Finest Hour 183, First Quarter 2019
Two of Winston Churchill’s longest serving private secretaries were, like the man they worked for, keen and sharp-witted observers, as shown here.
John (known as “Jock”) Colville (1915–87) was as an Assistant Private Secretary to Churchill twice during the Second World War, his service interrupted by time in the RAF. He served Churchill again, as a Joint Principal Private Secretary, in 1951–55. He also worked briefly for Clement Attlee in 1945. When Attlee praised one of his own appointments as someone who “was at Haileybury, my old school,” Colville recorded in his diary that “Churchill, though he sometimes said nice things about me, never included in his recommendations that we were both Old Harrovians. I concluded that the old school tie counted even more in Labour than in Conservative circles.”
Anthony Montague Browne (1923–2013) also served as an RAF pilot during the Second World War and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions against the Japanese in Burma. He joined Churchill’s staff when he was chosen to be Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister in September 1952. After Churchill’s retirement in 1955, Montague Browne continued to serve Churchill as Private Secretary until Churchill’s death ten years later. When the behavior of Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden became increasingly difficult to cope with in 1953, Montague Browne remarked to Eden’s Private Office: “The difference between us is that I work for a great historical figure, and you work for a great hysterical one.”