There is no doubting the enthusiasm of both Warren Clarke (Churchill) and Jeremy Clyde (Halifax) for their roles in the play “Three Days in London,” which opened at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. The two experienced actors visited the Archives Centre and responded knowledgably to being shown some of the original documents from 1940, including the diaries of Jock Colville and Leo Amery and some of Churchill’s speech notes.
The play is about the debates in the War Cabinet between 26 and 28 May 1940, at which Lord Halifax proposed using Mussolini (then still neutral) to explore peace terms with Nazi Germany. It is ground well covered by John Lukacs in his book “Five Days in London, May 1940” though interestingly John is not credited in the programme. Playwright Ben Brown has certainly drawn dialogue from contemporary sources, and has his characters quoting extensively from the Cabinet minutes and the texts of Churchill’s speeches. But, of course, he has also used his imagination to fill in the gaps and speculate on the nature of the conversations between the principal protagonists, chiefly Churchill, Chamberlain and Halifax with supporting roles by Attlee and Greenwood.
The transition from real to imaginary does not always make for smooth dialogue, and, until the second half, the play felt a bit like a series of tableaux, lacking a sustained driving narrative and momentum. The need to give background information also leads to some unlikely and unrealistic conversation, not least between Churchill and Chamberlain about their respective views in the 1930s.
I did like the decision to use Jock Colville, one of Churchill’s private secretaries and the chronicler of these events through his diary, as the narrator. His role in ushering the others in and out of the Prime Minister’s presence helps ease the transition between scenes. Warren Clarke’s Churchill is all bulldog, glowering and angry. He does convey a man of conviction under pressure.
Though Colville claims at the outset that even Churchill wobbled, it is not at all clear that Clarke’s Churchill does wobble. He grudgingly allows Halifax to draft a memorandum, which he then opposes. Perhaps there was a bit too much anger, maybe at the expense of some of the energy and charisma that must also have been there. Jeremy Clyde’s Halifax was superb: aristocratic, reserved, and unable to comprehend Churchill’s desire to fight when there might be an alternative, however unpalatable. Yet if Churchill was too hard, Chamberlain seemed too soft. It was difficult to reconcile this portrayal of a nice and reasonable and essentially ordinary man with the hard-edged politician who dominated British politics in the late Thirties, and who remained a powerful force and Leader of the Conservative Party.
“Three Days in May” has great moments and some wonderful dialogue (how could it not). It captures the claustrophobia of Whitehall and the sense of impending disaster, as Belgium falls and France teeters on the brink. It reminded me of the importance of those days, but it did not quite convince me. Did Halifax try and blackmail Churchill? Did Churchill blackmail Chamberlain? If so, one suspects they did it far more subtly than is conveyed here. But I suspect Sir Winston would be the first to acknowledge the difference between theatre and history.
A Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir of Winston and Clementine Churchill’s Youngest Child, by Mary Soames. Doubleday, hardbound, illus. 416 pages, £25, Amazon UK £15.59. To be published by Random House, USA in May 2012, 352 pages, $28, Kindle edition $13.99.
Mr. Plumpton is a former president of The Churchill Centre and has contributed to Finest Hour for thirty years. An enthusiastic sailor, he named his first boat Enchantress, after Churchill’s pre-World War I Admiralty yacht.
It may be apocryphal, but Randolph Churchill is said to regretted the difficulty of acorns surviving in the shade of a great oak. That’s true sometimes, but not always. In some cases, acorns thrive, and fall not far from the parent. One such example is Mary Churchill, now The Lady Soames, Patron of The Churchill Centre, whose personal story is wonderfully told in her long-awaited autobiography—and what a tale it is.
Author of five previous books on her family, Lady Soames recounts the rapid-fire events of her first twenty-five years, culminating in her marriage to Christopher Soames in 1947. She was born at the same time as her father made an offer to purchase Chartwell Manor, a house she has treasured all of her life. This book brings Chartwell alive as a home better than any guidebook.
She opens with a poignant account of the sad death in 1921 of Marigold Churchill, the beloved “Duckadilly.” A year later Mary arrived: “Perhaps I was, for my parents, the child of consolation.” We meet Maryott White (“Cousin Moppet” or “Nana”), Clementine’s cousin and Mary’s godmother, nanny/governess and lifelong friend. With her parents often in London and abroad, “Nana in all matters ruled my existence—always loving and always there.”
