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Clip: Harold Wilson
Duration: 00:00:46
Date: 1963

The idea that new technologies such as radio and television could be used to bring education to a wide audience began to surface as long ago as the 1920s.

But it was not until the early 1960s that the idea gained momentum, when the Labour party, under Prime Minister Harold Wilson, decided to take action to address the continuing exclusion from higher education of people from lower income groups – building on the vision of social reformer and political activist Michael Young.

In a lecture to the OU Students' Association in 1977 Harold Wilson recalled that he had been working on the idea for the Open University before he was elected leader of the Labour Party in February 1963. He added that on Easter Sunday that year, while on holiday in the Isles of Scilly, he wrote the outline for a University of the Air.

On Sunday 8th September 1963 Harold Wilson made a speech in Glasgow about his plans. Download the speech to read Wilson's initial ideas. Later that year at the Labour Party conference in Scarborough, Wilson again outlined his ideas. His speech at the conference, famously referred to as the 'white heat of technology' speech, has been described as "one of the most memorable political speeches of the 20th century". The full text of the speech is available online

The video clip on this page is a short extract of the 'white heat of technology' speech, where Wilson referred to his idea of a university of the air.


Further information about Harold Wilson and his role in the creation of The Open University can be found on the online exhibition Harold Wilson and The OU. You may also want to watch Harold Wilson's address to the Open University Students Association conference in 1977 in the programme Open Forum 24: OUSA lecture 1977.

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