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The Murdoch/Wilson file

Rupert Murdoch signature from a letter to Harold Wilson

By Sanchia Berg
Today programme

Mrs Thatcher was not the only prime minister successfully courted by Rupert Murdoch. A file at the National Archives in Kew, released in 2006 but never reported, shows how he had easy access to Harold Wilson too.

In 1976, Rupert Murdoch owned the Sun and the News of The World. He was already selling more than 3.3 million copies of the Sun every day, but wanted to produce more. However, to move to new high speed presses, the print unions were demanding more money.

Inflation was high, and to try to bring it under control, the government had introduced tight wage controls. In 1975 the TUC had agreed with the government that no-one earning £8,500 or less per year would get a wage rise of more than £6 a week.

Rupert Murdoch went to see the then prime minister, Harold Wilson, to see if he'd help. On Wednesday 14 January, in the evening, he arrived at Number 10.

The meeting seems to have been arranged at extremely short notice. In a note, written later that night, Murdoch thanked Wilson "for making the time to see me this evening".

He set out his problem again, in writing, saying that unless the issue was resolved it could mean "turning away orders".

He ended by saying "your good offices in this matter will be greatly appreciated" and signed the note simply "Rupert".

Rupert Murdoch's thank-you letter to Harold Wilson
Rupert Murdoch's thank-you letter to Harold Wilson from January 1976

Harold Wilson was "anxious" to put on record his own account of the meeting, "to avoid any possible misunderstanding" he wrote. He dictated a note two days later, addressed to his private secretary, Nigel Wicks.

He said Rupert Murdoch asked for his advice. According to Harold Wilson, he (Wilson) pointed out that he didn't deal with these matters, and advised Murdoch to talk to the Department of Employment.

Murdoch then "gently tried to suggest" that the secretary of state for employment (then Michael Foot) was no friend of the newspaper industry - at which - according to Wilson, he repeated that he couldn't get involved.

The file shows that the Department told Rupert Murdoch they couldn't make an exception for him. It didn't affect relations between the press baron and the prime minister.

A short time later - on 9 February, according to a handwritten note from Wilson - he'd had lunch at the Sun. With, he wrote "all their people.. (including Murdoch who had flown here overnight from the US)".

The question of how to bypass the pay limit was not raised, though there had been ample opportunity.

Roy Greenslade, now Professor of Journalism at City University, was then working on the Mirror. He recalled Rupert Murdoch did manage to print extra copies of the Sun - he didn't remember how it was paid for, but said many papers introduced extra "allowances" for the printers at this time. He even heard of a "hot weather" allowance.

Professor Greenslade said this file, like the one in Mrs Thatcher's archive, shows how important it has always been for Rupert Murdoch to be close to be power; that he's been successful, and that he's been very even-handed as a lobbyist.

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