Prior to going to school, Nana introduced the precocious young child to the joys of the literature: a passion that has remained throughout her life. Reading aloud by Nana began at tea-time and continued through an extended (intentionally) preparation for bed. Lady Soames recalls being enthralled the Beatrix Potter books, Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: a cornucopia of children’s classics. She was one of the first to be spellbound by her father’s renderings of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome. A still treasured possession is a gift from her sister Sarah, “a lovely green leather- bound copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse, much faded now”). Her love of literature expanded to the theatre, and there is a litany of the great plays of the 1930s and 1940s that she enjoyed with friends and family.
BBC.COM, Friday 4 November 2011—Richard Burton and Albert Finney are among the actors Warren Clarke will be emulating when he plays Winston Churchill in a new West End production, Three Days in May, but what is it like to take on the role of Britain’s wartime leader. “I’m a devotee of the man. I think he’s the greatest Englishman probably who ever lived.” So says the actor Robert Hardy, who has played Winston Churchill on no fewer than seven occasions.
Initially Hardy, who had met Churchill while playing in Hamlet with Richard Burton, thought it “an absurd and inappropriate idea” to accept the role.
But after “several very good lunches” with the producer Richard Broke he was, he recalls, “over-persuaded” to take the part.
The result was a magisterial piece of television. In eight hour-long episodes, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, detailed Churchill’s time on the back benches during the late 1920s and 30s, chronicling his dire warnings about the twin dangers of Hitler and appeasement.
Hardy’s charismatic performance was the centrepiece of a narrative that was at once detailed, dramatic and didactic.
At home in the corridors of power By Philip Ziegler
A Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir of Winston and Clementine Churchill’s Youngest Child, By Mary Soames Doubleday, 402pp, £25
THE SPECTATOR, 24 September 2011—To be the daughter of an enormously powerful man must always be an enthralling if sometimes daunting experience. To be close to that father when, almost single-handed, he is shaping the destinies of the nation, if not the world, is to be uniquely privileged. Mary Soames took no part in the decision-making that was happening above her head, but she was singularly well placed to sense what was going on and to understand the man who was riding the storm with such courage and aplomb.
She was much younger than her siblings, her father was absorbed in his Herculean task, her mother knew that her first responsibility must be to her husband. Mary Soames was therefore a solitary child, but she never felt neglected and was incapable of self-pity.
She spent a happy youth in the family home of Chartwell, broken by sojourns in Admiralty House and No. 11 Downing Street, where she distinguished herself by pouring water over the policeman on duty outside the door (a wholly uncharacteristic piece of mischief in a life marked throughout by generosity and consideration for others). She was present at the critical debate when Neville Chamberlain was hounded from office and the way cleared for Winston Churchill to take the lead. From then on she was near the heart of everything:
It was now that my love and admiration for my father became enhanced by an increasing element of hero-worship. I saw how people turned to him in confident hope; and my own daughterly affection became entwined with all the emotions I felt as a young, patriotic Englishwoman.
Professor Stafford is the author of Churchill and Secret Service and related books on wartime intelligence.
Hoodwinking Churchill: Tito’s Great Confidence Trick, by Peter Batty. Shepheard-Wlawyn, hardbound, illus. 384 pages, $42.95, Amazon $32.64.
What is this book about? Simply that President Tito of Yugoslavia, who died in 1980, was “the man who, during World War II… hoodwinked Britain’s staunchly anti-communist Prime Minister into giving his full backing to the communist Partisans and cutting all aid to the anti-communist forces resisting the Germans in Yugoslavia…. Churchill’s decision was based on information provided by two trusted advisers, Fitzroy Maclean and William Deakin, who simply passed on without verification what Tito told them. The deception was compounded by a communist mole at SOE headquarters in Cairo who withheld or doctored information from liaison officers with the anti-communist leader, Draza Mihailovic.” Without Churchill’s support, the blurb tells us, Tito would not have overcome his political opponents to emerge as the country’s leader, and Yugoslavs would have been spared over forty years of harsh communist rule.
If only it were so simple. Remove Churchill, and three more people from the complex situation that was wartime Yugoslavia, and all would have been radically different.
The author is a British journalist and TV producer. His motive for writing the book comes from a bust-up with the BBC over a documentary he made about Tito at the time of the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s—which was, he claims, crudely and savagely re-edited behind his back in order to protect the received “myth” of Tito as the great Partisan hero, as well as the reputation of the late Sir Fitzroy Maclean.
Defending himself from charges that he is a “flip-flopper,” Wyler writes, Romney confused “the Brit every Republican loves with the Brit every Republican loves to hate.”
