Useful Notes / Edward Heath

"I have always had a hidden wish, a frustrated desire, to run a hotel."

Sir Edward Richard George "Ted" Heath KG MBE (9 July 1916 17 July 2005) was a British politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and a pro-European Conservative.

"Sailor Ted" as he was also known (other nicknames included "The Grocer" or "Grocer Heath", after negotiating for the UK at a food prices conference) took Britain into the EEC, mainly because Charles de Gaulle wasn't around any more to stop him.

His early career saw him as President of the Oxford Union (the University's debating society and a fairly frequent stepping stone on the road to Downing Street) and an opponent of appeasement. He became the first elected leader of his party in 1965. He lost the 1966 election, but went on to unexpectedly win in 1970. In his first year of office, he completed the transition to decimal coinage.

Heath's time in office saw The Troubles escalate in Northern Ireland, particularly after the Bloody Sunday incident in January 1973. His attempts to mediate the conflict were unsuccessful, instead causing a split with his Ulster Unionist allies. He also had to contend with a lot of strikes, inflation, rising unemployment and other economic problems. Some of these were caused by the 1973 Yom Kippur War and resultant oil crisis.

He was confronted by a miner's strike in 1974 and responded to the coal shortage with the Three Day Week - most homes and businesses were limited to using electricity just three days a week. He also called an election in February, hoping to get a mandate to face down the strike. This instead resulted in a hung parliament with the Conservatives taking the most votes, but Labour winning the most seats. Harold Wilson became PM.

Heath spent no less than 51 years in the House of Commons, retiring in 2001. His successor in that seat, Derek Conway, only spent nine following a scandal which essentially involved registering his relatives as employees and paying them for work they didn't do.

He never got on with Margaret Thatcher. She had served under him as Secretary of State for Education and Science and defeated him in the 1975 party leadership battle. Heath went into a decades-long sulk aimed at her and openly criticized her economic policies.

Keen on sailing (as his nickname should imply), he was also an amateur musician responsible for the installation of a grand piano in Number 10, and on a few occasions conducted orchestras.

In his youth he was in World War II and once had to organise a firing squad. Some of the Soviet leaders blew this incident out of proportion and thought he had been the "Political Officer". Before that, he travelled Europe, attending the 1937 Nuremberg rally, where he met Hitler, Goring, and Himmler ("the most evil man I have ever met"), visited besieged Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, and Germany again - indeed, he had to cycle to Holland in order to return to the UK, crossing the border hours before it was closed.

He also never married.

In fiction:
  • Private Eye's particular Heath parody was "Heathco", in which Heath ran a grocery store. The fact that Margaret Thatcher's father was (actually) a grocer meant they had much fun pretending Thatcher was Heath's daughter (particularly considering how the two didn't get on).
  • "Taxman", the lead-off track on The Beatles' Revolver album, namechecks both Heath and his rival, then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
  • In Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, economic recovery leads to him narrowly winning the 1974 election with a reduced majority and he remains PM, instituting authoritarian policies in response to The Troubles heating up and advocating a European defence alliance due to America being gripped with political strife. He assigns Margaret Thatcher to an anti-terrorism cabinet post, probably in the hope it will tarnish her career. He then badly loses the 1977 election to Denis Healey's Labour after failing to prevent terrorist atrocities such as the assassination of the Queen.
  • Spitting Image featured him from time to time, notably in the Cabaret parody where he is seen sadly shaking his head as the Conservative cabinet sings "Tomorrow Belongs to Me", and "Exchequers" (a home for retired Prime Ministers) where he annoys the others with his organ-playing.
    • He also appears in a sketch which is a parody of the "return of Bobby" scene from Dallas; Thatcher wakes up and heads for the bathroom, only to find Heath in the shower; he informs her that the last fourteen years were just a dream (the programme went out in 1986); "It's 1972, I'm still Prime Minister, unemployment is under a million and the economy's booming!", to which Thatcher replies, "Oh, bollocks!", finds a knife, and stabs him repeatedly like Anthony Perkins did to Janet Leigh in Psycho; interestingly, Heath bleeds Stephens' blue ink.
  • Heath's grasp of the French language (decent vocabulary, poor pronunciation) is the direct inspiration for Crabtree's Verbal Tic in 'Allo 'Allo!.
  • A major supporting character in Agent Lavender, where he makes a comeback as Conservative leader and serves as Earl Mountbatten's second-in-command. Later takes over as head of the coalition government and leads the remnants of the Conservative Party into an election they're implied to win.