Baroness Falkender, Harold Wilson's powerful secretary, dies

Baroness Falkender Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Marcia Williams arriving at Downing Street in 1975

Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson's secretary Baroness Falkender - formerly Marcia Williams - has died aged 86.

Lady Falkender, once dubbed the Duchess of Downing Street, died on 6 February.

She was Mr Wilson's private and political secretary from 1956 to 1983, which included his leadership of the Labour Party and his time in office.

She was one of the most powerful women in politics during Mr Wilson's premiership and came to prominence following his 1976 resignation.

Lady Falkender was believed by many to wield more influence than MPs and even cabinet ministers - something she always denied.

"I don't think I ever had any influences on policies because, as I say, it wasn't my role really. Everyone knew where I stood on things," she once said.

"If I had any at all, it's because they heard my voice and very often if there were a crowd of people around, mostly civil servants of the prime minister, he would be arguing policy out and he would be saying the things he wanted to hear.

"I might possibly be the only voice in the room saying things he didn't want to hear."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Harold Wilson with Lady Falkender were often described as "political soulmates"

Paying tribute, Lord Lipsey, who worked as a political adviser in Mr Wilson's government, said Lady Falkender might not have had much influence over policy, but had a "general influence" over Mr Wilson and was his "confidante".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she was a "formidable personality" who the Labour prime minister could turn to "when things were getting tough".

The Lavender List

Following Mr Wilson's sudden resignation in 1976, it was claimed Lady Falkender drafted his controversial resignation honours list - which included his publisher, his raincoat manufacturer and a property tycoon.

The list was dubbed The Lavender List because some of the names were written on lavender-coloured paper in Lady Falkender's handwriting.

However, it was later pointed out that it is normal for secretaries to put their employer's dictated thoughts into writing.

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Image caption Harold Wilson pictured with Baroness Falkender following his 1966 election win

In 2007, Lady Falkender successfully sued the BBC for libel over her portrayal in a drama-documentary which wrongly claimed she had compiled the list and that she had included people for her own personal interests.

The programme also wrongly suggested that she had a brief affair with Mr Wilson and used this to blackmail him.

She was awarded £75,000 in libel damages.

Lady Falkender, born Marcia Field on 10 March, 1932, was educated at Northampton High School before attending Queen Mary College, University of London.

She was married for five years to George Williams, but the relationship foundered when he wanted to live and work in the US and she did not.

She had a long-running relationship with the late Walter Terry, a one-time political editor of the Daily Mail and Mr Wilson's favourite political reporter.

Lady Falkender and Mr Terry had two sons in the late 1960s.

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Image caption Baroness Falkender making her first appearance in the House of Lords

She was made a peer in the House of Lords in 1974, but she did not speak during her four decades there.

"My peerage has been a great problem to me because I have never known how to handle it. But now I know myself pretty well," she once said.

"And I think if the press has got me wrong there is nothing I can do to put it right."

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