Romney said: “In the private sector, if you don’t change your view when the facts change, well you’ll get fired for being stubborn and stupid. Winston Churchill said, ‘When facts change, I change too, madam.'”
Wyler correctly notes that this was said by John Maynard Keynes, “the British economist whose theories about government intervention in the economy is reviled by conservatives everywhere.” (Keynes’s actual words were: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”)
We heard Romney’s remark with only a small clang, instead of the large one we usually hear when Churchill is misquoted—because, while Romney had the attribution wrong, he had Churchill’s sentiments right.
Churchill changed parties twice (effectively placing himself against some of the people, all of the time). He even wrote an article defending himself: “Consistency in Politics” (Nash’s Pall Mall, July 1927, reprinted in his book Thoughts and Adventures): “The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.”
A quarter century later, chided for changing his mind in the House of Commons, Churchill retorted: “My views are a harmonious process which keeps them in relation to the current movements of events.” (5 May 1952).
When the present Queen was crowned Churchill mused over his diehard support for her uncle, Edward VIII, who had abdicated in 1936 in favor of his brother, George VI, Britain’s wartime sovereign: “I’m glad I was wrong. We could not have had a better King. And now we have this splendid Queen.” (June 1953).
The main reason Churchill “flip-flopped” so many times was the extraordinary length of his political career: fifty years on the scene. When after the war, the Labour Party wished further to curb the power of the House of Lords, Prime Minister Attlee quoted what Churchill, now a Conservative, had said about the Lords in 1911, as a Liberal, Churchill had called the Lords “one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible, absentee.”
Churchill replied: “Really, I do believe there ought to be a statute of limitations on my remarks. I’m willing to be held responsible for anything I’ve said for the past thirty years, but before that I think a veil should be drawn over the past.”
How many politicians last long enough to make that particular request?
From her private diaries, Winston Churchill’s daughter Lady Soames gives a vivid account of London society at war.
By Lady Soames
[Editors Note: The Daily Mail incorrectly refers to our Patron as “Lady Mary Soames,” when, as she herself has often pointed out, she is “Lady Soames,” having acquired the title by marriage rather than inheritance.]
THE DAILY MAIL, 3 September 2011—It was September 3, 1939. There was a blue summer sky with white clouds floating slowly by and I had made plans to ride with friends in the country.
At 11.15 came the brief statement by Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister. No reply had been received to Britain’s ultimatum that Hitler withdraw from Poland, he said, and, consequently, we were at war with Germany. I found it impossible to believe.
There must have been five or six of us there, subdued and moved by the announcement. Then we set off in a gallop.
This gesture of sheer theatre was the perfect touch – releasing tension and emotions. But I believe it marked the end of our world as we had known it.
During these early days of the war I divided my energies between helping with the major task of sewing blackout curtains and doing four-hour shifts as a telephonist at the ambulance headquarters in Westerham, near our home at Chartwell in Kent.
My father Winston Churchill had become First Lord of the Admiralty and it was planned, to my delight, that I should live in London with my parents. Just short of my 18th birthday, we moved into Admiralty House, between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade.
I started as soon as possible at Queen’s College, Harley Street, joining a part-time course in English Literature, History and French. I also enrolled with the Red Cross making bandages: this was a severe test of my patriotism, as my natural aptitude with needle and thread is zero.
I much preferred my shifts at a Forces canteen at Victoria Station (except when one of my superiors took the unsporting view that I talked too much to the customers and planted me behind the steaming tea and coffee urns, from where I emerged rather crossly, and with my hairdo predictably ruined). I was unashamedly happy and excited by what I regarded as my first taste of ‘grown-up’ life – the badges of which were a telephone in my room and a latchkey.
‘It was now that my love and admiration for my father became enhanced by an element of heroworship. My affection became inextricably entwined with all the emotions I felt as a young, patriotic Englishwoman’
London social life was lively – theatres were full, there were plenty of nightclubs and often we would dine where we could dance. The Savoy, the Dorchester, the Cafe de Paris and Kettner’s were favourites.
From her private diaries, Lady Mary Soames recalls how she feared her father Winston Churchill would have a seizure after a row with her brother.
By Lady Soames
[Editors Note: The Daily Mail incorrectly refers to our Patron as “Lady Mary Soames,” when, as she herself has often pointed out, she is “Lady Soames,” having acquired the title by marriage rather than inheritance.]
