Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016
Review by Peter Clarke
David Lough, No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money, New York: Picador, 2015, 534 pages, $32.
The Churchill archive is much like that of other politicians— only more so. And the political part of his papers has accordingly been deeply mined by historians. Beyond this, however, is what we could call the hidden archive—not because the archive staff hid it away but because researchers generally ignored it. I am referring especially to the holdings of literary papers that testify to Churchill’s other career as an author and to the mass of business correspondence, financial documents, bank statements, tax files, household bills, and other kinds of paperwork. Because Churchill came from a class that was accustomed to hoard such papers along with their correspondence, virtually nothing was ever thrown away, and the Churchill Archives Centre has likewise respected the intrinsic interest for historians in having this sort of material available.
In recent years, moreover, there have been a number of books that explored this hidden territory. David Reynolds’ In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (2004) illuminated the financial implications of how this particular author operated. This prompted me to follow up on the story by putting Churchill’s composition of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples at the heart of my book, Mr. Churchill’s Profession (2012). So I happily declare an interest in commenting on David Lough’s welcome addition to the literature in his meticulously documented book, No More Champagne. Its eighty pages of references are overwhelmingly to materials held in the “hidden archive,” the holdings of which are now further exposed in the light of history.
Here is a book that one can confidently recommend to Churchillians who want to explore a side of their hero’s life that is at once largely unknown and yet familiar enough in many of the personal characteristics that it reveals. That Churchill was resourceful in meeting his financial challenges by throwing himself into the business of making a good living will come as no surprise. That he had to rely, from early days, upon his own pen to generate an essential part of his income is likewise no secret; it is only what he often said himself in public. What David Lough brings to the problem is his own relevant expertise in founding “a business that advises families on looking after their investments, tax affairs, and estates.” So he is simultaneously a novice author and a highly-qualified expert in this field. Never was there a family that better needed advice on looking after their financial affairs than the Churchills.
Alas, even the best advice is only good if it is taken, if it is implemented, and if it is consistently followed despite the temptations to revert to the bad old ways characteristic of families like the Churchills. Winston was the grandson of an impoverished duke who had sold off some of the assets at Blenheim Palace to keep going, and he was the son of free-spending parents with tastes of reckless extravagance. Not only did his mother, Jennie, run through much of what Winston himself should have inherited, as Lough brings out clearly enough, but even the prudent advice of Clementine Churchill to her husband—notably over the expenses of Chartwell—was vitiated by her own failures to keep within agreed domestic budgets. Their son Randolph simply replicated such habits. So the whole family was in it together.
Clementine had two particular worries about Winston: his gambling and his drinking. It is indeed rather appalling to find how much Winston squandered in the casinos of Europe, generally when he was away from Clementine, since they usually took separate holidays. Lough has done good work in tracking down evidence on Winston’s losses by comparing his hefty drawings in francs from the bank with the meagre deposits that were subsequently returned. Hence the poignancy of Clementine’s appeals that Winston should beware the casino. When it came to the other peril—drink—the story is a bit different. We already know from other accounts that Churchill accepted bets to cut down his consumption of “undiluted spirits” for a year at a time in the 1930s, though it needs to be remembered that, since he drank whisky diluted with soda water, this ban did not affect his second-favourite tipple.
And his favourite? Yes, champagne, of course, as Lough’s title signals, in quoting the stipulation that figured in every (ineffectual) economy campaign adopted at Chartwell. Yes, we can all agree that Pol Roger came to triumph as Churchill’s champagne of choice; but the sheer quantity and expense of what he consumed needs to be kept in proportion. I was certainly surprised to read that “Churchill calculated that he spent an average of £1,160 with the family’s wine merchants each year between 1908 and 1914,” which is what Lough claims, citing the Churchill Archives (91). Now an alarm bell should have rung at this point, for this would represent nearly a quarter of Churchill’s annual salary as a cabinet minister, and in today’s money would be more than a hundred thousand pounds a year. Alas, Lough has misread his source, which actually shows that £1,166 was a total for the eight years from 1907 to 1914, so about £150 per annum. Phew!
A second surprise is sprung later, when “the household’s alcohol consumption” for the year 1935 is stated as £920 (240). Here too, however, the cited source has been misread; it shows bills of £406 at Chartwell plus £109 supplied to the Churchills at their London flat, hence a grand total of £515 (which the author has obviously added to the Chartwell part, which is thus double-counted). I happily acknowledge that Lough kindly cites my own work, and that of David Reynolds, at other points; but a reference to my Mr. Churchill’s Profession, pp. 135–37, would have saved this particular error. This is my own quibble with the evidence that Lough cites on a matter that I am sure will excite the keen interest of many Churchillians. So let me conclude by making clear that there is no reason to mistrust David Lough’s work in general, since it clearly constitutes a welcome expansion of our understanding of Churchill in ways that break important new ground.
Peter Clarke is author of Mr. Churchill’s Profession: Statesman, Orator, Writer (Bloomsbury, 2012).