Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Ged Martin
An Emeritus Professor of the University of Edinburgh, Ged Martin is a native Londoner who now lives in Ireland. He took First Class Honours in History at Cambridge, where he later earned his Ph.D. During his career he taught in Australia, Ireland, and Canada and received the United Kingdom’s first permanent Chair in Canadian Studies. As a schoolboy, he witnessed a notable intervention of Sir Winston in Parliament.
Aged fourteen, I was given a ticket for the gallery of the House of Commons. My family were Conservative, and I was reared with a fixed belief that Labour were decidedly not up to the mark. Hence it came as something of a surprise to spot that the Conservative Minister of Education answering questions had evidently inherited every advantage that privileged birth could give, except brains. A very shrewd Labour MP, I think from Southampton, wanted to know why the government had been offered land for a new school for £8,000, turned it down—and eventually bought it for £80,000.
I suspect that the Government’s spin-doctors, for I am sure they existed then, had Churchill ready and wound up in the wings and got a “send-him-now” signal from the Treasury Bench. For it was 30 November 1959—the old boy’s eighty-fifth birthday. Sir Winston entered the chamber just under the gallery, and at first I could not see him. But the House erupted, waving order papers. He stood there, and Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell jumped up to ask: “I hope that it will be in order, Mr. Speaker, if I offer to the rt hon. Gentleman, the Member for Woodford (Sir Winston Churchill) our warmest congratulations and best wishes and affectionate greetings, on his 85th birthday.” The Leader of the House, R. A. Butler, added: “May I support the Leader of the Opposition, Sir, and on behalf of the whole House include in the rt hon. Gentleman’s and hon. Friends’ offer our most heartfelt good wishes to my rt hon. Friend.” An obviously moved Churchill rose and replied: “May I say that I most gratefully and eagerly accept both forms of compliment.” And ’twas for all the world as if Southampton had never existed.