BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson explores how Britain's prime ministers have used their power, responded to the challenges of their time and made the job what it is today.


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0101Sir Robert Walpole20090224 The first of Nick's eight portraits is of Sir Robert Walpole, the first and longest serving prime minister, who moved into Downing Street in 1721.
0102 2009030320140125BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson explores how Britain's prime ministers have used their power, responded to the challenges of their time and made the job what it is today.
Nick asks if history has been fair to Lord North, who is remembered as the prime minister who lost America.
0102 2009030320140125 
0102Lord North20090303 Nick asks if history has been fair to Lord North, who is remembered as the prime minister who lost America.
0103Sir Robert Peel20090310 , who put the national interest before party interest.
0103Sir Robert Peel 20110715BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson explores how Britain's prime ministers have used their power, responded to the challenges of their time and made the job what it is today.
Sir Robert Peel, who put the national interest before party interest.
0104Lord Palmerston20090317 , whose colourful private life masked his skill at manipulating the press.
0105Benjamin Disraeli20090324 , who turned his skills as a novelist to politics and became Britain's first Jewish-born prime minister.
Benjamin Disraeli, who turned his skills as a novelist to politics.
0106David Lloyd George20090331 David Lloyd George, who led Britain in the First World War with a presidential approach.
0107Stanley Baldwin20090407 Stanley Baldwin, who led Britain between the world wars and was the first prime minister to master radio.
Stanley Baldwin led Britain between the wars and was the first premier to master radio.
0108 LASTClement Attlee20090414 's lack of charisma did not prevent him transforming post war Britain.
0201William Pitt The Younger20110412 The first of Nick's eight portraits in power is William Pitt the Younger, who became prime minister aged only 24 and held the post for almost 19 years in total.
When Pitt died aged 46, he was younger than most of other premiers were when they first became prime minister.
His father, Pitt the Elder (earl of Chatham), and his uncle, George Grenville, were both former prime ministers, and Pitt the Younger dedicated his life to politics.
Nick hears from William Hague, Foreign Secretary, former Conservative Leader and award-winning biographer of Pitt the Younger, and historians Jane Ridley and Jeremy Black.
He recalls Pitt's life and times by visiting Downing Street, the Bank of England, the House of Commons, Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey.
Britain faced massive debts when Pitt became prime minister, but in 1783 the cause had been a disastrous war in America.
Pitt began by reducing debt and boosting trade, but the impact of the French Revolution in 1789 dominated the rest of his premiership.
The cost of the French wars plunged Britain deeper into debt, forcing Pitt to print money (he authorised the first £1 and £5 banknotes) and to introduce income tax for the first time.
Shortly before his death, Nelson's victory at Trafalgar ensured Britain's security, but Napoleon dominated Europe and was not finally defeated until nine years after Pitt's death.
In this series, Nick Robinson also looks at Earl Grey, William Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
Nick Robinson looks at how William Pitt the Younger handled the top job in politics.
0202Earl Grey20110419 Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, continues his new series exploring how different prime minister have used their power, responded to the great challenges of their time and made the job what it is today.
The second of Nick's portraits in power is Earl Grey, whose name is now more usually associated with a blend of tea than with his political achievements.
Grey was 66 years old when he became prime minister in 1830 and served for less than four years, but he passed the Great Reform Act and abolished slavery in the British Empire.
Grey's Great Reform Act is widely hailed as the first, crucial step in Britain's gradual evolution towards democracy.
But Grey is an unlikely champion of reform since he believed that modest reform was the best way to preserve Britain's constitution and guard against what he saw as the horrors of mass democracy in which everyone can vote.
Nick hears from the historians Jeremy Black, Jane Ridley and Amanda Foreman, who talks about Grey's affair with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Georgiana's political influence on the young Grey.
In the first programme in this series, Nick looked at Pitt the Younger, and in later programmes considers William Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
Producer: Rob Shepherd.
Nick Robinson looks at how Earl Grey handled the top job in British politics.
0202Earl Grey 20110801Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, continues his new series exploring how different prime minister have used their power, responded to the great challenges of their time and made the job what it is today. The second of Nick's portraits in power is Earl Grey, whose name is now more usually associated with a blend of tea than with his political achievements. Grey was 66 years old when he became prime minister in 1830 and served for less than four years, but he passed the Great Reform Act and abolished slavery in the British Empire.
