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Tears, Tantrums, and Bared Teeth: The Emotional Economy of Three Conservative Prime Ministers, 1951–1963

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 May 2013


At a cabinet meeting on November 4, 1956, Anthony Eden came face to face with the unravelling of his ill-starred premiership. As two leading cabinet colleagues, Lord Butler and Lord Salisbury, insisted that British military operations in Egypt would have to be ended, the prime minister found it impossible to repress any longer his overwrought and excitable temperament. According to the journalist James Margach, “Eden was emotionally overcome. He broke down in tears and cried: ‘You are all deserting me.’ He was in total collapse, weeping unashamedly. Then he went upstairs to compose himself.” Within two months Eden had resigned. His successor, Harold Macmillan, deliberately set out to create a very different emotional environment around him. In place of Eden's petulant volatility came an emphasis on self-control and steady nerves. In the words of David Maxwell Fyfe, who served under both premiers, Eden's “chronic restlessness” gave way to “a central calmness” under Macmillan. The new prime minister adopted an air of nonchalance and indifference, and according to one of his aides, “anyone who got excited got short shrift.” The contrasting public styles of Eden and Macmillan is a commonplace in the political history of the 1950s and has been credited with facilitating the recovery in Conservative electoral fortunes in the aftermath of the Suez debacle. However, Eden's breakdown and Macmillan's apparent “unflappability” can also be identified as sites on which to explore how dominant codes of masculine emotional culture were manifested in the world of politics.

Research Article
Copyright © North American Conference of British Studies 2002

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