The Sixties proved a dramatic backdrop for the early Finest Hour which, though ostensibly dedicated to matters philatelic, observed from its special vantage point years of thunder, days of drums. The Prague Spring; the Vietnam War and mounting opposition to it; the assassinations and their perplexed aftermath: all found their way obliquely into our pages. Sir Winston was gone but a few years, his voice still vividly remembered, his record almost too fresh for historians to assess.
The first “article” in issue 1 was one paragraph long: “The name of this publication is temporary, unless you feel it should become permanent.” Everyone did, Finest Hour it began, Finest Hour it still is, 100 issues and thirty years on. And, though its scope and contents have changed beyond recognition, the name stuck because it could never be bettered.
We began with a unique liaison: official biographer Randolph Churchill had agreed “to answer any questions you have in mind” about illustrations on stamps depicting his father. Alas on 6 June 1968 Randolph died in his sleep. Nine days later the Winston S. Churchill Study Unit of the American Topical Association was formally organized in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Three months later, having taken in some fifty dollars through dues ($2) and donations, FH published its first roster of eighteen members. Lady Churchill and Randolph’s son Winston had accepted honorary membership (although HM The Queen had not!) and we were off. The chief purpose of the Study Unit was to assess the avalanche of Churchill stamps then being issued for “Black Blots”: commemorative stamps issued mainly to bilk the unwary collector. But stamps soon sent us into other areas: a survey of Churchill’s paintings, for example—appropriately the subject of coverage in this issue and our color centerspread.
Nineteen sixty-eight, a traumatic year in history, witnessed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Chicago riots. While our newest honorary member, Winston Churchill, was in Chicago, reporting the Democratic Convention and getting pummeled by Mayor Daley’s police, Finest Hour was quoting the Great Man in what it said was “Churchill in Context.” Over Prague’s lost spring: “Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness…” (1938); over Vietnam: A small army “would scarcely serve as a vanguard. If we are hated, they will not make us loved. If we are in danger, they will not make us safe…” (1901).
We began to consider Churchill’s books in FH 5, which listed twenty-three titles. In FH 6 we notified readers that the Church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, now reassembled in Fulton, Missouri after its stones had been shipped from London, would be dedicated in May. With FH 7 we raised dues to $3 and promulgated by-laws. In September-October 1969, for the first time, Finest Hour 9 contained more about Churchill than about Churchill stamps, running Part 1 of Henry Anatole Grunwald’s “Man of the Century.” Little did we realize that Grunwald was a college friend of publisher William A. Rusher; that the two of them had tried to make Churchill guest of honor at a New York meeting of Harrow Old Boys in 1946. We would learn these facts from Bill Rusher himself, who would address our 11th International Churchill Conference in Banff, Alberta a quarter century later.
Finest Hour 11 announced our first commemorative cover, posted at Woodstock, Blenheim Palace’s post office, on the 95th anniversary of Churchill’s birth. It had a wonderful reception. Members offered to pay more dues for a continuing series. Dave Marcus undertook to produce these covers “from time to time.” Thirty years later Dave is still at it, now marking centenaries, like publication of Churchill’s first book and the Charge at Omdurman (1998).
Finest Hour was expanding fast. In issue 11 we covered the American lecture tour of Sir Winston’s grandson, Winston Churchill, who had addressed the Dallas Women’s Club, mainly on the Arab-Israeli Six Day War which he had covered and wrote about with his late father. In issue 12 we added enemy propaganda to our list of subjects, via Herbert Friedman’s article, “Those Nasty Nazi Feldpost Cards.” In FH 13 we reported on the largest Churchilliana collection in the world—much more than just stamps: the Marquess of Bath’s, at Longleat, Wiltshire. It remains impressive to this day.
At the same time, FH was looking for a new editor. “The March-April issue will complete two years of my editorship,” I announced in issue 10. “It is time for new blood and new ideas….with two years’ excellent growth, the Unit can stand on its own.” Brave words! By a stroke of luck, it could and it would: the era of Dal Newfield was about to begin.
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