State of Emergency
‘One evening in 1969, [Ted Heath] the Leader of the Opposition invited five of Britain’s leading trade unionists, among them Vic Feather and Jack Jones, to dinner at his Albany flat . . . to his guests’ delight Heath was persuaded to show off his new piano, and even played a couple of short pieces. “Then Vic Feather called out, ‘Play “The Red Flag” for Jack,’ Jones recalled, ‘and the leader of the Tory party played Labour’s national anthem. It put the seal on a jolly evening.”‘
I love this story from Dominic Sandbrook’s State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974. It shows Ted Heath in a very unexpected and rather sympathetic light. I came of age in the 1970s and it is fascinating to read a social and political history of a period that one has lived through when young. 1970-1974 spanned the Heath government, one of almost unmitigated disaster: terrorist atrocities, the miner’s strike, power cuts, the three-day week. One of the more memorable episodes was the Poulson scandal: absolutely no relation, but the newspaper headlines caused mirth among my friends.
A huge amount of ground is covered in this immensely readable book: Mary Whitehouse, football hooliganism, Britain’s entry to the Common Market, glam rock, the first edition of Cosmopolitan, the publication of The Joy of Sex, decimalisation . . . At times nostalgia threatened to overwhelm me. It ends on Heath’s unexpected defeat in the election of 1974, which made very interesting reading in the run-up to the next week’s election. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.