The importance of being ordinary: Harold Wilson’s holidays in the Scilly Isles
History and English Literature
Year of study:
The 1960s in Britain are symbolised by the miniskirt, the Beatles, and sexual liberation, so it seems unusual that the man in charge was an ageing Yorkshireman, who preferred beer to champagne, tinned salmon to smoked, and watched Coronation Street. Harold Wilson is one of the country’s most influential Prime Ministers, yet also one of the least remembered. However, rarely is the question asked of how Wilson managed to keep winning with an electorate that seemed so alien to him? The answer partly lies in his connection with the Scilly Isles, a modest collection of islands off the Cornish coast. By examining his involvement in the Scillies through his personal papers and oral testimonies from residents, this project provides a new perspective on Harold Wilson’s pioneering contribution to the political strategy of appearing to be ‘one of us’. The political importance of being, or at least appearing, ordinary, has been a prominent feature in the careers of Prime Ministers from Margaret Thatcher and John Major, to Tony Blair, and, most recently, Boris Johnson, but existing research has not fully appreciated earlier and more complex roots of this phenomenon in Wilson’s identity. By providing a new window on Wilson and his importance in the 1960s, studies of his relationship with the Scilly Isles create a bridge from past to present and help us to reconceptualise our understanding of the links between political and local/national identities which exist today.
I’m a fourth year History and English Literature student, interested in the social and cultural history of Britain, particularly in the postwar period. Since I first learnt about him in high school, I’ve become fascinated with, and almost devoted to, all things Harold Wilson. I really do believe that by learning about history we can better understand why things are the way they are today, and in doing so can become more knowledgeable and powerful in our own situation. Having just completed my dissertation on his image, I am also interested in researching the life of Mary Wilson and how politics, society, and culture seemed to enter into an intertwined union in the 1960s that we still see today.