When Harold met Marcia

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She was called his secretary, but in fact she was also his nursemaid and his conscience. When she shouted, he listened. For 20 years, in and out of power, Harold Wilson and Marcia Williams worked together in one of the most famous and mysterious partnerships of modern political history. The first of two extracts taken from an important new biography of the former prime minister looks at her role, and that of the other woman: his wife

WHEN HAROLD WILSON took her on in 1956, at the height of the Hungary and Suez crises, Marcia Williams was 24 years old - newly married, recently graduated, and hungry for the political involvement which she eagerly hoped her new employer could provide. She was the daughter of a Northamptonshire builder and had attended the local direct grant school as a scholarship girl. Her parents were Tory, but she was a keen socialist. Identifying with the have-nots in her history books, she had set her sights in the sixth form on becoming the assistant to a Labour MP, in order to work in Parliament.

The first time she took dictation from her new employer, her fingers trembled. Stage fright, however, soon gave way to relaxed empathy. By the end of the year, she was not merely typing but composing most of his letters, and sharing his political thoughts.

Her new job meant a pay rise, which was important to a young couple saving for a house. But it soon became something more. Her husband, Ed Williams, believed that she intended it as a stepping-stone to a parliamentary seat. 'I think she is bound to finish up in the House of Commons sooner or later,' he wrote to his parents-in-law after she had been working for Wilson for a couple of years, 'and as far as our having a family is concerned, I think the sooner she does the better.' If she did have such ambitions, however, she never acted on them. Instead, she became fiercely ambitious - for Wilson. She did not idolise him. But, from early on, she diagnosed his possibilities: she saw him as the future - the Labour Party's, the nation's, her own. She admired his youth, in a party of the middle-aged and old, his energy, enthusiasm for change, flair for publicity, unsentimental calculations, defiance: the sense of Wilson contra mundum, which was a kind of radicalism, fired her own rebellious spirit.

Like many busy professional men of his generation, Wilson lived two quite separate lives. One was the fetid jungle war which began the moment he got to his office. The other was his family life in Southway, Hampstead Garden Suburb. Both were of great importance to him. But until he became Labour leader in 1963 and politics seeped into every corner of his existence, they were kept rigorously apart.

Wilson was able to make much, as party leader and later as Prime Minister, of the conventionality of his domestic existence, as of the simplicity of his tastes. Yet it was also unreal. Wilson was not a middle-ranking office worker with a job too humdrum to be worth discussing. He did not work to pay the mortgage. He did it - and this was something of which Mary, as much as any political wife, was well aware - because it was an obsession.

In Marcia Williams he discovered the ideal companion. Harold was an affectionate, dutiful and sporadically considerate husband. He and his wife had a knowledge of each other that was deeper than many people imagined. But there was an aspect of him that was beyond Mary's comprehension and which Marcia, by contrast, came to understand well. The press, feeding a prurient public curiosity, focused on sex, and the conundrum of whether Wilson and his secretary ever slept together. Some people continued to imagine that they had an affair in the early days, which ended before he became party leader. In a sense, however, such a matter was a technicality. More important was the intellectual and psychic intimacy that was plain for all to see, and expressed itself in their work, on the basis of a shared political fixation.

Wilson was an intensely private person. He did not, in general, form close emotional bonds with the people he worked with. The Marcia relationship, therefore, was the more extraordinary. Few doubted that it was creative. 'Harold derived from her a particular kind of stimulus,' says Peter Shore. 'She pierced his complacency on many occasions. She disturbed him, made him see things in a different way, more than anybody else I can recall.'