THE DAILY MAIL, 10 September 2011—In Part 1, Lady Soames recalled dancing the night away in wartime London, listening spellbound to her father Winston Churchill’s speeches and witnessing his grief at his electoral defeat in 1945.
Here, in the second extract from her touching new book, she looks back on family traumas, narrow escapes and her unusual courtship…
My father Winston had fallen in love at once and forever with Chartwell Manor, which stands on a hilltop commanding the most sensational view to the south over the Weald of Kent.
Below, the hillside falls away to a lake, fed by a spring and alongside the valley ran a wide belt of beech woods. Blushing bride: Mary accompanied by her father, Winston Churchill, on the day of her wedding to Christopher Soames in 1947
Blushing bride: Mary accompanied by her father, Winston Churchill, on the day of her wedding to Christopher Soames in 1947
I was nearly two years old when our family moved in and my first memory is snapshot-clear and must be from that summer of 1924.
I am lying in my big pram under the great yew tree on the lawn in front of the arcaded windows of the new dining room. Woken from my mid-morning siesta, I am greatly bored.
I am really too big now for the pram and start jiggling, and – securely held by my harness – manage to rock my ‘boat’.
Now I try a back-and-forth movement: this is great fun, except the pram pitches forward on to its handle, and I slide down, held awkwardly suspended by my straps.
Suddenly, grown-ups clutching white table napkins are running towards me – a luncheon party was in progress and my plight had been observed: I am rescued, taken into the dining room, consoled and made much of. I think dining-room life is very agreeable and plan to join it as soon as may be.
There was a wide age gap between myself and older siblings: Sarah was nearly eight years old, Randolph 11 and Diana 13 when I appeared on the family scene. I found myself alternately in the roles of new cuddly toy and real little bore.
According to The New York Times, the asking prize is $56 million and one of the potential buyers is said to be the Chanel Foundation.
La Pausa, a chateau of “sophisticated simplicity” was built on the French Riviera for Coco Chanel, the world-famous fashion designer, by her lover, the Duke of Westminster. Subsequently, in 1953, La Pausa had become the home of Emery and Wendy Reves.
With its spectacular views of Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean, five-acres of exotic gardens, pool, seven bedrooms and a vast reception hall, as well as its long and colorful history involving some of the world’s best known artists, musicians, writers and political personalities, as guests, La Pausa, is a unique property.
It went on the market as part of the estate bequeathed by Wendy Reves. According to her original will composed and signed in September 1989, at her Chalet L’Ermitage in Glion, Switzerland, she directed that “40% of the income of the original, compiled, invested capital should be given to the Wendy & Emery Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary.” The institute, she has endowed.
Having an astute business mind, in her will Wendy instructed the executor to hire Sotheby’s or Christie’s to sell La Pausa dispose of furnishing, artworks and decorative items. “Money is our objective,” she wrote, “to be added to the capital of the Reves Foundation.”
She added: “Attention: Every item at La Pausa, has value…Even the antique kitchen utensils plus a marble table in the kitchen, which I was offered $40,000 from one of the great chefs of France.”
She believed that items auctioned off from La Pausa would bring premium prizes. “They are associated with guests who visited or stayed at La Pausa, such as Winston Churchill, Gen. De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Greta Garbo, Somerset Maugham, and many others,” she used to say.
THE TELEGRAPH, 8 April 2006—Avilla on the French Riviera built by the Second Duke of Westminster for his lover, Coco Chanel, and later the setting for banquets attended by royalty, statesmen and film stars, has been put up for sale.
With its spectacular views of Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean, an acre-and-a-half of exotic gardens, pool, seven bedrooms and vast reception hall, La Pausa – as the house was known in its heyday – is expected by its present owner, a German businessman, to fetch around £7 million.
As La Pausa, built in the belle epoque style for which Roquebrune Cap Martin became renowned, the property was a favourite retreat of Sir Winston Churchill, a close friend of Emery and Wendy Reves, who bought it from Chanel in 1953.
The beautiful surroundings also fired Sir Winston’s artistic imagination, inspiring his painting The View of Menton and Italy from La Pausa. It is now known as Villa Egerton, apparently the choice of subsequent British owners.
But it was during Chanel’s ownership that the house enjoyed its early celebrity. The Duke chose the location while sailing the Riviera with the couturier in his yacht.
To please his mistress, the duke bought five acres just outside Roquebrune Cap Martin in 1927 and commissioned a young architect, Robert Streitz, to design the house.
Chanel made repeated trips from Paris to supervise the work, paying such attention to the detail of its interior design that she insisted on the installation of a replica of the stone staircase she remembered from the French orphanage where she grew up.
