Sheila Buckley affair: what happened to John Stonehouse’s wife Barbara? Matthew Macfadyen stars in ITV drama
Actor Matthew Macfadyen stars in a new TV series dramatising the life and times of disgraced British government minister John Stonehouse
and live on Freeview channel 276
A new ITV drama is retelling the story of one of the UK’s most notorious political scandals. The true story of John Stonehouse’s entanglement with espionage and faked death also included an affair with his secretary Sheila Buckley.
The series, which starred Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes, is directed by Jon S. Baird and looks at the relationship between the Labour politician, the wife that he left Barbara (played by Macfadyen’s real life wife, Hawes) for his assistant Sheila Buckley (Emer Heatley).
The former Postmaster General within the Harold Wilson government and MP for Walsall North, disappeared from the beach of a luxury hotel in Miami, Florida. Buckley and Stonehouse had been having an illicit affair for five years before his scuppered plans to fake his death.
Here’s the background to Stonehouse’s love interests:
Who is Sheila Buckley?
Sheila Buckley had been Stonehouse’s parliamentary secretary while he was an MP. The pair had a five-year affair, and she remained loyal to her disgraced lover throughout the scandal, flying out to meet him in Australia. Buckley, who was 21 years younger than him, later married and had a son named James William John, before Stonehouse died in 1988, aged 62.
According to the Daily Mail, she has been living alone in a £700,000 detached home in Romsey on the River Test. She has kept her life very private, and rarely if ever speaks about her relationship. She does not appear in the documentary The Real Stonehouse, which traces the true story behind the drama. She alongside Stonehouse faced multiple charges, and a police operation to repatriate the pair had been launched at the time.
In the documentary, retired Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector David Townley, said: “I thought [Buckley] was polite – a kind, gentle person who’d been mesmerised by Stonehouse and dragged into something she shouldn’t have got involved in. She ended up with [a suspended sentence of] two years in prison for being in love with someone. Stonehouse was a controlling person. She was young, attractive, and she clearly loved him very much.”
Stonehouse was eventually arrested in Melbourne on 24 December 1974, and in 1976, conducted his own defence on 21 charges of fraud, theft, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time. After a 68 day trial, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud. Buckley also received a suspended sentence of two years.
What happened to John Stonehouse’s wife Barbara?
Barbara Joan Stonehouse was the first wife of the infamous MP. The couple had been married for 30 years since 1948 and had three children together: Jane, Julia and Matthew. It was said that she had been completely unaware of the affair, and she was left devastated by both his faked death and his betrayal.
The Shropshire Star reported that on December 9, The Sun revealed that Stonehouse had secretly been renting a flat in Westminster, in which a ‘slightly built brunette’ had been living. On being asked about this by a Sun reporter, Stonehouse’s wife Barbara tried to contact his secretary Buckley, but for several days she was nowhere to be found. When Mrs Stonehouse finally did track her down, she asked her outright if she had been having an affair with her husband.
"Sheila was trying to behave normally, but from the look in her eyes she was terrified," says daughter Julia.
"My mother asked her if she had been having an affair with my father, and Sheila broke down in sobs, with mascara running down her cheeks." According to the book Stonehouse: Cabinet Minister, Fraudster and Spy by the MP’s great nephew Julian Hayes, neither Sheila nor Barbara wanted to let go of him despite his misdeeds.
His first wife stayed married to him for several more years but Barbara and John parted ways in 1978 and he went on to marry Buckley in 1981, and then had a son with her a year later. Little is known about Barbara after her divorce from Stonehouse, however, according to SaveDaughters.com citing news forums, she died on 9 May, 2022.