'They were a bit like a musical team in which one could anticipate what note the other was going to play,' says one witness. 'At some point in the conversation, she knew that if she interrupted, it would bring out the best in him, that he would be given the cue for the rest of what he needed to say. She could ask the idiot question or the one that would produce the sharpest response, in a valuable way.' That was in company: in private, a dynamiter with a lump of granite was often a more appropriate analogy. 'Sometimes she thought of him as an immovable stone,' says the same witness, 'sometimes she felt like strangling him.' On such occasions, she would attack with a violence that astonished anybody who happened to be in the vicinity: shouting, screaming abuse, slamming doors. His imperviousness would be a relief to her. If there was a small shift in his attitude, she would count it a triumph.

Such scenes were less common in their first years together. Yet, from the beginning, there was an aspect that puzzled associates: the reversal of the usual roles of employer and assistant in much of what they did. Some people identified it as a kind of immaturity in Wilson. 'She was like his missing, dominant mother,' suggests a former aide. 'He needed somebody like that. The reason why in the City some people thought she was his mistress was because of the way she treated him. You would hear her say in front of other people things like: 'You silly little boy.' She was almost literally smacking him on the hand. People used to think: no man can accept this, and assumed they were having an affair.' According to a close friend: 'If he had spoken brilliantly and was getting a lot of press, she used to take the nanny part and corrected him a bit. If he had done badly, he would look into her face and say: 'You didn't think much of that, did you?' and she would reply: 'No, you had better do better than that next time.' She always seemed to see the photo of the little boy on the steps of No 10 in long shorts inside him.'

THE RITUALS of their interplay became a customary, and then a necessary, part of Wilson's working method, as well as a source of satisfaction to both of them - always predicated on Marcia's total commitment. People talked about them having a 'mental affair' or of 'a kind of sex-in-the-head'; but it was of the utmost importance that Marcia's involvement was not with Wilson as a disconnected individual but with Harold-Wilson-in-the-Labour-Party, a political entity that she helped to fashion. Believing in him as an instrument of her ideals and her intentions, she bolstered his confidence, protected his flank, and did a large part of his political thinking for him.

Her most important role, however, was practical. There was another sense in which she was nursemaid: she did everything for him that it was not absolutely necessary for him to do himself. As his office secretary, she kept his diary, welcomed or fended off visitors, criticised and typed his speeches, accompanied him on his foreign travels. But she also became family secretary as well, paying domestic bills, fixing up holidays, often - in effect - making family financial decisions. Having no children until many years later, it was as if she adopted the Wilsons, most of whom came to rely on her in one way or another.

All of Harold's correspondence passed through her hands. Wilson seldom wrote personal letters, and almost never long ones: many private letters that bear his signature and a scribbled sentence in his hand beneath the typescript, were actually composed by his secretary. It was one of her accomplishments that she knew enough about the family's activities to be able to write to Harold's relatives in chatty, newsy terms, and say the kind of things he would have said, had he put his mind to it.

Marcia did not often go to Southway, Mary Wilson's sanctuary. Yet Mary, too, came to depend on her. Many people assumed a triangular rivalry: but this was only partially true. Relations between the two women, at times tense and occasionally stormy, developed into a wary, respectful and even affectionate modus vivendi. Marcia often ate and socialised with the whole Wilson family, visited them on holiday, and was always the first person to turn to in emergencies. Marcia's brother Tony became Harold's golfing companion, and briefly, in the early 1970s, his office manager; when Harold was prime minister, Mary employed Marcia's sister Peggy, who hated politics as vigorously as she did, as her personal secretary in No 10. More resentful of the innuendo than of the person, Mary came to see that Marcia had staked her claim on ground that she herself had no wish to occupy, while Marcia came to appreciate that Mary was the solid foundation on which Harold's life was built. Each acknowledged the other's strength, and shared the bond of a common purpose.

It did not take long for the notion that Wilson was having, or had had, an affair with his secretary to turn into a rumour, and from a rumour, into a settled belief that was widely held by journalists, politicians and officials, apart from those who were close to him, who generally confessed to agnosticism.

