Today, 5 June 201o, the NHS is 62 years old and, I trust, not yet ready to be retired. This posting is about how it was an inspiration for the OU. The NHS was a policy which owed much to the 1942 Beveridge Report, a report of such significance that Jennie Lee made it the central plank of her by-election campaign of that year. She didn’t win that seat but she did win another and was returned to the Commons in 1945, along with her spouse, Nye Bevan. He was the Minister who introduced the NHS. In 1964 Jennie Lee, by then widowed, was given the task of ensuring that an idea for a university of the air became reality and she made a connection to her late husband. The PM, Harold Wilson recalled her contribution when the Cabinet and Labour Party National Executive Committee met at Chequers prior to the 1966 General Election:
At the end of the afternoon anybody was free to speak on anything. Jennie got up and made a passionate speech about the University of the Air. She said the greatest creation of the previous Labour government was Nye’s National Health Service but that now we were engaged on an operation which would make just as much difference to the country. We were all impressed. She was a tigress.
During the first few years after the OU campus in Milton Keynes was opened much of the new town was a series of rather desolate muddy building sites. Jennie arranged for the Bevan Fund to pay for a bar to be installed in Walton Hall and she hung Nye’s cap and a photo of him there. The first Vice Chancellor of the OU, Walter Perry, called this new meeting place ‘a godsend’ and said that it was the ‘focal point for much of the early discussion and planning’.