Finest Hour 135, Summer 2007
Quotation of the Season
“Like many others, I often summon up in my memory the impression of those July days….The old world in its sunset was fair to see. But there was a strange temper in the air. Unsatisfied by material prosperity, the nations turned restlessly towards strife internal or external. National passions, unduly exalted in the decline of religion, burned beneath the surface of nearly every land with fierce, if shrouded, fires. Almost one might think the world wished to suffer.”
—WSC, The World Crisis, VOL. 1, CH. 8, 1923
HANDING BACK THE FIRE HOSE
LONDON, DECEMBER 29TH— Great Britain completed her last $80 million installment on World War II debt to the United States, paid back with interest. When your neighbor’s house is on fire, Franklin Roosevelt said in 1940, it is appropriate to lend him your hose. Well, the UK never forgot those loans, and paid them off with honor. —JL
LOS ANGELES, FEBRUARY 25TH— When Helen Mirren won the Academy Award for best actress in “The Queen,” we remembered a telling line in the motion picture, as Her Majesty informs Tony Blair that Winston Churchill “sat right in that spot” when she was new to the throne. Returning home from that excellent film, we tuned in to an older one, “An American in Paris.” There is a scene where Gene Kelly is walking among the French painters; overlooking the sea is a robust older gentleman with a cigar, dabbing at a canvas. Kelly does a double-take: it is obviously Churchill, perennial bit player in films old and new! —EARL BAKER
GLEESON TO PLAY WSC
LONDON, NOVEMBER 26TH— Dubliner Brendan Gleeson, best known for his portrayal of Ireland’s most notorious criminal, is to play Winston Churchill (proclaimed Britain’s chief criminal by Nazi propagandists) in a sequel to Ridley Scott’s “The Gathering Storm.” The star of “The General” will take on his new role in “Churchill at War,” which will be made by HBO, the American network behind “The Sopranos” and “Band of Brothers.” The story centres on Churchill’s leadership during the Second World War, but no British actor was deemed suitable for the role. Gleeson, 51, will deliver some of the Prime Minister’s most famous orations, which gave inspiration to the nation.
Gleeson has built a reputation for playing a variety of Irish criminals and “wide-boys,” such as Bunny Kelly in “I Went Down” and Walter McGinn in “Gangs of New York.” Said Teri Hayden, the actor’s agent: “The idea of an Irishman playing Churchill is fascinating.” (Why, exactly? —Ed.)
Gleeson abandoned teaching for acting at the age of 34. After a couple of bit parts, his breakthrough role was in “Braveheart,” playing Mel Gibson’s right-hand man, Hamish. He has since worked with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Anthony Minghella; starred opposite Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger in “Cold Mountain”; and had parts in “Mission Impossible II,” “Troy,” and “Artificial Intelligence.”
Gleeson is following a line of venerable, and more obvious, Churchillian portraitists: Albert Finney won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his depiction in 2002’s “The Gathering Storm,” a look at Churchill and Clementine in the years leading up to the Second World War. Robert Hardy made the role famous in 1981’s mini-series, “Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years,” as did Richard Burton before him in 1974’s “The Gathering Storm.” The most recent portrayal of Churchill was by Scottish actor Mel Smith in “Allegiance,” a play by Mary Kenny that imagines what passed between Churchill and Michael Collins, the Irish rebel leader, when they met in London. Ironically, Gleeson also portrayed Collins on screen, in a 1991 television movie, “The Treaty.”
“It will probably annoy a few people,” said the film critic Dave Fanning of Gleeson’s casting in the role. “Brendan knows how to be sloppy and gruff and Churchill was a bit of an awkward bloke. He’d be the right build and he could certainly slouch properly with the right coats on him. Ridley Scott wouldn’t care that much about being 100% true to how the guy looks, as long as the feel of the movie is right. I think he’ll be great.”
“Churchill at War” is being made by the same production team as Finney’s —Scott Free Productions, and is a follow-on. Rainmark Films, a London-based company, is a co-producer on the film, which will be shot in England and France this summer.
—JAN BATTLES, THE SUNDAY TIMES
HOLOCAUST OFF LIMITS
LONDON, APRIL 2ND— Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Government-backed study has revealed. It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.
There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades, where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem, because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques. The findings have prompted claims that some schools are using history “as a vehicle for promoting Political Correctness.”