'Funny fellow, Wilson,' Harold Macmillan is reputed to have joked to companions at the Beefsteak, a few years later. 'Keeps his mistress at No 10. Always kept mine in St John's Wood.' When Marcia became pregnant in the late 1960s, it was believed by some optimistic newspaper editors, wrongly, that Wilson was the father. One of the main functions of Arnold Goodman, as Wilson's solicitor, was to keep such stories out of the press with threats of litigation. In this he was largely successful; but the belief, nevertheless, hardened into a taken-for-granted assumption, a folklore piece of knowledge which the mere lack of evidence could not shake. One reason was the unusual intensity of the Harold-Marcia relationship; another was Mary's evident unhappiness in public; a third was Marcia's youth, good looks and vivacity; a fourth - and this weighed particularly with journalistic sleuths - was the breakdown of Marcia's marriage, during the early years of her employment by Wilson.

In August 1957, Ed Williams, an aeronautical engineer, set out for Seattle on a two-year contract with Boeing: Marcia did not accompany him. Instead she continued to work for Wilson and - with the Williams's joint income much increased since 1956 - acquired a mortgage on a house in the Finchley Road in north London. They wrote regularly, spoke often on the telephone, and she visited him for holidays. Early in 1958, she accompanied Wilson on the first leg of a world tour, flying on her own from New York to Seattle; Wilson went on to China, and stopped off in Seattle on the way back. During their three weeks together, Ed and Marcia talked about settling together in the United States. It was a poignant time: both wanted, yet shrank from, the prospect. 'I felt very tempted to ask you to stay,' Ed wrote the moment she had left, 'particularly with you almost putting the words into my mouth almost hourly; but I'm quite certain that it couldn't possibly have worked and that almost immediately you would have been most unhappy . . . you would have been stuck in a country which you didn't like and away from a job which is far more important to you than most people's'

Ed assured her that 'our future is definitely an English one'. It turned out not to be so. Dates were fixed for Ed's return: he asked her to join him in Seattle after all. She refused. There was a row. Capitulating in an attempt to save their marriage, Marcia bought a ticket, and let Ed know she was coming: the message came back telling her to cancel. He had met another woman at a Christmas party.

Nineteen fifty-nine was supposed to be the year of their reunion. It became the year of separation. Marcia's father, to whom she was devoted, had a coronary, and never worked again; it became necessary to sell the new house, which she could not afford to live in on her own. In her misery and loneliness, she threw herself with renewed passion into the job. Harold was good at such times of crisis, a kindly, steady and reassuring presence. There was an election approaching, and plenty to do. 'Work saved her from going under,' says a friend. She divorced Ed in 1961, and he married again. She remained single, her closeness to Harold fuelling speculation.

She had intended to combine marriage, family and career. Now she was supporting her parents, and her career became everything: Wilson became her personal project. Clever, funny, shrewd, radical, dedicated, nervously energetic and ferociously intolerant of his many enemies, she immersed herself in the cause of Wilson. His closest associates liked and appreciated her, regarding her as a co- equal member of the centre-left inner circle, whose views were respected as much as anybody's. 'She was deeply involved in all his doings,' recalls Peter Shore. Later periods were to be more complex. In this one, the politician and his secretary were a perfectly matched team, climbing the same mountain.

LABOUR'S 1964 election victory was a democratic coup d'etat: a symbolic shock that altered the way British people thought about themselves more profoundly than any other event since the Second World War. The nation was not used to such sudden changes of regime. New prime ministers were usually old hands at government, eased in from the ranks of existing Cabinet ministers. Wilson, by contrast, was largely unknown at the top of the Establishment, and his victory was viewed in Whitehall with a mixture of alarm, curiosity, and excitement at a professional challenge.

