Britain's Twentieth Century Prime Ministers since the Second World War


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

After world wars, in which Britain had maintained its position only by mortgaging its future, major adjustment was necessary. The Prime Minister’s office was crucial for envisioning what needed to be done, and putting the muscle of the British State behind implementing change. The course looks at the nine holders of the office, from Clement Attlee to Margaret Thatcher, who wrestled with the issues between 1945 and 1997, including disposing of an unwanted empire, military over-commitment, inadequate social provision, antiquated industry, an archaic political structure and the role of Europe. It considers their personalities and foibles, and how they used the authority of the office as well as seeking to understand the options they faced and their successes and failures.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

In this introductory session, we will identify the main challenges of Britain’s emergence as a post-imperial, modernised, European state, for its political system, economy and society; the function of the Prime Minister’s office, and the endowments of public image, skills, experience and political talent possessed by the eight men and one woman who strove, as incumbents of the office, to address the challenges.

The way the room for manoeuvre of Prime Ministers in the second half of the Twentieth Century was shaped and constrained by, personal political alliances, and by their relations with their political parties -  Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan with the Labour Party and Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Home, Heath and Thatcher with the Conservative Party.

The contribution of the Prime Ministers to the gradual transformation of Britain from an imperial state with global pretentions and ruined by war to a medium sized, modern state with attitude off the coast of Europe. We will look particularly at the approach each of them took to financial and economic affairs, ranging from the highly proficient and technocratic to the profoundly amateurish.

The way key turning points were handled, including the Suez crisis of 1956, applications to join the European Union in 1961 and 1982, confrontation between trade unions and the state over the thirty years from the 1960s, and relations with the United States, over the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 Falklands War of 1975, and the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, including its end in 1991. Field trip to the Bodleian Library Manuscripts department.

Summarising, we will inter alia consider how each incumbent drew on the authority inherent in the Prime Ministership, including harnessing the power of the British state, and what each in their turn contributed to the office and to the unity of the United Kingdom.


Field Trip

Destination:     The Bodleian Library; Oxford

Excursion Rating: Moderate
Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.


Description Costs
Programme fee (no accom–incl.lunch and dinner) £1090.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom and meals) £1585.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom and meals) £1400.00


Dr Michael Redley


Michael's doctoral work at Cambridge University was in the colonial history of Africa. He has a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics, and has taught various  topics in politics and twentieth century history.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

The fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room)*.

*If you wish to book a twin en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)