—LAURA CLARK, DAILY MAIL
• Churchillian comment: “All this is but a part of a tremendous educating process. But it is an education which passes in at one ear and out at the other. It is an education at once universal and superficial. It produces enormous numbers of standardized citizens, all equipped with regulation opinons, prejudices and sentiments, according to their class or party.”
—WSC, “MASS EFFECTS IN MODERN LIFE,” THOUGHTS AND ADVENTURES, 1932
LONDON, FEBRUARY 27TH— Canada House, the elegant building on the west side of Trafalgar Square, was the scene last night for an enjoyable reception hosted by the High Commissioner for Canada, in celebration of Ronald Cohen’s tremendous and exhaustive Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill. (See FH 133: 41. Speech will appear in FH 136.)
Sir Martin Gilbert (who introduced the author) and Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston’s great-grandson, were among the large number of attendees, a broad group reflecting the author’s wide circle of contacts: archivists, historians, diplomats, book dealers and lawyers, with the occasional field marshal, peer and former Canadian prime minister thrown in.
Cohen provided an entertaining and inspiring account of his long and challenging bibliographic journey, sprinkled with amusing anecdotes of bizarre episodes in far-flung libraries and archives. The evening was a tremendous success and it was good to see that even those who are not quite so devoted to the Great Man were able to appreciate the importance of Mr. Cohen’s achievement.
It is clear that we can now divide Churchill bibliography into two eras: B.C. and C.E.: “Before Cohen” and “Cohen Era.” We hope that readers who are unable to purchase their own copy will request that their library, particularly college and university libraries, acquire one.
BATH, SOMERSET, APRIL 1ST— A new exhibition on Sir Winston’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, opened at the American Museum. A newspaper article refers to its title, “The Dollar Princess,” repeating all the old canards about how many men she slept with, and how Lord Randolph died of syphilis (refuted long ago in FH 94). “She was the first woman of significance in British parliamentary politics,” wrote Cassandra Jardine in the Daily Telegraph. This is too broad; at a time when women were not permitted to vote, let alone to be MPs, it is difficult to describe her as a force in parliamentary politics.
Jennie was well read and politically sophisticated, and as Winston’s life opened to him she proved adept at helping him get assignments he desired. While she did not influence policy, she certainly did influence at least one election. In 1885, when Lord Randolph was appointed to his first office, Secretary of State for India, convention compelled new ministerial appointees to resign as a Member of Parliament and stand for reelection. Jennie and her sister-in-law did all his campaigning personally, an unusual occurrence. It is doubtful that any women had done this before, let alone done it better.
Jardine claims that Jennie wrote Lord Randolph’s speeches and helped evolve his theme of Tory Democracy, assertions not verified by his biographers, including their son Winston. She did write her own speeches during the 1885 campaign, and received letters of congratulations from many, including the Prince of Wales.
Jennie wrote perceptively in her 1908 memoirs: “In England, the American woman was looked upon as a strange and abnormal creature with habits and manner something between a red Indian and a Gaiety Girl…. If she talked, dressed and conducted herself as any well-bred woman would…she was usually saluted with the tactful remark, ‘I should never have thought you were an American,’ which was intended as a compliment.”
Lady Randolph was a great woman whose example of drive and enterprise, from the Boer War hospital ship to the Anglo-Saxon Review, made her a commanding figure in her time. She was, on balance, an admirable mother. Winston and Jack always looked at her with pride and affection. The American Museum at Bath is a grand institution; we hope that their exhibit portrays Jennie for what she was, and not as the virago of popular myth and sensationalist biographers.
TORONTO STATUE UPDATE
TORONTO, MARCH 25TH— Finest Hour 117 included a report on a fund-raising drive to improve the area around the statue in City Hall Square, on the 25th anniversary of its unveiling, by the present Winston Churchill, on 31 October 1977. The goal was $25,000 and, as noted in FH 123, $28,000 was raised from donors in six provinces. After the installation of four plaques recounting Churchill’s life and achievements, eight park benches and trees, the site was rededicated by Mayor David Miller on 6 June 2004, the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
Last year Toronto announced a $40 million design competition to revitalize the Square. Competition guidelines stated that the Henry Moore sculpture “The Archer” could not be touched, but the Churchill statue was “relocatable,” either in the square or in some other part of Toronto.
The International Churchill Society of Canada promoted retaining the Churchill statue in the Square, and this included radio and newspaper comments. In December a Toronto Sun columnist questioned why a statue of non-Torontonian should be there. Another columnist, Joe Warmington, replied that without Churchill “Toronto as we know it today might not even exist.” He added: “It was a man named Churchill who was the beacon, and it was Churchill who sent the message that we would ‘never surrender.’ That should be enough; but go over to the memorial and read some of the passages, and tell me you don’t get goose-bumps.”