Excitement was most intense in No 10 Downing Street itself. The Prime Minister's official residence was traditionally a grand establishment, geared to an aristocratic or at least haut bourgeois way of life: most recent occupants had grown up in spacious houses, and acclimatised easily. Even the unpretentious Attlee came from a wealthy legal family, and had childhood memories of a large household. Since the return of Churchill in 1951 there had been a restoration of the status quo ante: so the arrival of the Wilsons, famous for the simplicity of their tastes and their hostility to gracious living, felt like a barbarian invasion. Some No 10 officials were invigorated by the prospect; others found it difficult to accept. For all, however, it was bound to mean a big social and psychological adjustment.

The people who had to do the largest amount of adjusting were Harold and Mary themselves. Their experience was different from that of their predecessors. For the Macmillans and Douglas-Homes, No 10 had been a convenient and congenial town house - a pleasingly fashionable addition to their already extensive addresses. For Lady Dorothy, the role of Downing Street chatelaine was a crowning social triumph; for Lady Douglas-Home, it was a source of restrained feudal pleasure. Both naturally spread the influence of their personalities through the passages and state rooms, providing the feeling of a busy private residence, and encouraging civil servants who worked there to regard themselves as treasured family retainers. The short-lived regime of the Douglas-Homes had been especially popular, inspiring personal loyalty. 'You might say they knew how to handle servants,' says one official whose spell at No 10 spanned the transition. 'As the election results came in, lots of the garden room girls were in tears at the thought of losing two very nice people.' Under the Macmillans, Cabinet ministers used to dodge grandchildren playing cricket in the corridors. The Wilsons felt no inclination to regard No 10 in the same way. For them it was an office, and never a home.

Harold, of course, was delighted both by No 10 and by Chequers, relishing their historic associations. Seeing them as political redoubts, he was unbothered by the domestic aspect. Mary, who cared about domesticity, never felt comfortable in either. Her idea of home life involved a compact private space, without other people in it, which she could call her own. She moved to the upstairs flat at No 10, the nest within the warren, with foreboding.

It is a mistake to think of Mary Wilson as apolitical. She had strong, Nonconformist views on some things, for example the Bomb, about which she wrote a poem. Though she seldom went to Huyton, Harold's constituency, she enjoyed the company of ordinary Labour Party members, especially the working-class ones, and liked the informality of their gatherings. 'She never pushed herself forward, but she was very popular, one of his greatest assets, first class,' says Ron Hayward, who later became Labour Party general secretary and who remembers her with Harold at regional occasions in the 1950s. 'The women would take to her. She could talk children, she could talk anything.' But she did not like, understand, approve of, have any patience with, what she regarded as Westminster in-fighting. It was almost a phobia: where other political wives would brighten at a bit of gossip, she froze.

She had complicated feelings about the victory. She hated election campaigns. She detested the pressure of the crowds, the shouting, the abuse, even the spitting, as much as Harold was stimulated by them. Yet in the 1964 election she had been swept up in the enthusiasm almost in spite of herself. In her own way, she was a fierce partisan, witheringly scornful of the Tories. She had been rooting for Harold all her life, and she was pleased for him when he won. She felt immensely proud when - in a kind of family outing, together with the boys - she rode to the Palace for Harold's kissing of hands. But she shrank in misery from what was in store for her.

She resented the severance from local Hampstead friends, and she was frightened for her children. Robin, now in his third year at Oxford, reading maths at Balliol and doing well, was good at insulating himself; but Giles, less gifted and more vulnerable, was still at school and having difficulty, socially as well as academically. It was not a good time to be sucked into the vortex of publicity and special treatment that is the inevitable fate of a prime minister's family. There was a part of Mary that was furious with the circumstances, and the people, she held responsible. 'It was a situation,' says a former No 10 official, 'in which he was going in one direction, and she had no desire to enter that world.' Her response was to pull back further into herself, erecting firmer barriers. She did not shirk her responsibilities, and did what was required of her. But she resolved to defend her psychic territory.

