe measures essential,
so we must all use less electricity.
In terms of comfort, we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war.
WILSON: There's a deep feeling in the hearts of our people that they would like
to get back to a spirit of conciliation, to unite the country,
in place of all these confrontations which divide it.
Once Heath began to go down, Wilson was on him like
a ferret on a rabbit and got his teeth firmly into the Prime Minister's throat.
At times, the three-day week was pure tragicomedy.
Never had a better deal, have they?
'One of the things was saunas,'
and so I asked my officials, "What can we do about it?
Surely there don't need to be any saunas
And they came back and said, "Well, Minister, there are three sorts of saunas.
"There are saunas in health clubs and there are saunas in hotels
"and there are dubious saunas." And I said, "Well they can all be asked to be switched off."
But I loved the expression "dubious saunas". One knew what they meant.
The government was writing the script for comedians
without the need for any editors!
It was a great time to be engaged in politics. A pretty awful time to live in Britain.
That was the reality.
There were a number of silly things that happened
but they were very difficult days.
They were days that no other government really has had to face.
Most of Heath's closest colleagues and advisers urged him to go
for an early election to take the wind out of the miners', and Harold Wilson's, sails.
'It's all very well appealing to Dunkirk spirit
'but Dunkirk spirit lasts for days more than weeks.
'I only remember seeing Ted once about then and saying exactly that
and he was cross, not to put too fine a point on it.
Heath was determined to hang in and get a deal with the miners.
At one point he informally agreed a solution with the miners' leader
Joe Gormley which involved paying miners for washing time.
Wilson sabotaged it.
Gormley rather rashly told Harold Wilson what he'd suggested.
Harold Wilson promptly wrote
a more or less open letter to Heath suggesting it,
putting it forward as the solution,
which, of course, meant Heath in turn felt bound to turn it down.
Gormley believed that Wilson had done this deliberately to scupper
the negotiations, and that otherwise this could have been a solution.
The miners voted on Heath's final offer.
He was desperate for them to accept it.
I had to go and tell him the result of this ballot.
I remember taking it up to Downing Street one morning,
realising the significance of it
and I remember him sitting in his chair and looking at the result
and said, "What can I do now?" and I said to him that it wasn't my job to give him political advice.
I think there's only one thing you can do which is to have a General Election.
On 7th February, 1974, Heath finally called an election.
HEATH: This time, the strife has got to stop.
Only you can stop it.
It's time for you to speak with your vote.
It's time for you to say to the extremists, the militants,
and to the plain and simple misguided, "We've had enough!"
CHANTING: Heath out! Heath out! Heath out! Heath out!
Ted Heath started to try to make the election about who runs the country.
Is it the unions or the elected government?
That argument survived about three days because the public by that time were very cross, very cross.
Tories out! Go and sail your yacht! You've taken the country down the river!
Heath, in asking the question, "Who rules Britain?"
was going to get the answer from huge numbers of people, "Not you, mate!"
'Wilson had a much keener nose for public opinion than Mr Heath.'
Wilson was almost feline.
I believe that the voters recognise who it is that has encouraged the militants over the past three years.
Mr Heath has given the militants the charter they always dreamed of.
He was offering the public the option of not dealing
with the trade union problem, really, and that was put off
because the public wasn't yet ready to face it.
They faced it with Margaret Thatcher but they weren't yet ready for that.
The result was extremely close.
ANNOUNCER: For the first time since 1929,
a British general election has produced no clear result...
Wilson won most seats, though not an overall majority,
but Heath won most votes.
ANNOUNCER: Mr Heath going back to Number 10...
Heath stayed put in Downing Street and tried to do a deal
with the Liberal Party and its leader Jeremy Thorpe.
Heath made a rather flat-footed attempt to form
the sort of coalition we've got now.
He would say, and his supporters would say,
he made a more principled attempt.
He said to Jeremy Thorpe, "There's a national emergency.
"We want you to support the emergency but we can't buy you
"with seats in the Cabinet."
That was rather typical of Heath.
A man of principle but nevertheless applying his principles in a flat-footed way.
The coalition would never come about.
I remember Jeremy Thorpe coming out of Number 10
and saying on the TV, "He wont give us anything."
