The Crown season 2: Who was Prime Minister Harold Macmillan?

Here's what you need to know about former British prime minister Harold Macmillan and the actor who plays him in Netflix's The Crown

Anton Lesser as Harold Macmillan in The Crown

With Winston Churchill off the scene, season two of The Crown races through Prime Ministers, from Anthony Eden to Harold Macmillan to Alec Douglas-Home. Find out more about Macmillan, the man who became PM after Eden’s fall, below.

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Who plays Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in The Crown?

Harold Macmillan is played by Anton Lesser in the Netflix series. Best known for his role as Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright in the TV series Endeavour, he has also played Qyburn in Game of Thrones and Thomas More in BBC Tudor mini-series Wolf Hall.

Harold Macmillan in The Crown

Who was Harold Macmillan?

Harold Macmillan served as Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963. He replaced fellow Conservative Anthony Eden after the Suez Crisis, and led the country until he was brought down by another disaster: the Profumo Affair.

Born in 1894 at the tail end of the Victorian era, Macmillan served in the First World War and was badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme. Later he was elected to Parliament and rose during the Second World War as a protégé of Winston Churchill.

Under Anthony Eden, he served as Foreign Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer – but when the Prime Minister was hit by the Suez Crisis, Macmillan was the obvious choice to replace him.

The Crown Harold Macmillan

As Prime Minister, Macmillan presided over a period of increasing affluence, rebuilding the special relationship with the USA and seeking a new role for Britain in Europe. But his credibility was badly damaged by the Profumo scandal, in which his Secretary of State for War was found to have lied about an affair with a young model named Christine Keeler. Macmillan had flatly denied all reports against his minister, but when the truth emerged his denial was interpreted by some as complicity.

By this point, the Prime Minister’s health was failing and Profumo had dealt a blow to his premiership, so he stepped down in favour of new Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home. He died in 1986 at the age of 92.

Was Harold Macmillan’s wife cheating on him with Lord Boothby – and did he know about it?

Harold Macmillan And His Wife Dorothy Macmillan

Macmillan wed Lady Dorothy Cavendish in 1920, a woman with impressive political heritage: her great-uncle was Spencer Cavendish, who had led the Liberal Party in the 1870s, and she was also descended from the Prime Minister William Cavendish. The two had met when Macmillan was on her father’s staff in Canada, and they had a lavish wedding in Westminster which was hailed as the social event of the London season. Over the next ten years they had four children together.

But in 1929 things changed. Lady Dorothy began a lifelong affair with the Conservative politician Robert Boothby.

Despite being fully aware of the affair, Macmillan declined to divorce his wife as this would have fatally damaged his political career. She continued the affair until her death in 1966.

“Cuckolded, emasculated, and unable to pursue a divorce that would have certainly ended his political career, Macmillan was forced to live for over thirty years with a marriage to which his wife had been unfaithful,” Foreign Office historian James Southern wrote in 2016.

Bizarrely, while the affair scandalised high society, it remained largely unknown to the general public, with the relationship never making it into the press.

Did Harold Macmillan go to a comedy club to see himself being impersonated?

Yes! In the early 1960s, the Prime Minister himself turned up at a comedy club called The Establishment to hear a young comedian who was impersonating him on stage.

That comedian was Peter Cook and, spotting his target in the audience, he wandered off script to deliver even more derogatory jokes directed at the PM.

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The Crown season 2 is available on Netflix now