Finest Hour 123, Summer 2004
By Bret Begun in Newsweek, 10 November 2003, reprinted by kind permission.
Winston Churchill was such a prolific speechwriter that Never Give In! accounts for only five percent of his oratory. Bret Begun talked with Winston Churchill: editor, grandson, and trustee of The Churchill Centre.
How did you select the speeches?
Thirty years ago—across 8,600 pages, in eight volumes in small print—The Complete Speeches was published. Nobody is going to buy eight volumes. I wanted something manageable. One could fill one volume with the best wartime speeches. But I had the idea to do a panorama: to start with his first speech, at the age of 22 in 1897, and go all the way to his last in 1963.
He did tremendous prep
According to Sir John Colville, one of my grandfather’s private secretaries, he would devote approximately one hour of preparation for every minute of delivery for the wartime speeches.
Did he have writing rituals?
If he had dinner guests, he’d pack them off by 11 p.m. Then he’d have secretaries and researchers on hand, and he’d dictate for four hours.
That must have been tiring.
He drove himself. When my father Randolph was 18, he accompanied his father on a lecture tour. My grandfather, after dinner, realized he was overdue on an article. He shut himself in his un-air-conditioned rail compartment and, in two hours, produced 3,000-words. Not to have achieved something positive and specific, he said, would be like going to bed without having brushed one’s teeth.
What is an American reader to learn from this volume?
My grandfather was the architect of the post-World War I Middle East. He put the Hashemite rulers—Abdullah and Feisal—in Amman and in Baghdad, respectively. Okay, it only stood in Iraq for thirty-six years, but George W. Bush would count himself quite successful if whatever settlement he’s able to put in place stands up for the next thirty-six years. As far as the war on terror, there’s no question he would be in the vanguard of carrying the war to the enemy.
How cognizant were you, growing up, of who your grandfather was?
When other boys started beating me up and said, “…take that for being Winston bloody Churchill!” one realized there was something special about this name I bear.
Over the years, of course, I’ve had every variation on the theme. The first time I came to America I was 15. In Times Square I was shooting at metal ducks with a little rifle. The 285-pound proprietor said, “Son, you’re doing a mighty fine job. What’s your name?” I told him, and he said, “If you’re Winston Churchill, I’m Marilyn Monroe.”