Monday, March 17, 2008

Belper's most famous export?

Actually this was nails, hence the name of the local football club (Belper Nailers) and the occasional use of "nailheads" as a term of abuse for the natives. But in terms of recent political history, the town where I now live is perhaps best known for being the constituency of George Brown, legendary piss artist and Labour Deputy Leader of the 1960s, who dramatically resigned from the job of Foreign Secretary (allegedly while drunk) forty years ago this week.

I always thought it was Tony Crosland who said that "George Brown drunk was a better man than Harold Wilson sober" but apparently this phrase was actually first penned by William Rees Mogg in a Times editorial. What Crosland said, a propos of the 1963 leadership contest between the two men, was that the party faced "a choice between a crook and a drunk."

For my part, I have always regarded Brown as a much-maligned chap. The oft-repeated story about him going up to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima while under the influence and asking him for a dance is almost certainly an invention, for instance.

Possibly the most fair-minded assessment I have read on Brown's career appears on a Derbyshire wiki project with which I am currently involved called You and Yesterday. You can read it HERE.

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MorrisOx said...

The yarn about the Archbishop of Lima may have been apocryphal, but there are plenty of other booze-related horror stories that weren't.
Brown was acutely conscious of his working class origins at a time when the party was famous for its left-wing intellectuals and monied aesthetes; he resented them at least in part because he didn't fit in.
Up against someone as intellectual and quick-witted as Wilson, Brown's resentment turned into a pathetic alcohol-fuelled hatred. Thereafter, if he wasn't making a hash of things he was indulging in the most ridiculous sulks.

David Boothroyd said...

George Brown is unfortunately only remembered for being a legendary drunk and not for his considerable political abilities (before his drinking managed to destroy them). The comparison of George Brown drunk and Harold Wilson sober was circulating very widely long before it appeared in The Times Leader in March 1976.

The story about the Cardinal Archbishop was originally told about another Minister - the very much still alive Lord Chalfont - and was made up in his case too. Brown was actually quite a successful Foreign Secretary; he was much less successful as Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, although he was very largely right on the economy and if Wilson had listened to him on devaluation, both of them may well have been re-elected in 1970. And how many people remember Brown's standing up to the Soviet leaders on their British visit in 1956?

Brown's constituency may have been named Belper but his powerbase was always in Swadlincote. There's also a good Wikipedia article about him, assuming someone hasn't wrecked it recently.

David Gladwin said...

Speaking as Ambergate's most famous export, I really should put the case for steel-framed buildings as Belper's best-known gift to the world - Jedediah Strutt's North Mill started all that.

G Eagle Esq said...


When the World was young ... in 1966 ... and the UK's Gross National Product was said to be £33,000,000,000
(£30,000 Million)

but of course, I rather suspect that they did not include all the Work mothers then giving up their careers in order to raise their children