That was Mr Heath all over.
The last day in Number 10 was on the Monday and we sat round the cabinet table,
and the person who really expressed our feelings on that occasion was Margaret Thatcher
who was the one who expressed admiration
for what Ted Heath had done as Prime Minister
and for the way he had behaved towards colleagues
and how sad it was that it ended in that way.
And that was Margaret Thatcher.
It didn't always work out like that afterwards.
He was deeply depressed and it was emotional for all of us, really,
because there was a sense in which, because Heath had no close family of his own, the people
at Number 10 felt like an extended family
and that was coming to an end.
So it was an emotional time.
I feel sad because I believe in three and a half years, we've achieved a very great deal.
But we've left unfinished business.
At Buckingham Palace, Heath came out of one door whilst Wilson went into another.
He went up to see the Queen and handed in his resignation,
which he did and I had some rather unpleasant sherry
with the Queen's secretary downstairs.
Harold Wilson and his wife Mary
went in their little car and the rest of us in his
personal team went in a separate big car and we all drove to the palace.
And then, eventually, he came down and we walked out to the door
and there was no car. Our car had gone.
Our driver who we had had for four and half years.
So we said, "Where the hell's the car gone?"
"Oh, he's gone to pick up Mr Wilson," they said.
Half an hour later, he came out
and there was an official Number 10 car waiting, and he got in.
Then I watched him get in
and I thought, "He's Prime Minister."
ANNOUNCER: Mr Wilson, having kissed hands as Prime Minister,
has returned from the palace to Number 10 Downing Street...
We've got a job to do.
We can only do that job as one people.
And I'm going right in to start that job now.
When we walked into Number 10, we all went and had a look around,
and Wilson was very intrigued by all the changes,
new wallpaper and all of this,
and Harold turned to me and said, "Ted's ponced it up a bit!"
Wilson immediately bought off the miners.
He ordered a pay review, which gave them a massive increase.
It was storing up trouble ahead but, for now, the nation had chosen peace and submission.
From one week writing speeches for Ted Heath
about how important it was to resist the miners,
found myself the next week writing speeches
for Harold Wilson saying that all this had been a waste of time
and the problem could be easily settled.
The public preferred a quiet life under Harold.
And he didn't understand Ted Heath
for what he felt was creating a lot of disorder and chaos.
He wasn't a revolutionary. He wasn't very radical.
Ted Heath was much more radical than Harold Wilson.
There is an actual, if not animosity, a real feeling
between the two of you?
Well, I think in politics it's not a question of liking one another.
-It's a question of dealing with people.
-Do you like him?
Again, it's not a question of likes or dislikes.
-But do you like him?
-That'll have to remain to be seen.
The nature of the Prime Minister himself
was very different under Wilson.
In personal terms, he and I got on very well together.
I enjoyed him. He had small talk in a way that
Ted Heath never had and, in that sense, it was a much easier relationship,
but you didn't have the same sense...
of confidence and trust that you had with Heath.
You felt with Heath that you could always trust him.
With Wilson you could never be quite sure what he would be up to.
"By the Queen, a proclamation,
"dissolving the present Parliament and declaring the calling of another."
In October, 1974, Wilson called another election,
the fourth between himself and Heath.
Heath was drinking in the last chance saloon.
By the time we came to the Autumn of 1974,
the message coming through
to MPs and people who canvassed on the streets
was, "We've got to get rid of this man."
The feeling that Ted Heath's time had come and gone.
Wilson won again.
Only just, but it was enough to defeat Ted Heath, for the third
and what would be the final time.
Heath's party did not forgive him.
In February 1975, a surprise challenger,
Margaret Thatcher, took him on in the Tory leadership contest.
When the ballot for leadership came, I was up fulfilling a political engagement in the Midlands
and the train arrived back in London an hour and a half late
and I got to the House of Commons too late to vote.
So I wasn't in a very strong position all round.
And as I got to
the House of Commons,
none other than Kenneth Clarke
came running out of Westminster Hall,
saying, "She's won, she's won!"
After ten dramatic years, the Heath-Wilson duel was suddenly over.
