Woodrow Wyatt

Woodrow Lyle Wyatt, Baron Wyatt of Weeford (4 July 1918 – 7 December 1997) was a British politician, published author, journalist and broadcaster, close to the Queen Mother, Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch. For the last 20 years of his life, he was chairman of the state betting organisation The Tote.

Early life

Born in Kingston upon Thames, Wyatt was the second son of Robert Harvey Lyle Wyatt, the founder and headmaster of Milbourne Lodge School, Esher and his wife Ethel (née Morgan),[1] Wyatt was educated at Eastbourne College and Worcester College, Oxford. He served throughout the Second World War with the Suffolk Regiment and rose to the rank of major. Wyatt was mentioned in despatches from Normandy.


Wyatt was elected to Parliament in 1945 as the Labour MP for Birmingham Aston, and served until the 1955 general election when the constituencies boundaries were redrawn. During the Cabinet Mission to India in 1946 he served as an informal liaison officer between the Mission and the Muslim League. Wyatt was briefly a junior minister in Clement Attlee's final administration in 1951 but thereafter was never in office.

Following the splitting of his Aston seat, Wyatt was unable to find a more promising option than the Conservative held Grantham constituency, which he nonetheless fought in 1955, being defeated by 2,375 votes. During his period out of parliament, Wyatt was a reporter for the BBC's Panorama current affairs programme, in which a November 1957 report of Wyatt's revealed ballot rigging in the then communist-influenced Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

He was seen by some as a maverick, and by others as a man of firm convictions which made him temperamentally unsuited to 'toeing the party line'. He returned to Parliament in 1959 as member for Bosworth, Leicestershire. He rebelled in the 1964–1970 parliaments over steel nationalisation.

After politics

After ceasing to be an active politician, Wyatt was appointed by Roy Jenkins as Chairman of the Horserace Totalisator Board from 1976–1997. At first he was an active chairman, rooting out corruption, but later grew complacent and the Tote stagnated.[2]

In the mid-1980s he played a key role as Murdoch's fixer in brokering negotiations with the electricians' union, aiding News International to move to Wapping.[2] He set up a newspaper and printing business with his third wife, which soon failed.[2]


Wyatt was a prolific journalist, with a diverse range of interests, and by the late 1970s he had crossed the political spectrum and became an admirer of Margaret Thatcher. During this period his News of the World column, 'The Voice of Reason', was regularly attacked by Thatcher's political opponents. During this time he was vocal in opposing the campaign against apartheid in South Africa writing that Nelson Mandela and the ANC were trying to establish "a communist-style black dictatorship".[3]

Wyatt's caustic, candid and mischievously indiscreet diaries were published posthumously in three volumes. He was knighted in 1983[4] and was created a life peer on 3 February 1987 with the title Baron Wyatt of Weeford, of Weeford in the County of Staffordshire.[5] The Wyatt family had lived at Weeford in the seventeenth century.[6]

Wyatt edited ten volumes of English Story (1940–50). His books include two autobiographies, Into the Dangerous World (1952) and Confessions of an Optimist (1985). The three volumes of his diaries (published posthumously as The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt by Macmillan, edited by Sarah Curtis) were: volume 1 1985–88 (1998); volume 2 'Thatcher's Fall and Major's Rise', 1989–92, (1999); volume 3 'From Major to Blair', 1992 until three months before his death in December 1997, (2000).

Andrew Neil in the New Statesman wrote of the diaries: "Wyatt has done the country a service in giving us the unalloyed truth about how this country's governing and social elite still operates", and the Daily Express called the journals "The most explosive political memoirs of modern times". However, the historian Robert Rhodes James "advised caution in believing them. 'Even if the diarist is not attempting to give a deliberately false version, a talented writer can easily over-dramatise...' There is plenty of internal evidence that Wyatt should be approached with a similar caution."[7] Robert Blake, Baron Blake, the Tory historian, called Wyatt a "notorious liar".[8]

In 2000, the journalist Petronella Wyatt, his daughter by his fourth marriage, published a book entitled Father, Dear Father: Life with Woodrow Wyatt.

Marriages, children, and death

Wyatt was married four times, to:

He arranged for cousins to take care of his first child when his wife made it clear she was not interested in doing so.[2] When they divorced, he was awarded custody of his son.

Wyatt was a first cousin of England Test cricketer Bob Wyatt.[10] He was a descendent of the architectural Wyatt family.[11][12][13]

He was first cousin to Honor Wyatt, the mother of musician Robert Wyatt, who described him as an "appalling man with a sadistic sense of superiority".[14] Woodrow Wyatt influenced the musician to join the Communist Party of Great Britain to reclaim the Wyatt name.[15]

He died in Camden aged 79.


  1. Wyatt, Woodrow (1998). Curtis, Sarah, ed. The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt, Volume One. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan. p. xvii.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "To Move and To Shake" by Geraldine Bedell. The Independent on Sunday, 24 November 1996.
  3. The Guardian. "The Conservative party's uncomfortable relationship with Nelson Mandela".
  4. The London Gazette: no. 49575. p. 16802. 20 December 1983.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 50824. p. 1631. 6 February 1987.
  6. Burke's Landed Gentry 1952, 'Wyatt of Hurst Barton Manor formerly of Bryn Gwynant', pp 2805
  7. David Sexton, "Don't believe all those diary droolings", The Evening Standard (12 October 1998), A 11.
  8. "Woodrow, Verushka, Pericles and Petronella: welcome to the world of the Wyatts". The Independent. London. 20 November 2004.
  9. 1 2 3 Sholto Byrnes, " Woodrow, Verushka, Pericles and Petronella: welcome to the world of the Wyatts" The Independent 20 November 2004. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  10. Martin-Jenkins, Christopher (1980). The Complete Who's Who of Test Cricketers (1st ed.). London: Orbis Publishing. p. 151. ISBN 0-85613-283-7.
  11. Confessions of an Optimist, Woodrow Wyatt, Collins, 1985, pg 22
  12. Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt, Marcus O'Dair, Profile Books, 2014, pg 6
  13. Burke's Landed Gentry 1952, 'Wyatt of Hurst Barton Manor formerly of Bryn Gwynant', pp 2805-6
  14. O'Dair, Marcus (2014). Different Every Time (1st ed.). London: Serpents Tail. pp. 20–22. ISBN 9781846687594.
  15. O'Dair, Marcus (2014). Different Every Time (1st ed.). London: Serpents Tail. pp. 244–245. ISBN 9781846687594.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Redvers Prior
Member of Parliament for Birmingham Aston
Succeeded by
Julius Silverman
Preceded by
Arthur Allen
Member of Parliament for Bosworth
Succeeded by
Adam Butler
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