History

Events, dear boy, events: what Harold Macmillan did, or rather didn’t, say

I know Prime Minister Jim Callaghan didn’t say, “Crisis? What crisis?” and that Benjamin Disraeli’s coalition quote was a case of political self-interest rather than constitutional wisdom.

I had, however, thought that Harold Macmillan really did say “Events, dear boy, events” when asked what was most likely to knock governments off course.

Now, however, I know better:

It’s not as if it’s even been reliably authenticated. Some say Macmillan made it to President Kennedy, others to a journalist after dinner. Denis Healey claims it referred to foreign policy.

Alistair Horne, Macmillan’s official biographer (who tells me he can’t put his finger on it, either) thinks it may have been a response to the Profumo affair.

As with the case of Lewis Carroll, even relatively recent historical truth can prove remarkably elusive, with hard evidence difficult to find and much apparently robust evidence simply turning out to be a case of everyone quoting everyone else.

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