Wilson at first looked pleased
because he had seen off his opponent throughout much of his career
and then he suddenly looked own and said,
"I'm not sure that's a good thing."
He said to me, "You know, Bernard, I've been studying him for decades. I've watched his every move.
"I think I know what he'll say in any situation.
"I know how to provoke him.
"I know how to respond to him, I know what he'll do and now he's gone."
There was one final piece of unfinished business
in the topsy-turvy course of Heath and Wilson - Europe.
Wilson had opposed Heath's entry, saying the terms were wrong.
In 1975, he renegotiated the terms. The changes were entirely superficial
but allowed Wilson to recommend the country to vote in a referendum
to stay in.
Heath, from the backbenches, was at the forefront of the "yes" campaign.
"Is Britain stronger inside Europe? Yes!"
Wilson, ever fearful of splits in his party, kept a low profile.
In the 1975 referendum, the British people voted overwhelmingly
to stay in Europe.
I'm delighted with the result. I've worked for this for 25 years.
I was the Prime Minister who led...
Every democrat will accept the result, you and all!
It was the outcome both Heath, publicly and vociferously,
and Wilson, privately and furtively, had wanted.
But it had been a curious double act to get there.
Wilson had always said to those close to him he'd do two more years and retire at 60.
Fatigue and mental decline were beginning to show.
I left in April '75 and I came back in December '75 for some function.
I'd never met a man so absolutely tired and exhausted.
It was like a piece of elastic where all the rubber has gone.
And I now think that the signs of his eventual mental decline
were beginning to show.
On 16th March, 1976, just over a year after Heath
had been ditched by the Conservative party,
Harold Wilson resigned as Prime Minister
and slowly slipped out of British politics.
Heath set up home in Salisbury but remained active in the Commons
for the next 25 years.
When they both got old, Ted was really quite kind.
When Wilson had lost his marbles, he would ask Wilson and his wife Mary
down to Salisbury for Sunday lunch and that kind of thing.
And after Wilson died, he would ask Mary on her own and I think he got on
quite well with Mary Wilson.
That wasn't the problem. The problem was Harold. They were chalk and cheese.
Lord Harold Wilson died on 24th May, 1995, aged 79.
Sir Edward Heath ten years later, on 17th July, 2005, aged 89.
Their duel now seems another era
yet the problems they faced are oddly familiar.
Britain's identity within Europe is still debated.
Trade unions are gearing up against a Conservative-led government.
The economy is fragile.
The shadow of Heath and Wilson hangs over us.
But as for the two men themselves, was there a winner?
Harold Wilson retired at a time he chose,
under no particular pressure to do so, whilst still in office.
Ted Heath was first defeated in an election and then hounded
from leadership of the party. So, in those terms, Wilson won.
Looked at another way, I'm not quite so sure.
Ted Heath had a passionate crusade,
an ideal in which he believed - Britain in Europe -
and in which he succeeded and his success lasted after he had gone.
Howard Wilson had no such ambition, no such crusade.
His only concentration was on keeping the party united,
which he did very successfully but which was not a noble cause
in the sense that Heath had.
So perhaps Heath won after all.
# Chalk and cheese
# We're as different as Chalk and cheese
# Were there ever two people more Out of step before?
# More unlike, if you please... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Harold Wilson and Edward Heath are two very different men equally overlooked by history, but they were the political titans of the era in which Britain changed for ever. For ten years they faced each other in the House of Commons, and swapped in and out of Number Ten. They fought four general elections, three of which were amongst the most exciting of the century.
They were deliciously different and scorned one another, yet they were cast from the same mould. Both promised a revolution of meritocracy and dynamism in the British economy and society. Both utterly failed, but together they presided over a decade that redefined the nation: Britain ceased to be a world power and entered Europe; the postwar consensus in which they both believed was destroyed; Thatcherism and New Labour were born. The country they left behind was unrecognisable from the one they had inherited - and the one they had promised.
This documentary tells the story of their highly personal and political duel in the words of those who watched it blow by blow - their colleagues in the cabinet and government, and the journalists at the ringside. Set against a scintillating backdrop of the music and style of the 1960s and 70s (which was of no interest to either man) it brings the era, and its forgotten figureheads, vividly to life.