Grey's Great Reform Act is widely hailed as the first, crucial step in Britain's gradual evolution towards democracy. But Grey is an unlikely champion of reform since he believed that modest reform was the best way to preserve Britain's constitution and guard against what he saw as the horrors of mass democracy in which everyone can vote.
Nick hears from the historians Jeremy Black, Jane Ridley and Amanda Foreman, who talks about Grey's affair with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Georgiana's political influence on the young Grey.
In the first programme in this series, Nick looked at Pitt the Younger, and in later programmes considers William Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
Producer: Rob Shepherd.
Nick Robinson looks at how Earl Grey handled the top job in British politics.
0203William Gladstone20110426 Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, continues his new series exploring how different prime ministers have used their power, responded to the great challenges of their time and made the job what it is today.
The third of Nick's portraits in power is William Gladstone, who was prime minister four times between 1868 and 1894, and led the government for more than twelve years in total.
He is our oldest ever premier, having finally left Downing Street for the last time aged 84.
Gladstone's influence endures today.
Politicians who believe in low taxes and small government echo his belief in 'retrenchment'.
He also served as chancellor of the exchequer four times and made a lasting impact - his emphasis on strict financial discipline remains Treasury orthodoxy.
Those who call for political change reflect his belief in reform.
And those who advocate an ethical foreign policy and intervention abroad to uphold liberal values are following his emphasis on moral considerations.
Gladstone dominated nineteenth century politics.
First elected as a Tory MP in 1832, Gladstone ended as a Liberal-radical prime minister.
His personal rivalry with Disraeli sparked fierce parliamentary exchanges and remains the stuff of legend.
He kept fit by long walks and enthusiastic tree-felling.
Intensely religious, his mission to save prostitutes also brought him deep personal anguish.
In the first two programmes in this series, Nick looked at Pitt the Younger and Earl Grey, and in later programmes considers Herbert Asquith, Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
Nick Robinson looks at how William Gladstone handled the top job in politics.
0204Herbert Asquith20110503 The fourth of Nick's portraits in power is Herbert Asquith, who was prime minister between 1908 and 1916 - the longest uninterrupted spell in office among twentieth century prime ministers until Margaret Thatcher (1979-90).
Asquith changed Britain by forcing through major social and constitutional reforms, but his reputation was tarnished by his refusal to give women the vote and his lack of strong leadership during the First World War.
Born into a family who worked in the northern woollen industry, Asquith was a determined character and had a first-class brain.
After his election in 1886 he soon emerged as a rising star in the Liberal Party and was appointed Home Secretary by Gladstone before he was forty.
In 1906, he became Chancellor and laid the foundations of Britain's welfare state.
As prime minister, Asquith presided over a talented Cabinet that included Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.
Asquith backed Lloyd George over his radical 1909 budget and stood firm during the ensuing constitutional crisis, which he settled by cutting the power of the House of Lords.
Although he managed to keep his Cabinet united when Britain went to war in 1914, he failed to give the strong leadership required of a war leader.
His decision to enter coalition with the Conservatives and Labour in 1915 marked the beginning of his end as prime minister.
In 1916, he was out-manoeuvred by Lloyd George, who succeeded him.
After the war, the bitter rivalry between the two men destroyed the Liberal Party as one of Britain's two main parties.
Nick Robinson looks at how Asquith handled the top job in politics.
0205Ramsay Macdonald20110510 Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, continues his series exploring how different prime ministers have used their power, responded to the great challenges of their time and made the job what it is today.
The fifth of Nick's portraits in power is Ramsay MacDonald, who became the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924 but seven years later came to be seen as a traitor by his party when he agreed to lead a Conservative-dominated National Government.
MacDonald's rise to the premiership was a remarkable achievement for someone who began life in the Victorian era as the illegitimate child of a servant girl and a farm labourer.
As prime minister and foreign secretary in Labour's first, short-lived government, MacDonald established his party's fitness to govern, despite lacking a majority in parliament.
Five years later, he returned to Number 10 when Labour became the largest party but he still lacked an overall majority.
His government was overwhelmed by the world economic depression and its orthodox policies were inadequate for tackling mass unemployment.
In August 1931, the government sought to restore confidence by cutting its spending, but MacDonald's Cabinet split over proposed cuts in unemployment benefit.
MacDonald's Labour colleagues were shocked when he accepted the King's invitation to lead a coalition government.
The National Government won a landslide victory later in 1931 and MacDonald remained prime minister until 1935, but he almost destroyed the party that he did so much to build.
