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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
John Major

(b. 1943)
Conservative politician who progressed with unprecedented speed through the high offices of state during the late 1980s, becoming prime minister in 1990 only three years after entering the *cabinet. His early life was both colourful and underprivileged. His father worked in vaudeville and circus, performing as clown, conjurer, singer and even trapeze artist, but by the time of Major's early childhood his attempts at business (including the manufacture of garden gnomes) had gone so badly that the family was living in poverty in Brixton, in south London.

He entered Mrs *Thatcher's cabinet in 1987 as chief secretary to the Treasury; in 1989 he was briefly foreign secretary; and later in that year he became chancellor of the exchequer. A rapid succession of events in November 1990 brought him to 10 Downing Street. On November 1 Geoffrey Howe resigned from the cabinet, following this on the 13th with a speech to the Commons which was a thinly veiled attack on Mrs Thatcher; on the 14th Michael *Heseltine challenged for the leadership; on the 20th Mrs Thatcher failed narrowly to win enough votes to avoid a second ballot; on the 22nd she said she would not be standing in the second round, whereupon Major and Douglas Hurd entered the contest; on the 27th Major received 185 votes (to 131 for Heseltine and 56 for Hurd) and the other two withdrew, offering him their support.

Major enjoyed great popularity in his early months as prime minister (above all for seeming to care rather more than Mrs Thatcher about ordinary people), and he won the general election of April 1992 against the predictions of the opinion polls. However his five-year term was beset with problems, many of them resulting from bitter feuds within the Conservative party in the aftermath of the Thatcher era. Heavily defeated by the Labour party in the 1997 general election, Major resigned as Tory leader and was followed by William Hague.

Major left school at 16 with just two O-levels, and began a career in banking; his main talent at the time seemed to be cricket, but any thought of a professional career was ended when a car crash in 1967 badly damaged a knee. In 1968 he won a seat on the Lambeth borough council, and in 1979 was elected MP for Huntingdonshire – the seat which he still holds (since 1983 it has been called Huntingdon).

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