Sir, Harold Macmillan, the former UK prime minister, did not resign “in panic, having been told he had cancer”, as Matthew Engel writes (March 25). On the eve of the 1963 Conservative party conference, Macmillan suffered from acute urinary obstruction. Alec Badenoch, his urologist, made clear that the diagnosis was benign enlargement of the prostate, not cancer, and that he would make a complete recovery following surgery. Macmillan told Badenoch that the illness “came as manna from heaven — an act of God” enabling him to leave the political front line. His government had been battered by a series of lurid sex and spy scandals: the Denning report into the Profumo affair had just been published.

Macmillan was happy to go. He used his time in hospital to prevent Rab Butler succeeding him, and to usher Sir Alec Douglas-Home into Downing Street. David Cameron must hope for a smoother handover.

John Doherty

Vienna, Austria

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