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Born on Clydeside, Bell made a name for himself as a trade unionist, rising to become General Secretary of the Shipbuilders Union from 1933 to 1939. He was first elected to parliament in 1939 and was immediately appointed Minister of Labour. He later served as Minister for Trade (1944-1947) before becoming Finance Minister (1947-1957), serving as the right hand man to Robert MacDonald during his administration.
Following Labour's defeat at the 1957 general election MacDonald announced his intention to retire. Bell contested the leadership, winning easily. He led Labour unsuccessfully into the 1961 election, but was able to return to power in 1963 after the centre-right coalition collapsed over budget negotiations. A general election that October secured Labour in power. Bell led Labour to two other election victories, in 1965 and 1969, the latter finally saw Labour win the overall majority that Bell had spent the previous 11 years working towards. He retired as Prime Minister in 1970.
A lifelong piper smoker, he died of lung cancer shortly after his retirement. He was accorded a state funeral.
James Francis Bell was born on April 17th 1899 on Clydeside.