She felt ill at ease with the more old-

fashioned kind of officials, and they with her. 'She started with a deep suspicion that everyone disliked and despised her,' recalls one former No 10 civil servant. 'She walked about looking terribly unhappy.' Another speaks of her 'desperate shyness and unwillingness to be there'. She did not feel - as her predecessors had felt - that she belonged; or that the people she passed in the corridors had anything to do with her. 'She was always wandering around the garden with the cats,' recalls a former typist in the garden room. 'She seemed to be under great strain, and appeared to be very excluded.' She disliked the lack of privacy that living in a public building entailed. Even in the flat at No 10, where she spent much of her time, she was not safe: civil servants did not scruple to come up to deliver messages or to talk to Harold if he was there, forcing her to retreat into her bedroom.

She had never liked public functions. In Downing Street, she loathed them. She considered them stilted, pompous and false. She was impatient with small talk and had nothing to say to people who she did not believe had any interest in her opinions. Contrary to the impression conveyed by Private Eye's satirical fantasy, 'Mrs Wilson's Diary', she was not demure, naive or stupid. She was sharp, perceptive and could appear brusque, with a habit - which Establishment people found disconcerting - of speaking her mind. 'She had everybody's measure and knew what they were after,' says a friend. One of her most heartfelt poems described hangers-on at official gatherings, slavering like wolves. She had a particular antipathy to formal dinners, and found the routines of hostessing foreign statesmen and their wives embarrassing and oppressive. Once she retired to the ladies' room, where a civil servant's wife sent in pursuit found her in tears, saying: 'I can't face it any more.' In fact she

did face it, with courage and sardonic determination. Her way of dealing with her predicament was to treat the high political world with the disdain she imagined it felt towards people like herself who did not share its narcissistic self-absorption. On one occasion, she said to a female official at a function that required her to wear a long dress: 'The one good thing about this kind of do is that it gives you a chance to use up your laddered tights.'

She made no concessions to the cameras. If she did not feel like smiling, she did not smile. As a result, many pictures of her as Prime Minister's wife show her with an expression of moody exasperation, which was often accurate. Yet - because of, not in spite of, her brutal honesty - she was liked by the public. Her desire to retain a kernel of normal humanity for her family, and her insistence on being direct with people, were aspects that gained sympathy. Her rough edges, sometimes a cause of anxiety to official staff, endeared her to ordinary people, and added to the sense of the Wilsons as a couple like themselves. So did her attitude of loyal, amused irritation at Harold's foibles and self-centredness.

Bit by bit, she got used to it. Her hostility towards the No 10 staff softened, and one or two of the more acute civil servants broke through her reserve: she discovered that officials could be more genuine and less grasping than members of the political caste. She gained practice at making the little speeches - usually with the help of a civil servant - that it is the lot of a premier's spouse to make; and she found that she was appreciated. 'She was a bit nervous socially,' says one official, 'but better at it than she thought she was.' Partly because of the popularity of her verse, she became as familiar a personality as any previous prime ministerial wife. But the essence of her attitude did not alter. She regarded her job, grimly, as a protective one: of her family - her children, her husband and herself - from the artificial and alien circumstances in which they found themselves. There was a sense of gritting her teeth, waiting for it to be over.

While Mary shrank, Harold expanded. At 48, he was the youngest prime minister of the century, at the peak of his energy and ability, filled with wonder at his success after only a year and a half as Opposition leader, and with a terrific sense of what he might yet achieve.

THE ELECTION result was not only a major disruption to Mary's life. It was disorientating to Marcia as well. After the break-up of her marriage, she had worked with greater intensity for Harold: but never with the sense that her job was permanent. Like him, she lurched from crisis to crisis, giving all her attention to each in turn, and imagining that it might be the last. Before Gaitskell's death, she had seriously thought of quitting and reading for the Bar - then came Harold's election as leader, and the prospect of No 10 loomed. In reality, she was no more capable of shaking off the political addiction than he was, but she continued to sustain the hope of a calmer existence, of a husband and a family. Labour's victory postponed a decision once again, and she immediately threw herself into the extraordinary world of power and opportunity that presented itself, and realised that she would have to fight in order to survive.

