Dramatis Personae: The Who's Who of the 1976 Resignation Honours List


Sir Harold Wilson

Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party: Winner of four general elections albeit with microscopic majorities. A pudgy man who was cursed by being of average height during an era of tall world leaders. Next to JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Charles De Gaulle Wilson looked small: literally and figuratively. Notoriously limited in his imagination and interests outside economics and politics he was completely unable to decisively deal with any serious problem. But was rather skilled at creating elaborate and fantastic houses of cards balancing out various institutional interests that, once his own influence was no longer present, disintegrated from their own internal contradictions. He was the last of the British Prime Ministers of the nationalist, or "Butskellist" ilk. The City of London hated him. The Labour Party respected him while he was in office and then treated him like the "crazy uncle we wish we didn't have" for the rest of his life. In fact the Labour Party did more damage to him and Lady Falkender than anyone did, but then more of that later on.

 

The Kitchen Cabinet or Courtiers

Lady Marcia Falkender

Prime Minister’s closest aide and lifelong confidante. Nicknamed "Lady Forkbender" by MI5 and MI6's inhouse smear-sheet Private Eye, for reasons that were never fully explained. Was this a reference to some dining disaster? Uri Geller? Who knows?

Joe Haines

Harold Wilson’s second Press Secretary and oily tabloid journalist. Together with his ventriloquist’s dummy, Bernard Donoughue, he later went to work for the notorious Bob Maxwell to universal ridicule. Joe Haines is the only real source for the “Lavender List” and continues to repeat the same tired insinuations as if someone in the shadows was paying him to do it, which is more than likely what is happening as Joe Haines is a man bereft of principles. Fleet Street has always been renowned for breathtaking hypocrisy but blaming Lady Falkender for Harold Wilson's shredded reputation takes the biscuit. The honour for that goes to Joe Haines and his poodle Bernard Donoughue.

Bernard Donoughue

Joe Haines’ lapdog, an inconsequential figure and absurdly over-rated academic who faked a set of diaries.

 

The "Dodgy" Names

 

Sir Joseph Kagan

A Cold War type like Armand Hammer or Bob Maxwell: cosmopolitan businessman who flitted blithely between the West and the Soviet bloc, seemingly able to penetrate the iron curtain as if it were made of lace. Kagan made his fortune from Gannex raincoats, which Wilson modelled on his many foreign trips. His familiarity with the Soviet bloc, together with the testimony of a Soviet defector, lead to accusations that he was in fact linked to the KGB. Apparently, though his connections with Moscow were common conversational currency in the British media, MI5 were unable to actually find any proof for the allegations which either says something about the professionalism of the KGB, the ineptitude of MI5 or the honesty of the British media. Spies are supposed to remain incognito, after all, and during the 1970s and 1980s it is doubtful whether anyone in the country had not heard of the allegations.

Sir George Weidenfeld

Another cosmopolitan businessman, cigar smoking socialite and philanthropist, who founded Weidenfeld and Nicholson.  From the 1960s onwards, Weidenfeld’s salon was the epicentre of London literati, media and High Society. When his personal possessions went up for auction in 2017 after his death, they included the portraits of three Popes. Make of that what you will.

James Goldsmith

Billionaire financial speculator, City of London maverick and political gadfly, Goldsmith started off with Cavenham Foods which he used as a springboard to a life of pure financial speculation in the late 1970s and 1980s. The conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins described Goldsmith as the Rothschild’s appointee over the whole of North America during the 1980s. This was the era of junk bonds and “unbundling”, a genteel euphemism for using Wall Street to sell off American manufacturing for scrap. He was the model for the character Sir Lawrence Wildman in the movie Wall Street. In the 1990s he wrote “The Trap” a book which was either extremely prescient or a leaked manifesto of the financial oligarchy’s intentions for the Western World. As a final swansong before his death in 1997 he founded the Referendum Party, the progenitor of all the anti-EU political parties that were to follow. James Goldsmith and Lady Falkender forged a friendship during 1976 and 1977 in the crucible of a long-running series of libel battles with the tatty scandal sheet Private Eye.

Eric Miller

Received a knighthood in the “Lavender List” ostensibly for his role in the Socialist International. One year later, Miller was under investigation by the DTI for his company Peachey Properties. Much was made of the investigation by the DTI in Fleet Street, but almost nothing of his acquittal. However, something that was meant to remain undisturbed had obviously been disturbed by the investigation, because Miller soon afterwards committed suicide in the hitherto believed-to-be-impossible manner of shooting himself in the head six times. Rumours were rife in Westminster at the time about what had really happened, and mention was made of the shadowy “Crown Agents” which, like Peachey, was also involved in London property speculation at the time. As is usual in such matters the rumours and investigations reached a discreet dead end.

James Hanson

Corporate raider and asset stripper, Hanson became the darling of the Thatcherites in the 1980s for supposedly invigorating British business by amputating important parts of moribund businesses and selling off the remainder at a profit. The rationale for his honour in 1976 was his role in Doyley Carte Opera company: Wilson loved Gilbert and Sullivan.

Professor John Vaizey

Academic and mostly harmless.

John Mills

Actor and certainly harmless.

Stanley Baker

Actor and director. Baker was terminally ill in hospital when Wilson decided to honour him for his role in the British film industry.

Sir Bernard Delfont

Chairman of EMI. Wilson had started the practice of honouring those in popular culture with an MBE for the Beatles in the 1960s. He continued this with his support for the British film industry.

Sir Lew Grade

Chairman of ATV,  film and television impresario.