Who Was Harold Wilson, Prime Minister In 'The Crown' Season 3?

The Queen and Harold Wilson had a remarkable bond.

Queen With Wilson
(Image credit: Fox Photos)

According to the IMBd credits of The Crown season 3, prime minister Harold Wilson will play a significant role, appearing in eight of 10 episodes. While it's as yet unclear how Wilson's story will intersect with the royal family's, his appearance in 80 percent of the show's episodes suggests we're going to learn a whole lot more about Wilson. The two-term prime minister got along famously well with the Queen, in spite of class differences—Wilson came from a lower middle-class background—and is considered a figure who handled conflict with civility and grace.

While The Crown's first series focused on the relationship between The Queen and Winston Churchill (played by John Lithgow), Churchill is nowhere to be found in the IMBd credits for the third season, suggesting that the series will focus, politics-wise, on Harold Wilson instead. Here's what we know about the politician, who served as prime minister between 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976.

In a now-famous photograph, an eight-year-old Wilson visited 10 Downing Street, the home of the British Prime Minister—think of it as the U.K.'s White House—and declared that he would, one day, become PM. This was in 1924. In 1947, aged 31, Wilson became the youngest member of a U.K. cabinet of the entire 20th century, and he had ascended to prime minister by 1964.

Child Harold

The now-famous photo.

(Image credit: Hulton Archive)

Wilson is portrayed generously in The Crown.

When Wilson is first voted prime minister at the beginning of The Crown season 3, the Queen and Prince Philip—in particular Philip, who in his usual grumpy way critiques Wilson from the get-go—are wary. Wilson, the show makes clear, is prime minister at least partly because voters resonated with his working-class background, which isn't a demographic the monarchy have much in common with (I mean, they live in a literal palace).

But after a terse introduction, Wilson reveals to the Queen that his public image doesn't reflect his background, and Olivia Colman as the Queen matches his vulnerability as best as the Queen can. They find they agree on matters both professional and personal, and form a strong bond throughout the series; Wilson listen carefully to her advice and vice versa, and the amicable chemistry between the characters is palpable. The Queen is visibly upset when Wilson is replaced in the early '70s, and later devastated when Wilson reveals to her that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

IRL, Wilson got along famously well with The Queen.

In spite of their obvious differences—the Queen was literally born into royalty, and Wilson was elected in part because voters respected and related to his working-class background—the two thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Per the Sunday Post, their meetings often lasted well over two hours: "[The Queen] saw him as a down-to-earth British chap who could tell her all about real life and what her subjects really got up to."

Elizabeth II and Harold Wilson

The Queen with Wilson in 1965.

(Image credit: Express)

Wilson is played by Jason Watkins in The Crown.

Watkins, a BAFTA-winning actor from Shropshire, England, has played a number of minor roles in big-budget movies—he had a small appearance in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason as her legal counsel when she's in a Thai prisonbut he's considered primarily a stage and TV actor. He's a member of London's world-renowned National Theatre company, and he's appeared in dozens of mostly British TV shows, including Being Human, Doctor Who, and Nativity. 

Cheltenham Literature Festival

(Image credit: David Levenson)

In a statement about his casting, Watkins said: "I am delighted to become part of this exceptional show and so thrilled to be working once again with Peter Morgan. Harold Wilson is a significant and fascinating character in our history. So looking forward to bringing him to life through a decade that transformed us culturally and politically. And excited to be working so closely with Olivia [Colman] and the whole team."

Wilson's career in politics started well and ended badly.

Wilson's tenure as prime minister is not considered a failure, but neither is it considered a resounding success. He spent the latter part of his political rule mired in crises, particularly in regard to the devaluation of the pound, and he resigned abruptly in 1976. Per The Independent: "All the old problems of the nation and the party were still there and he had no new and feasible solution for them. He would rather people asked why did he go, rather than why did he stay."

Harold Wilson

Harold Wilson

(Image credit: Central Press)

In later life, his popularity with the British people slowly increased, having reached a particularly low point at the time of his resignation. Wilson was a father to two, one of whom is renowned mathematics professor Robin Wilson. In 1995, aged 75, he passed away following battles with colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

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