Until the election, she had had almost unlimited access to Harold. Now the situation abruptly altered, and Whitehall interposed itself. From the beginning, she saw herself as the new prime minister's political arm: keeping in touch with the party in Parliament and in the country. The No 10 establishment was sceptical. 'In Opposition, she had him full-time,' says Oliver (now Sir Oliver) Wright, then prime minister's private secretary on the foreign side. 'In office, being prime minister took up 80 per cent of his time, and being party leader only 20.' The civil service wanted him to get on with running the country: she was determined not to let him forget who it was that made it possible for him to do it.

She was 32: a young age for anybody, male or female, to take on the might of Whitehall. That she did so and emerged victorious, though not without scars, was a tribute to her strength and ingenuity. The first enemy of her intentions, as she saw it, was the prime minister's principal private secretary, Derek Mitchell, a highly intelligent Treasury civil servant who happened (ironically) to be a discreet but ardent Labour supporter. Mitchell welcomed the new regime with enthusiasm; but within days he and Marcia were at war. The battleground consisted of apparent trivialities which, however, symbolised what was really at issue: the right to invoke the prime minister's authority. After Marcia's struggles for a title and a room, she turned her attention to the garden room girls - the official typists who worked in No 10's garden room. She cast a critical eye over them, and concluded that they were natural Tories: most had been recruited from the same posh secretarial college, and they were unsuitable for a socialist administration.

'It was well known,' says one former garden room girl, now married to a Tory MP, 'that she didn't care for us, in fact that she disliked us intensely. She thought we were uppity.' In vain, Mitchell wrote the prime minister an icily civil memorandum, pointing out that the women came from a variety of backgrounds, and some had been working in the garden room since the previous Labour administration. He misjudged his foe. Rumours began to circulate among the political staff, supporting Marcia's allegations. There was the story about the garden room girl who was heard to remark, when she found the photocopier out of action: 'The peasants have broken the machine again.' There was also a tale about a girl who was caught in the act of being rude about the prime minister to a Tory MP's secretary in a telephone conversation. Marcia denounced this to Mitchell as 'a disgraceful incident which was clear evidence of the lack of loyalty to the prime minister within No 10'.

It was an absurd row, which either Marcia or Mitchell could have defused if they had been genuinely interested in co-operation. Neither, however, was prepared to make a gesture. 'Derek Mitchell found the extraordinary role that Marcia had acquired quite unacceptable,' says another former No 10 official. 'It conflicted with his concept of his own role. She would say absolutely what she thought on every issue, whether on office arrangements or policy. He made the mistake of thinking he could beat her at her own game. But the fact was you couldn't beat her, you had to join her, because the prime minister trusted her advice implicitly.' That was the crux.

By the time Wilson won the 1966 election, her niche was secure. A year later, Richard Crossman noted that 'she still is the most influential person in Harold's life'. She did not rule in No 10, but she was unquestionably powerful, her significance remaining as it had always been - that Wilson depended on her, practically, emotionally and also intellectually.

Her ability to exercise influence depended on physical proximity: but it was also based on her absolute determination to be heard. Her style, disconcerting to officials who had not witnessed it, was to shout. When she was crossed or ignored, the volume increased and the pitch went up. 'Marcia yelling at Harold was the only kind of discussion we ever heard them have,' says a former official in the press office. To some extent her degree of happiness or frustration could be measured by the amount of noise: there was less in the first period of office than in the second.

