Harold Wilson was no liberalising reformer | Letters

Anne Perkins paints a misleading picture of Harold Wilson when describing him as the PM who presided over great liberalising reforms that paved the way for modest decriminalisation of homosexuality and ended theatrical censorship (Labour needs to rethink Harold Wilson’s legacy, 10 March). These two reforms were achieved despite and not because of Wilson.

In the case of fully dismantling theatre censorship he fought a rearguard campaign in cabinet to urge continued bans on stage of portrayals of living people. On homosexual law reform, Wilson rejected home secretary Roy Jenkins’s proposal that the government should facilitate a private members bill. The governing motive for Wilson’s campaign against the decensoring of the stage was revealed when the lord chamberlain’s papers on theatre censorship entered the public domain. The PM objected to seeing himself impersonated on stage in Stratford East’s proposed adaptation by Richard Ingrams and John Wells of their Mrs Wilson’s Diary in Private Eye. The lord chamberlain sent the PM the farcical script and he loathed it. Most other cabinet members were unconcerned.

Only when Callaghan succeeded Jenkins as home secretary was the languishing censorship bill revived. Callaghan persuaded the PM that to ban plays that portrayed living people in them was a non-starter. A liberal Wilson? Hardly.

Nicholas de Jongh


Re Jeremy Hayes’ letter referring to his memory of Harold Wilson and the Open University (12 March), what better example of women being written out of history? The OU was entirely the brainchild of Jennie Lee. No wonder I (age 86) and others have just signed up to the Women’s Equality party!

Pat Grosse


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