December 30, 2016

Finest Hour 174, Autumn 2016

Page 45

David Cannadine, Heroic Chancellor: Winston Churchill and the University of Bristol, 1919–65, Institute of Historical Research, 2016, 78 pages, $15. ISBN 978-1909646186

Review by Christopher Sterling

David Cannadine Heroic ChancellorOf the many “Churchill and…” or “The Untold Story of…” titles, this brief book really is an untold story of one aspect of Churchill’s life few of us know. A man who never attended university, Churchill served as chancellor of the University of Bristol for the last thirty-six years of his life. This booklet is based on a lecture Sir David Cannadine delivered in observance of the half-century anniversary of Churchill’s death.

A word of background for those used to American university practice: in Britain, a university chancellor normally plays only a ceremonial role (as when conferring honorary degrees at graduation, for example), rather than being a fulltime, active administrator. Further, in Churchill’s time an appointment as a university chancellor was typically held for life. This is no longer the case at Bristol, which leaves Churchill the university’s longest-serving chancellor and likely to remain so.

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Churchill, just ending his years at the Exchequer in 1929, was touted for the post by several Bristol academics and others despite his lack of any connection to the West Country school. And for the first fifteen years or so, dutifully garbed in his handsome Chancellor (of the Exchequer) robe, Churchill was often on hand for the requisite ceremonies. His last appearance was in 1954, eleven years before his death.

This is a charming record of Churchill’s role as Bristol’s Chancellor, filling in yet another interesting bit of knowledge about a multi-faceted man. A distinguished academic (both in the UK and now in the US) himself, Cannadine writes with useful inside knowledge of the world(s) of academe.

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