Officials were startled, not just by the lack of deference contained in the shouting, but also by the apparent reversal of roles. The prime minister seemed to be seeking his assistant's approval, rather than the other way round. 'She exercised a considerable control,' says one ex-civil servant, 'in the sense that he wanted her to be happy.' Frequently, she saw herself as his socialist conscience, who needed to say the kind of things he might have said himself, if he had not been prime minister, loudly and angrily enough to grab his attention. Once they had a terrific row over a loaf of bread. 'You don't know how much it costs, do you? Do you?' she said. He tried to think how much he had paid in the Co-op in the Scillies, but could not remember. 'You see,' she said triumphantly. 'That's what people care about.' On such occasions, he would retreat, conceding her argument, which was frequently that he had lost touch with everyday reality. But he was capable of waspish retaliation. 'She was making points of order in her pram,' was a favourite put-down.

Marcia became an increasingly controversial figure, and a source of fascination to the tabloid press, primed by pre-1964 rumours and ever vigilant for scarlet-woman stories that could be made to stick. She had personal enemies as well as official ones in No 10 - people she had been rude to, typists she had reduced to tears. Yet there were as many people who liked and appreciated as deplored her. Officials who came to No 10 after the government was in place, expecting the worst, were frequently won over. 'She was much the best of the kitchen cabinet,' says Sir Michael Palliser, then an official at No 10. John (now Lord) Harris, then Labour's director of publicity, felt that 'she was the only person at No 10 who was any good,' and enjoyed her company as well as admiring her ability. Trevor Lloyd-Hughes, the prime minister's press officer, had terrific rows with her yet remained on friendly terms and thought her 'very bright, blazingly honest, very loyal and a treasure'.

The attitude of politicians varied. Most of the right, hating the kitchen cabinet, cast her as arch-villain. She could be, as Peter Jenkins put it, 'the Gorgon secretary who can vet the diary and the telephone calls' - and therefore the person to invoke the wrath of ministers whose feelings had been hurt by a rebuff. Robert Mellish, later chief whip, a London dockland MP, abominated her: 'You stand for sod all, you're nothing, you're out as far as I'm concerned,' he blasted at her once when she had blocked his path to the prime minister. Later, however, it was Marcia who persuaded Wilson to talk Mellish into withdrawing a resignation threat. Other right-wing ministers, such as Brown and Jenkins, had her approval, and so she had theirs. She regarded it as part of her job to be helpful to back-bench MPs; and most of the left and centre were devoted to her. According to Judith Hart, 'She was a tremendous support and help, with a very cool judgement of people. She would be very defensive of Harold, and alarmed if she heard things said against him.' 'Marcia is the best thing about the court at No 10,' Anthony Wedgwood Benn noted at the end of 1965, reflecting a widely held opinion amongst the intimates.

Marcia herself - confident and assertive in the office, charming and reticent in public - was exhilarated by the pace of life at the centre, and took pleasure from the skirmishes, and the victories. She enjoyed the feeling of Labour's success, and her own hand in it, and delighted in the enthusiasm of the crowds as they toured the country, and the pride of working-class people in a prime minister, as they saw it, from their own side of the social divide. But she also felt vulnerable, cornered and lonely. She wanted things which, it seemed, her position made it harder, not easier, to get.

She continued to live with her parents, brother and sister in Golders Green; she travelled in to Downing Street mid-morning, and often stayed until midnight. 'She sometimes felt as if she was being trapped into being a nun without being one,' according to one view. 'She was young and she wanted to have fun.'

The Sixties was a decade in which many young people believed that everybody except themselves was having a good time: Marcia was no exception. 'She was always being accused of going to wild parties where people smoked pot, but in reality the only kind of party she ever went to was the kind given by Tony Benn where you met people like Freddie Ayer and Dee Wells,' says the same source. 'She would have liked to go to the other kind of party.' It was not possible. It was also difficult, as she swiftly discovered, to have a normal relationship: there was little time, the media spotlight was intense, and the motives of anybody who asked her out were immediately suspect. In 1964 she had a brief, doomed affair with John Allen, a fellow member of the Downing Street staff. It was three years before she found anybody else.


Extracted from 'Harold Wilson', published by HarperCollins on 29 October ( pounds 20).

(Photograph omitted)