When I was a boy Harold Wilson seemed to be the permanent prime minister. With his steel-coloured hair he seemed to be ancient but was only in his fifties. He reached the top twice in 1964-1970 and 1974-1976. The main things I can remember about him are wreaths of pipe smoke floating around him and that he didn’t speak with a posh accent. Being prodigiously bright got him from a back road in Yorkshire to the top and here I am in Milnsbridge at the terraced house where it all started.
I parked up directly opposite number 4 where he arrived in the world. The curtains were closed even though it was a sunny Sunday afternoon. I took a few photographs of the road and saw some curtains twitch next door. I doubt much escapes the attention of people on this quiet road. I looked up at the front bedroom window and guessed Harold was pushed onto a mattress in that room. The timing was off - it was March 1916 and Britain was in the thick of World War One.
Harold's dad was a works chemist (also active in the Liberal Party) and his mum was a schoolteacher up until her marriage. At school he was naturally bright and nearly always came top of the class. Aged 8 he went on a trip to London and there’s a famous photograph of him stood on the doorstep outside number 10 Downing Street. Aged 10 he told his mum, "I'm going to be Prime Minister.” He fulfilled this statement 44 years later.
He was so bright he won a scholarship to attend the local grammar school called Royds Hall Grammar School (now a comprehensive school with a blue plaque.) While attending secondary school the family moved to the Wirral in Cheshire as Harold's dad found a new job there. Harold continued schooling at the Sixth Form at the Wirral Grammar School for Boys and soon became Head Boy. Being a star pupil he got a grant enabling him to study Modern History at Jesus College at Oxford University where his politics tutor considered him to be the best student he'd ever taught.
I was 9 years old when the 60-year-old Harold finally retired in 1976; he seemed to have been the PM for a long time. In his second tenure as PM he’d lost his energy and his sudden resignation shocked the nation. Privately he knew something was wrong. His powers of recall and concentration seemed to have subsided and not long after resigning he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and then colon cancer. He died aged 79 and is one of the few prime ministers not buried in Westminster Abbey. His grave lies on one of the islands of Isles of Scilly just off the Cornwall (he’s on my list.)
This is where all started though - on a narrow road up a steep hill in Milnsbridge about three miles east of Huddersfield. I guessed there'd be a blue plaque on the wall but was wrong. To take a photograph of myself outside the house I put the camera tripod on the roof of my car and set the timer. A man passing by offered an expression that said, “You can’t do that! I hope whoever owns that car comes out and thumps you.” I got in the car and had a coffee with the window down. A lad with a German Shepherd must have been eyeing me and nodded. I said I was just seeing where Harold Wilson was born. "Who's he....oh that actor?" he said. Perhaps he meant Richard Wilson. The lad was about 20 years old and he didn't know the prime ministers. Harold probably did when he was five. I did a salute and left.
He made it...