LONDON -- Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, the affable, self-educated sailor's son who rose from poverty to become prime minister in the dying years of consensus politics in postwar Britain, died Saturday on the eve of his 93d birthday, his family said.
James Callaghan died at his family home in East Sussex County, south of London, 11 days after the death of Audrey, his wife of 67 years, a family spokeswoman said. Cause of death was not given.
Lord Callaghan, who entered Parliament as a Labor Party lawmaker in 1945, was prime minister from 1976 to 1979. He was the only British politician to hold, at different times, the four posts of prime minister, Treasury chief, foreign secretary, and home secretary.
Lord Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson in April 1976 and governed until May 1979, when strikes, financial crises, and party divisions cost him the election against Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party.
The ascent of ''Sunny Jim" to become the country's fourth Labor prime minister took a combination of stamina, unflappability, and an instinct for the middle road.
The stooped, bespectacled 6-footer was 64 when he inherited a quarreling party -- barely clinging to a parliamentary majority -- and an economy battered by double-digit inflation, rising wages, and a plummeting pound.
Many saw Lord Callaghan as simply a caretaker, minding the store until the Thatcherites moved in with their free-market, union-bashing doctrines.
Yet in two years, helped by the North Sea oil bonanza and $4 billion in bailout loans, the sterling recovered, inflation retreated to a single digit, and most workers voluntarily restrained wage demands.
As Britain returned to the black again, Lord Callaghan approached the 1979 election running neck-and-neck with the Tories.
But in late 1978, the unions, fed up with wage restraints, launched their ''winter of discontent." Strikes left bodies unburied, garbage uncollected, trains paralyzed, cancer patients without hospital care, and children locked out of classrooms.
Lord Callaghan stuck to his mild-mannered style. Returning from a summit in the Caribbean, he remarked, ''I do not feel there is mounting chaos."
But that was not what the public wanted to hear. It wanted strong, decisive government, and the following year Margaret Thatcher ousted Lord Callaghan with a comfortable majority.
Like Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Callaghan never attended college, saying he took his degree at ''The University of Life."
His central themes were to align British interests with Washington rather than Europe and to maintain nuclear deterrence while working for arms control.
Lord Callaghan enjoyed considerable stature abroad. President Carter and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany often consulted him, and Henry Kissinger called him ''one of the most underrated people I know. I consider him a truly wise man, a man who grows the longer you know him."
Leonard James Callaghan was born March 27, 1912, in Portsmouth to a Catholic father and Baptist mother.
His father died when he was 9, plunging the family into poverty. They received no pension until Labor came into office in 1931 and paid the Callaghans a weekly pension of 10 shillings (then worth about $2). ''After that we were Labor for life," he recalled.
After dropping out of school at 16, he went to work in a tax collection office and became involved in union affairs.
He married teacher Audrey Moulton in 1938.
After naval service in World War II, Lord Callaghan stood for election in Cardiff and was swept in with Labor's landslide majority in 1945. Within two years he was a junior minister.
He loyally obeyed Wilson in refusing to devalue the pound and was proved right. He acceded to Catholic appeals to send the army into Northern Ireland in 1969 to protect them against Protestant mobs, but warned them then: ''I can send the army in, but I'll have the devil of a time getting it out again." The troops are still there.
In 1972, he sought the prestigious presidency of the International Monetary Fund. But France vetoed him and he stayed in politics. Wilson then suddenly resigned, and on April 5, 1976, the party anointed Lord Callaghan rather than Michael Foot.
As a man well acquainted with union politics, Lord Callaghan seemed a better choice than the more left-wing Foot, although his moderate socialism often infuriated colleagues.
''Jim, you're not God, you know. I'm not even sure you're a socialist," left-wing veteran Eric Heffer once growled at him.
Callaghan insisted he was as good a socialist as any. ''I hate injustice," he said. ''I've known it from the worm's-eye view."
In 1980, he gave up the party leadership to Foot. In 1985, he resigned from Parliament and was elevated to the House of Lords.