On 8 March the winning design was picked from forty-eight entries and we are delighted to advise that the statue is to remain in City Hall Square, in an improved location. Our next task is to ensure that the four plaques are moved with the statue—and, we trust, the park benches.
LONDON, FEBRUARY 24TH— Alex Henshaw, who died on 24 February at the age of 94, was the principal test pilot for Spitfires and Lancasters, and a famous daredevil. Once he was asked to put on a show for the Lord Mayor of Birmingham’s Spitfire Fund by flying at high speed above the city’s main street. Civic dignitaries were not happy when he flew the plane upside down below the level of the Council House! Often, Henshaw would be called upon to demonstrate a Spitfire to groups of visiting VIPs. After one virtuoso performance, Churchill was so enthralled that he kept a special train waiting while he and Alex talked alone. Henshaw for his part considered Churchill “the greatest Englishman of all time, the man who saved the world.”
—THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
BORROWED FROM WELLS?
LONDON, NOVEMBER 28TH— Churchill was a closet science fiction fan who borrowed the lines for one of his “most famous speeches” from H.G. Wells, said Dr. Richard Toye, who claimed that the phrase, “The Gathering Storm” (the title of WSC’s first volume of war memoirs) was written by Wells years earlier in The War of the Worlds.
“It’s a bit like Tony Blair borrowing phrases from Star Trek or Doctor Who,” Dr. Toye said. “People look at politicians in the 20th century and presume their influences were big theorists and philosophers. What we forget is that Churchill and others were probably not interested in reading that stuff when they got home after a hard day in the House of Commons. Churchill was definitely a closet science-fiction fan. In fact, one of his criticisms of Wells’ A Modern Utopia (1905) was that there was too much thought-provoking stuff and not enough action.”
In 1901, Wells wrote a book of predictions, Anticipations, calling for a scientifically organised “new republic,” with state support for citizens. Winston Churchill wrote to Wells: “I read everything you write,” adding that he agreed with many of his ideas. Two days later Churchill gave an address to the Scottish Liberal Council in Glasgow, in which he said the state should support its “left out millions.”
In 1931, Churchill admitted that he knew Wells’s work so well he could pass an exam in it. “We need to remember that there was a time when Churchill was a radical Liberal who believed these things,” Toye explained. “Wells is often seen as a socialist, but he also saw himself as a Liberal, and he saw Churchill as someone whose views were moving in the right direction.”
Wells advocated the idea of selective breeding, arguing that people should only be able to have children if they met certain conditions such as physical fitness and financial independence. Churchill told Wells he admired “the skill and courage with which the questions of marriage and population were discussed.”
Wells predicted the political unification of “the English-speaking states” into “a great federation of white English-speaking peoples.” Churchill often argued for the “fraternal association” of those nations, and even wrote a four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
—SARAH CASSIDY, THE TIMES
In January Dr. Toye represented somebody else’s words as Churchill’s own. Here he states that Churchill’s words were not his. WSC thus managed to commit opposite sins with equanimity. What a man!
The notion that Churchill was too busy to do serious reading and preferred to indulge in science fiction when he “got home after a hard day in the House of Commons” (hilarious to anyone steeped in WSC’s routine), is simply dumb. Anyone consulting the books Churchill read in his youth, for example, know that his tastes ran from Aristotle to Shakespeare, Darwin to Wynwood Reade. Certainly he read science fiction—even Henty novels. And his photographic memory stored his favorite phrases. That doesn’t mean he picked up his essential philosophy from some novelist.
At the time he wrote to Wells about the welfare state, Churchill was reading Progress and Poverty, by the American economist Henry George, who proposed taxing private ownership of basic elements like land instead of wealth or income. In 1911, WSC reached his radical crescendo, fighting for prison reform, old age pensions and abandoning the House of Lords. Then war clouds captured his attention. But clearly, Churchill derived his radical politics from economists and philosophers, not science fiction writers.
