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Over a decade before Margaret Thatcher swept to power, another woman was running Britain from 10 Downing Street: Marcia Williams was the first ever female political adviser to a Prime Minister and was said to have a powerful grip on her boss.

Historians have described the relationship between Marcia and Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson as one of the most famous but mysterious partnerships in modern political history. A brilliant tactician, Marcia masterminded Wilson’s multiple election victories. Indeed, he said that but for her ingenuity, he would never have become Prime Minister.

But misogyny, jealousy, a shocking private life and accusations of money-grubbing and bribery all contributed to her reputation as a public nuisance. Marcia’s young and ambitious male colleagues said she humiliated and screamed at Wilson, single-handedly ruining his chances of being remembered as a ‘great’ Prime Minister.

There is no doubt Marcia was outspoken, forthright and, by contemporary standards, deeply unconventional. But her critics failed to understand her unbreakable partnership with Wilson – they were politically wedded to each other and equal contributors to his success.

In this passionate and fascinating biography, Linda McDougall seeks to rescue Marcia from previously dismissive verdicts, suggesting a more nuanced context in which to assess her actions and reactions and restoring this trailblazing pioneer to her rightful place in British political history.


“The extraordinary story of how Williams carved an unprecedented role for herself inside a male-dominated world, is one begging to be told by another woman, and McDougall brings nuance to it. A terrific read for anyone interested in how working women’s lives have changed since the 1970s, in or out of politics. One of the most fascinating yet overlooked stories in 20th-century politics, perfect for revisiting through a more sympathetic modern lens, which is exactly what Linda McDougall’s millennial-friendly new biography offers.”

Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian

“As a woman at the heart of government, many have tried to erase Marcia Williams’s role in Harold Wilson’s premiership – this book makes herstory and ensures she won’t be forgotten.”

Stella Creasy MP

“Previously, almost everything we knew about the extraordinary life of Marcia Williams was told by the men she had offended. But Linda McDougall has painstakingly gone over the evidence to retell the story of that highly talented, strong-willed and stormy political aide who ‘gave her all in a support role to the man at the top and got nothing in return’.”

Andy McSmith

“Marcia Williams was the most powerful woman working with the Prime Minister in the history of the office. At last, a book that examines her pivotal importance.”

Sir Anthony Seldon

‘‘It was a mesmerising moment in British political history and McDougall is absolutely right to revise Marcia’s reputation.’’ ★ ★ ★ ★/ ✰

Daily Telegraph

“Linda McDougall’s book offers a compelling reassessment of one of the most misunderstood and yet important women in the history of 20th century British politics.”

The Social Review

“McDougall has succeeded in writing a kindly biography of a woman not many have been kind about.”

Anne Perkins, Literary Review

“Linda McDougall’s excellent book makes clear, Marcia deserves to be remembered as a trailblazer.”

The House

“Linda McDougall gives an infinitely more nuanced and sympathetic picture of this extraordinary woman. I found her biography gripping with its in knowledge of government, its picture of the emotional dynamics of Downing Street and its sensational claim that Marcia might have been drugged by Wilson’s own doctor.”

Anne de Courcy, The Spectator

“What she has done with this biography is to give Marcia Williams the political status she deserves as a clever politician, an ultra-smart strategist and a political secretary who was at least as astute as the prime minister with whom she formed such a formidable partnership.”

Julia Langdon, The Tablet

“This insightful study puts her back where she belongs – at the forefront of politics.” 

Daily Mail

“Behind every great man is a very smart woman, expected to operate below the radar and keep her trap tightly shut in public. Meet Marcia Williams, whose life in the Wilson governments is jaw-dropping. This book is a brilliant take on power, political intrigue and old-fashioned sexism. Has it all changed, or does it linger in the corridors of power?”

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC

“A timely and absorbing account of the compelling history of Marcia Williams – Harold Wilson’s powerful Downing Street operator, who single-handedly invented the role of political adviser and paid the price. Marcia was a pioneering woman who defied the expectations of her era by sheer force of her personality. Linda McDougall’s engaging biography demonstrates Marcia’s extraordinary achievements at a time when women were barely tolerated in public life.”

Dame Angela Eagle MP
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  • Paperback, 304 pages
  • ISBN: 9781785908934
  • 18 July 2024
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