Helping Nick to reassess MacDonald are his biographer, David Marquand, and the politician and writer, Roy Hattersley.
In the rest of his series, Nick considers Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
Producer Rob Shepherd.
Nick Robinson looks at how Ramsay MacDonald handled the top job in British politics.
0206Harold Macmillan20110517 Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, continues his series exploring how different prime ministers have used their power, have responded to the great challenges of their time and have made the job what it is today.
The sixth of Nick's portraits in power is Harold Macmillan, prime minister between 1957 and 1963.
Macmillan took over from Eden after Britain's humiliation in the Suez crisis, and his upbeat approach and political skill soon earned him the nickname of 'Supermac'.
He managed to seem calm despite his inner doubts, and famously dismissed the resignation of his entire Treasury team as 'little local difficulties'.
He was admired for his passionate commitment to full employment and wider affluence, but he has also been condemned for failing to tackle Britain's deeper economic problems and for turning a blind eye to the risk of inflation.
He developed a close relationship with the US President, John F.Kennedy, but his great ambition of leading Britain into the European Common Market was vetoed by the French President, General de Gaulle.
By the end of his premiership, Macmillan seemed out of touch as his government was beset by a series of sex and spy scandals, and he became the butt of the early 1960s' satire boom.
Nick Robinson looks at how Harold Macmillan handled the top job in British politics.
0207Harold Wilson20110524 Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, continues his series exploring how different prime ministers have used their power, have responded to the great challenges of their time and have made the job what it is today.
This week's portrait in power is Harold Wilson, prime minister during 1964-70 and 1974-76, who won four of the five general elections that he fought as Labour Leader.
He captured the mood for change in the 1960s, but his two terms at Number 10 were increasingly dominated by Britain's worsening economic problems.
Wilson became Labour Leader in 1963 and united his party by promising to modernise Britain.
He seemed to represent change and looked in touch with modern Britain.
His first election triumph in 1964 was no surprise and he won a second, resounding, victory in 1966.
However, Wilson spent his first three years as prime minister shying away from devaluation of the pound.
When devaluation eventually happened, he lost credibility and suffered further humiliation when he backed down over trade union reform in 1969.
Yet his first term as premier brought major, liberal reforms in the law on moral and social matters.
After Wilson's only election defeat as Labour Leader in 1970, his party shifted to the left.
Although he led Labour back into government in 1974, he lacked his old energy.
He managed to preserve party unity on the issue of British membership of the EEC by holding the UK's first national referendum in 1975.
Although his second term was dominated by Britain's economic crisis and also by internal divisions within his government and his party, his sudden resignation in 1976 came as a great shock to those not close to him.
Nick Robinson looks at how Harold Wilson handled the top job in politics.
0208 LASTEdward Heath20110531 Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, concludes his series exploring how different prime ministers have used their power and responded to the challenges of their time.
Sir Edward Heath took Britain into the EEC (now the European Union) in 1973, but this historic achievement still divides opinion and his premiership ended in defeat.
When Heath won his party's first leadership election in 1965, he personified a less class-bound and more modern Toryism.
He won the 1970 general election promising to modernise Britain's economy, reform the unions and reduce state intervention.
However, after unemployment reached one million (then a post-war record) in 1972, he made a 'U-turn', boosting state spending and trying to curb inflation through talks with the unions and industry.
When the talks failed, Heath imposed a freeze on pay and prices.
In late 1973, his pay controls were challenged by the miners at a time when the economy was hit by a four-fold increase in world oil prices.
Heath responded to the miners' overtime ban by putting industry on a three-day week, and when the miners voted to strike in February 1974 he called an early election on the question of ''Who governs?'.
Although the Conservatives won most seats, they fell short of an overall majority and Heath failed in his last-ditch attempt to form a coalition with the Liberals and stay in Number 10.
As prime minister, Heath was ahead of his time in seeing the need for radical reform, but entry into Europe and his U-turn strained his party's loyalties.
He could ill afford to treat people with apparent disdain and in this respect he brought troubles on himself.
His grudging attitude to his Tory successor, Margaret Thatcher, further damaged his reputation, but in some ways he had been an unlucky prime minister.
Nick Robinson looks at how Edward Heath handled the top job in politics.

Duration

  • 15 Minutes

Genre

  • 10 Downing Street
  • History
  • Factual
  • Life Stories
  • Politics
  • Politics of the United Kingdom
  • Prime minister

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