History and Tour

Clement Attlee

Clement Attlee Born: 3 January 1883 in Putney, London

First entered Parliament: 15 November 1922

Age he became PM: 63 years, 205 days

Maiden Speech: 23 November 1922 in the debate on the King’s Speech on the waste created by post-war unemployment

Total time as PM: Six years, 92 days

Died: 8 October 1967 at Westminster Hospital, London


Welcoming the United Nations

The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 and the first general assembly, attended by 51 nations, was held the following January at Caxton Hall in London. Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s speech to the assembly was widely circulated as a commercial disc.

Attlee in the USA

Watch Attlee visit the USA in this Universal Newsreel from 13 November 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. You can watch more history videos here .

Facts and figures

Nickname: “Clem”

Education: Haileybury and University College, Oxford

Family: Attlee was the seventh of eight children. He was married to Violet Helen Millar, and had one son and three daughters.

Interests: Gardening, ball games, chess and crossword puzzles.


Unassuming and quiet

Attlee was a quiet, unassuming amateur poet, with a comfortable middle-class background. He was educated at Haileybury College and University College, Oxford. He studied law, and was called to the Bar in 1905.

He developed an interest in helping a Stepney boy’s club sponsored by his old school, and through his work there he discovered the reality of poverty, unemployment and squalour in London’s working-class East End.

Inspired to action, he found like-minded activists by joining the Independent Labour Party. He also joined the Fabian Society, and lectured at LSE on Lloyd George’s new insurance scheme.

Attlee served in the Great War and was wounded at Galipoli. Returning to Stepney post-war, he was elected mayor in 1919. His parliamentary career began when he was elected MP for Limehouse in 1922. He became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ramsay MacDonald and served in both his administrations.

In 1935 he became leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party (remaining in the position for twenty years) and was Leader of the Opposition until 1940.

He then served in the Churchill war coalition as Lord Privy Seal despite Parliamentary Labour’s strong pacifist contingent. In 1942 he was elevated to be Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Dominions effectively in charge of domestic matters while the PM was occupied with the war.

National mood

After the war, Attlee’s Labour Party was elected by a landslide - their offer to win the peace captured the national mood better than Churchill, promoted (justly) as the wartime hero. The Attlee government instituted a remarkable social and economic programme characterised by radicalism: the foundation of the National Health Service; the nationalisation of heavy industries and the Bank of England; a huge building programme; and a new national insurance scheme.

In international affairs, the government oversaw the dismantling of Empire, the Berlin airlift during the Russian blockade of the city in 1948-9, and the formation of NATO.

Nurses In 1950 Attlee found himself with a reduced majority, and his government suffered from the death of key figures, and from internal disputes and high-profile resignations. Attlee’s health was also beginning to deteriorate.

Despite winning more votes than the Conservative Party, Labour narrowly lost the election of October 1951.

Following his resignation after a second defeat in 1955, Attlee was awarded the Order of Merit. The Queen made him an earl, and he received the Garter.

In 2004 he was voted as the most effective British PM of the 20th century in a poll of political academics.

Quote unquote

“Often the experts make the worst possible ministers in their own fields. In this country we prefer rule by amateurs”

Did you know?

Before his death in 1967 Attlee spent many active years in the Lords, travelling on lecture tours and writing his memoirs, As It Happened .


A loyal wife who was not interested in politics, Violet Millar enjoyed sport, gardening and looking after her four children. She was more conventionally religious than her husband and played an important role in charitable work after Attlee became PM.

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