Origin of the term WINTER OF DISCONTENT as used for British Industrial strife from 1975 onwards


(Extract from the Editorial of The International Journal of Meteorology January 2010

It is a delight to look back to Issue number 1 of The Journal of Meteorology which I was preparing in the summer of 1975 for publication in October; and a still greater delight to know that 35 years later the magazine continues in good hands under the editorship of Samantha Hall.

I recall that even as I was typing that first editorial there was occurring late one afternoon—on 14 August—the heaviest rainfall ever known for the London area, and this extreme event happened in Hampstead with a fall of 170.8mm (6.72 inches) in the space of two-and-a-half hours. It was most timely to record this as a 3-page article in the first issue, with a follow-up in the second issue of the magazine.

At the same time because Britain was having its hottest summer for 28 years, it was opportune to profit from this with reviews and digests in the pages of the new magazine. In fact, the summer began inauspiciously with a cool May and a poor start to June, with snow stopping cricket (!) at Buxton in Derbyshire and Colchester in Essex. Britain had suffered a long winter of social unrest and industrial strikes when the late snow and ground frosts came—to be immediately followed by the first of the summer heat and the British referendum on the European Common Market. This led me to write to The Times where my letter to the editor was published, following which the nation’s social discord was rebranded as “the winter of discontent”, and adopted and used by politicians ever since. The letter follows:


“Sir, On June 3 when your correspondents, Mr Green and Mrs. Mortimer, were preparing their letters, Britain’s hills had been swept with snow and her valleys filled with frost as reminders that it can sometimes be difficult for Britain to rid herself completely of one winter before commencing the next. Nevertheless, on June 6, the day of the proclamation of the historic “Yes to Europe”, the Continent responded with a warm wind of welcome. From one weekend to the next, our long and cheerless winter was replaced by the joy and warmth of summer.


“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by the sun of York.” ... Richard III.


Yours faithfully, G. T. Meaden, Editor."


The several major articles in the first issue included “Of raingauges and kings—the story of rainfall measuring at the royal palaces”, “Britain’s extreme temperatures by month of the year”, “A history of tornado study in Britain”, “The Tornado and Storm Research Organisation”, “The climate of Rugby”, and articles by weather forecasters Michael Hunt and Bob Prichard.


As for the success of the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation, that is another great story.

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Comment by Craigart14 on February 25, 2011 at 9:32pm



Richard was being venomously ironic.  He knows he isn't suited for peace and that he lacks a sunny disposition, so he immediately begins raining on everyone's parade.  Given the textual history of the plays, I don't know as we can be 100% sure what Shakespeare's choice was, and son/sun (or sun/son) carried a double meaning no one in Elizabethan England could very well miss.



Comment by Dr. Terence Meaden on December 24, 2010 at 6:14pm
Hello Kathleen.
Thanks for your interest.
I have just looked up my own volumes of Shakespeare.
The play "Richard III" begins

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lower'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

Looking up google, we find the misquote "son" for "sun"repeated much more often than Shakespeare's choice of "sun".
Comment by Rusty Gunn. on March 19, 2010 at 12:59pm
Steinbeck wrote "The Winter of our Discontent" a year or two back. About the only thing I remember from it is "Ham and cheese, ham and cheese, little green men live in the trees."

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