“The Gathering Storm” dates as far back as The Federalist, but Toye’s claim is specifically refuted by the official biography. In volume VIII, published nearly twenty years ago, Sir Martin Gilbert noted that it was literary agent Emery Reves who suggested the title. Churchill merely approved of it (pages 394-95):
A final telegram from Emery Reves [January 1948] was decisive in an area of utmost importance, the title of the first volume. Churchill had chosen ‘Downward Path’ as the theme of the years 1931 to 1939. This title, Reves telegraphed, ‘sounds somewhat discouraging.’ The American and other publishers would prefer a ‘more challenging title indicating crescendo events.’ Reves suggested ‘Gathering Clouds,’ ‘The Gathering Storm’ or ‘The Brooding Storm.’ The title Churchill chose was ‘The Gathering Storm.’
Of course one could say, “Right, it was Emery Reves who read ‘The Gathering Storm’ in The War of the Worlds and handed it to Churchill.” But that’s really being silly, isn’t it?
WINSTON ON THE £20?
LONDON, NOVEMBER 3RD— War veterans stormed back into battle to support a campaign by The Daily Mirror to get Sir Winston Churchill put on the new £20 note. They are furious that 18th century economist Adam Smith had been picked to replace the face of Sir Edward Elgar, saying that Smith was obscure by comparison.
Ricky Clitheroe, 72, an ex-Para from Catford, South-East London, said: “We agree with the Mirror . We want Sir Winston on our £20. He saved this country. We don’t want a Scot, we don’t even know who he is.”
Wealth of Nations author Smith is due to appear on Britain’s 1.2 billion £20 notes from this spring. War vets set up a stall under the Churchill statue in Parliament Square to collect petition signatures backing WSC. They took the petition to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and eventually handed it in to Downing Street.
Yet another campaign group had pushed for composer Elgar to remain on the notes until after his 150th birthday next year. MPs from Herefordshire and Worcestershire, joined by the Elgar Foundation, have called for the delay. The Bank of England replied that “a great majority of £20 notes in circulation will still have Sir Edward Elgar on them and will continue to circulate alongside the Adam Smith £20 notes for several years after that.”
Meanwhile, The Fabian Society has called for a black face to be put on £20s to reflect Britain’s changing social make-up.
—VANESSA ALLEN, DAILY MIRROR
GILBERT AT FULTON
FULTON, MO, MARCH 24TH— Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer and author of seventy-seven books, was hosted at a dinner by the Board of the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library at Westminster College. Gilbert also held a book signing, and a collection of Churchill photos by Richard J. Mahoney was on display. The next afternoon Gilbert delivered the annual Kemper Lecture on Churchill.
Last year, in the midst of the 60th anniversary of the Fulton “Iron Curtain” speech, Chris Campbell, editor of the student newspaper, was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as questioning whether his school name-dropped Churchill too much and whether it should move on to a new claim to fame. The day the story ran, Campbell was told by the school’s college relations director that he could not get a press pass to the weekend’s anniversary events if he planned to speak to other media outlets. Campbell did not want to pay what it would have cost to go to the events, so he acquiesced to the school’s wishes. But, he complained: “I thought it was unfair what they did. I feel like they were trying to stop me from speaking.” The school said it was not trying to suppress Campbell’s views.
We think Westminster College should continue name-dropping Churchill, particularly his good English, discouraging sentences like “I thought it was unfair what they did.”
MALAKAND: Y’ALL COME, HEAR?
BATKHELA, PAKISTAN, DECEMBER 1ST— The battlefield of a far-off imperial war that once gripped the imagination of the British public is to be opened up for the first time to tourism. It is “Churchill’s Picket,” where the young Winston fought with the 1897 Malakand Field Force, the subject of his first book, published 1898.
The Malakand battlefield area has been under tight military control since Winston Churchill’s eyewitness accounts of the campaign were published in The Daily Telegraph in 1897. The government has now decided to grant access to historic sites such as Malakand Fort, where 1,000 Sikh infantry under British command fended off 10,000 Pathan tribesmen led by the “Mad Mullah.” He had roused the tribes against British dominion and said the Prophet had ordained that they eject the foreigners from India. (Plus ça change… —Ed.)
“We are seeking funding for the project from foreign governments,” said an official from Pakistan’s tourism ministry. “It is hoped that we can use some of the finance to restore some of the historic buildings.” The hill-crested bowl of Malakand is home to British India’s northernmost church, which is currently situated inside a Pakistani military base, and a hilltop fortification called Churchill’s Picket, near where the young Winston was almost killed in a skirmish.
