Sarah, born several months after the start of the First World War, was no easier than her two elder siblings. Her stubbornness earned her the family nickname of “Mule”. Having persuaded her parents against their better judgement to allow her to go to a dancing school (she and her friends formed a dancing troupe called ‘The KitKat Players’, performing on Chartwell’s lawn), she then took up a career on the stage. She made her first appearance at the age of twenty one in the chorus line of ‘Follow the Sun’ at the Adelphi Theatre.
Both Winston and Clemmie were horrified when in 1936 she eloped and married a divorced Viennese entertainer nearly twice her age, Vic Oliver, who she’d met while with the show. They married in New York on Christmas Eve in 1936.
Of Vic Oliver, Churchill later wrote that ‘I agree with your diagnosis … not a bad man, but common as dirt’ (Churchill, in a letter to Clementine, 27 February 1936, Soames, Speaking for Themselves).
The marriage didn’t last and she went on to marry Antony Beauchamp, a London photographer in October 1949. Beauchamp died of an overdose of sleeping pills only eight years later, in 1957, after they had separated.
Despite Churchill’s disapproval of her choice of men and career, Sarah and her father remained close. She accompanied him to several wartime conferences including Tehran (1943) and Yalta (1945) and the affection between father and daughter is clear in numerous letters sent during and after the war (seen in the Churchill Archives).
Although he gained numerous credits on film and television, including appearing with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951), later in life, Sarah became a heavy drinker and her film career dwindled, not helped by her embarrassing arrests for being drunk and disorderly in 1959 and 1960. In 1962, at the age of forty eight, she married Lord Audley and the family thought her fortunes might be turning. But Sarah was widowed only a year later in July 1963 (only a few months before another tragedy struck when her sister Diana took her own life).
Sarah clearly inherited some of her father’s artistic genes. In addition to acting, she wrote poetry and a memoir A Thread in the Tapestry (1967).
She had no children with any of her husbands and died aged sixty seven in 1982.
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