Denis Howell

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The Lord Howell
Denis Howell 1965.jpg
Howell in 1965
Minister for Sport
In office
4 March 1974 – 4 May 1979
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
James Callaghan
Preceded byEldon Griffiths
Succeeded byHector Monro
In office
16 October 1964 – 19 June 1970
Prime MinisterHarold Wilson
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byEldon Griffiths
Minister for Floods[1]
In office
23 August 1976 – 3 May 1979
Prime MinisterJames Callaghan
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Member of Parliament
for Birmingham Small Heath
In office
23 March 1961 – 16 March 1992
Preceded byWilliam Wheeldon
Succeeded byRoger Godsiff
Member of Parliament
for Birmingham All Saints
In office
26 May 1955 – 18 September 1959
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byJohn Hollingworth
Personal details
Denis Herbert Howell

(1923-09-04)4 September 1923
Birmingham, England
Died19 April 1998(1998-04-19) (aged 74)
Solihull, England
Political partyLabour
SpouseBrenda Marjorie Willson

Denis Herbert Howell, Baron Howell PC (4 September 1923 – 19 April 1998) was a British Labour Party politician. He was a councillor on Birmingham City Council between 1946 and 1956. He was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham All Saints from 1955 to 1959, and MP for Birmingham Small Heath from 1961 to 1992. In 1992, he was made a life peer and became a Member of the House of Lords.

Early life[edit]

Denis Howell was born in Lozells, Birmingham, on 4 September 1923, the son of a gasfitter and storekeeper. He was educated at Gower Street School and Handsworth Grammar School, Birmingham, and became a clerk of the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union, rising to the position of President of its expanded successor, the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff (APEX) from 1971 to 1989.

In 1951 he graduated as a linesman in the Football League, and was a Football Association referee from 1956 until 1966. In addition to being a lifelong Aston Villa fan, he was a keen cricketer.[2]

Political career[edit]

Howell claimed that his first memory was of sitting on his father's knee at a general strike meeting in 1926.[2] He joined the Labour Party in 1942, serving as a councillor on Birmingham City Council 1946–56 and as Labour Group secretary from 1950.

He contested Birmingham King's Norton in 1951. He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Birmingham All Saints from 1955 to 1959, and for Birmingham Small Heath from the 1961 by-election until his retirement in 1992. Under the Wilson and Callaghan governments, he held the role of Minister for Sport at the Department of Education and Science (1964–1969), Ministry of Housing and Local Government (1969–1970) and Department for the Environment (1974–1979), as well as a series of Environment roles (1976–1979).

On 28 October 1974, his wife and son escaped unharmed when an IRA bomb exploded in their Ford Cortina on the driveway of the family home in Birmingham.[3]

In the last week of August 1976, during Britain's driest summer in over 200 years, he was made Minister for Drought (but nicknamed 'Minister for Rain').[4] Howell was charged by the Prime Minister with the task of persuading the nation to use less water, and was even ordered by No.10 to do a rain dance on behalf of the nation.[5] Howell responded by inviting reporters to his home in Moseley, where he revealed he was doing his bit to help water rationing by sharing baths with his wife, Brenda.[5] Days later, heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding, and he became known as "Minister for Floods".[6][7] Then, during the harsh winter of 1978–1979 he was appointed Minister for Snow.[8] [9]

Along with Shirley Williams, he caused controversy in 1977 by appearing on the picket line during the Grunwick dispute in North London, the scene of violent trade union protests about factory working conditions.[10]

Later life[edit]

He published his memoirs, Made in Birmingham, in 1990, and on 1 July 1992 he was made a life peer as Baron Howell, of Aston Manor in the City of Birmingham.[11]

Howell underwent major heart surgery in 1989, but recovered sufficiently to pursue an active political career and often made his point known in the House of Lords.[10] He died in Solihull Hospital, after suffering a heart attack at a charity fund-raising dinner at the National Motorcycle Museum in Bickenhill, West Midlands, on 19 April 1998, aged 74.


The CRUK Institute for Cancer Studies at the University of Birmingham is named after Howell.[12]


His son, Andrew Howell, was elected to Birmingham City Council for Moseley and Kings Heath Ward serving as Chair of the Education Committee and as Deputy Leader. Another son, Michael, worked as a procurement manager for Highways England. His youngest son, David, was killed in a car accident on 22 May 1986 in what he described in his memoirs as the "most devastating day" in his family's lives.[13]


  1. ^ Drought (Summer 1976) and Snow (Winter 1978)
  2. ^ a b Dalyell, Tam (2004). "Howell, Denis Herbert, Baron Howell (1923–1998), politician". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/69605. Retrieved 3 July 2018. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ "ON THIS DAY - 28 October". BBC News. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  4. ^ Assinder, Nick (5 June 2006). "Commons Confidential: May 2006". BBC News. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Memories of Brum MP MP Denis Howell who changed the weather". Birmingham Mail. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  6. ^ "Memories of Brum MP MP Denis Howell who changed the weather". BirminghamLive. 23 October 2012.
  7. ^ Longman, Phil (17 March 2004). "Was 1976 all it's cracked up to be?". BBC News. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  8. ^ Easton, Mark (1 August 2018). "Do people think heatwaves are un-British?". BBC News.
  9. ^ Adams, Tom (1979). The Minister For Snow, Denis Howell, Flew Into The Region To Take A Look At Some Of The Problems They Face. Anglia Television – via East Anglia Film Archive.
  10. ^ a b "Obituaries - First sports minister dies". BBC News. 19 April 1998.
  11. ^ "No. 52984". The London Gazette. 7 July 1992. p. 11419.
  12. ^ "Edgbaston Campus Map" (PDF). University of Birmingham. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  13. ^ Howell, Denis (22 March 1990). Made in Birmingham: The Memoirs of Denis Howell. Queen Anne Press. p. 371. ISBN 978-0-356-17645-1.


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Birmingham All Saints
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Birmingham Small Heath
Succeeded by
Political offices
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New office
Minister for Sport
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Sport
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Trade union offices
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President of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff
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Ken Smith