Malakand borders the tribal agency of Bajaur, where al-Qaeda operatives are believed to be based. As in Churchill’s day, the local Pashtuns are often in the thrall of charismatic mullahs. Maulana Muhammad Alam, a leader of the banned Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi, from Batkhela, is an ideological descendant of the “Mad Mullah.” His group sent 10,000 men to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. “President Musharraf has gone in one direction [with America], but we have gone in another,” he said.
Churchill volunteered to fight on the frontier amid comparable unrest. He was 23 and a lieutenant of the Fourth Hussars in India when mullahs began to foment trouble. He joined the Malakand Field Force. “Like most young fools,” he wrote in My Early Life, “I was looking for trouble.”
Foreign visitors today are not entirely unwelcome. Tribal elders fondly remembered British officers who left at Partition in 1947. “The Mad Mullah was a man of exceptional qualities. These new mullahs are just out for personal gain,” said Rehamatullah Khan, 90.
—ISAMBARD WILKINSON, DAILY TELEGRAPH
Churchillian comment: If this sounds weird in a world where avoiding offence to Muslims is an article of political faith, it must sound stranger yet in Pakistan. It is no surprise that a church in these parts survives because it is inside a military base. Officials say the plans to open up the area will go ahead despite increasing security concerns after a suicide attack near the site this month that killed forty-two army recruits. But a trip to the battlefield site planned by a British group was cancelled in November because of fears of possible attacks by Islamic militants. Winston Churchill, who visited Churchill Picket a few years before 9/11, told us that it could only be seen with a military escort. It is ironic that Pakistan seeks to create this Disneyland with foreign support.
From the collection of John Frost.
THE PM’S TWO HATS
LONDON, JUNE 3RD, 1953— Many of those who saw the Coronation procession twice noticed that Sir Winston Churchill did not leave the Abbey in the hat in which he drove to it. The explanation is that he went to the Abbey in the uniform and cocked hat of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. On arrival he put on over the uniform the mantle of the Order of the Garter lent to him by the Earl Marshal. As he was wearing this mantle when he left the Abbey he naturally assumed the ostrich-plumed hat of the Garter also. This was lent to him by Lord Clarendon. —The Times
POOR, DEAR RANDOLPH
LONDON, JUNE 29TH, 1940— “In reply to a request from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary sent a list of 150 ‘prominent people’ whom he had arrested. Of the first three on the list, two, Lady Mosley and Geoffrey Pitt-Rivers, were cousins of the Churchills —a fact which piqued Winston and caused much merriment among his children. Winston went to bed shortly after 1am and I resisted Randolph’s attempt to make me sit up with him and discuss the Fifth Column (which incidentally Winston thinks a much less serious menace than had been supposed). Randolph was in a horrible state… and yet W said, when he asked to be allowed some more active part in the war, that if R were killed he would not be able to carry on his work.”
—JOHN COLVILLE DIARY
VC “TOO POSITIVE”
LONDON, APRIL 7TH— Amid the deaths and the grim struggle bravely borne by Britain’s forces in southern Iraq, one tale of heroism stands out: Private Johnson Beharry, whose courage in rescuing an ambushed foot patrol, and then saving his vehicle’s crew despite his own terrible injuries, earned him a Victoria Cross: the decoration young Churchill had most desired.
For the BBC, however, his story was “too positive.” The corporation cancelled the 90-minute drama about Britain’s youngest surviving VC hero because it feared it would alienate listeners opposed to the war in Iraq. The BBC’s retreat from the project, which had the working title “Victoria Cross,” will reignite the debate about the broadcaster’s patriotism. “The BBC has behaved in a cowardly fashion by pulling the plug on the project altogether,” said a source close to the project. “It began to have second thoughts last year as the war in Iraq deteriorated. It felt it couldn’t show anything with a degree of positivity about the conflict.
“It needed to tell stories about Iraq which reflected the fact that some members of the audience didn’t approve of what was going on. Obviously a story about Johnson Beharry could never do that. You couldn’t have a scene where he suddenly turned around and denounced the war because he just wouldn’t do that. The film is now on hold and it will only make it to the screen if another broadcaster picks it up.” The company developing the project is believed to have taken the script to ITV.
The Ministry of Defence recently expressed concern about Channel 4’s “The Mark of Cain,” which showed British troops brutalising Iraqi detainees. That programme was temporarily pulled from the schedules after Iran detained fifteen British troops. A spokesman for the BBC admitted that it had abandoned the VC project but refused to elaborate.
BBC’s decision to pull out will only confirm the fears of critics that television drama is only interested in telling bad news stories. —CHRIS HASTINGS, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
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