THE CAMBRIDGE NEWS, 7 September 2011—Actor Warren Clarke got a personal perspective on his latest role during a tour of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge yesterday. The Dalziel and Pascoe star is at Cambridge Arts Theatre this week, playing Winston Churchill in Three Days in May, a new political thriller about the critical period in May 1940 when Britain teetered on the brink of giving in to Hitler.
Yesterday, Clarke was joined by co-star Jeremy Clyde – who plays Lord Halifax – for a tour of the purpose-built archives centre at Churchill College, which houses around 3,000 boxes of Churchill’s letters and documents.
Treasures shown to the actors by the centre’s director, Allen Packwood, included original speeches, rare photos and papers from the War Cabinet.
Clarke told the News it was a challenge playing the man voted Greatest Briton: “It’s challenging because people know who he is.
“They have seen him, and can still see him in footage. They can hear and see him making speeches. It’s a challenge to get close to the man, but every role is a challenge and, if it’s not, you shouldn’t be doing it.
Mike Scialom is mesmerised by a tour-de-force performance from Warren Clarke as Winston Churchill.
THE CAMBRIDGE NEWS, 6 September 2011—A BELL tolls in the opening scene of Three Days in May. Five men are at prayer in front of a map of Europe. A sixth, the narrator – Winston Churchill’s aide de camp, Jock Colville (James Alper) – tells us that Great Britain’s darkest hour is at hand.
It is the end of May, 1940: the enemy is at the gate. On May 26, French premier Paul Reynard flies to London with proposals for negotiations which he puts to Churchill. Dunkirk is the backdrop to the decision that must be taken – does the British Government press on with its resistance to Nazism or does it sue for peace?
Writer Ben Brown suggests, via his interpretation of Colville’s diaries, that this was the moment when Churchill wobbled. I’m not sure that this revisionist interpretation of events is entirely accurate because, although it was certainly the moment when Churchill might have wobbled, it’s not actually clear he did. What he certainly did was give the appearance he could be up for a bit of wobbling so as to snare his key opponent, the foreign secretary of the day, Lord Halifax, who was chief cheerleader for the appeasers.
How much of this deception was acting on Churchill’s part and how much of it was a genuine period of self-doubt is all about interpretation, and conveying this is a task that would prove to be the better of most actors, but not so here at the Arts Theatre this week, thanks to the superb casting of Jeremy Clyde as Lord Halifax, only bested by Warren Clarke as Churchill.
X Factor finalist Tracy Solomon among the talent taking to the stage at the Westerham concert
By Jenna Pudelek, chief reporter
KENT NEWS, Friday, August 26, 2011 — Chartwell the country home of Sir Winston Churchill is set to host a tribute concert and aerial display to the Royal Air Force.
The Musical Salute to the Royal Air Force takes place in the tranquil gardens of the National Trust property in Westerham next weekend (September 3-4).
Audience members have been promised a “massively challenging and unique musical programme” played by the Central Band of the RAF.
The Spitfire Choir, which is made up of sixteen personnel, 50 Air Training Corps Cadets, the narration by the RAF’s Presentation Team, an opera singer, Fiona Howell, and a contemporary singer, X Factor finalist Tracy Solomon.
Aerial displays will be provided by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the RAF’s Chinook demonstration and, only on Saturday, The Blades Aerobatic Team.
Andy Pawsey, creative director and former RAF Squadron Leader, said: “Our events will always seek to combine different presentation elements with the highest production values. We want to tell stories, to engage with the spectators, we want to make them laugh and make them cry and leave with a little more knowledge of the work of our brave servicemen and women.”
CNN.COM, 8 August 2011 – Before returning to the States this weekend, I and others in my family spent enthralled hours at the Churchill War Rooms in London, along with the new museum in his honor next door. Now, there was a leader! There was a man whose example shouts out to us now in our hour of trouble.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the turmoil of this past week has sparked cries for those in political power to step up and for God’s sake, lead. Fears are spreading across Europe as well as the U.S. that not only are our economies teetering but our politicians are ineffectual.
In their summit a short while ago, leaders of European democracies promised they had fixed the problems of their weakest player, Greece. Instead, their solution was so timid that fears of default have spread to Italy and Spain, the third and fourth largest economies in the euro zone. In the U.S., President Obama and Congressional leaders assured us that their budget deal would put us on a safe path. Instead, markets plunged and Standard & Poors stripped our county of its AAA credit rating for the first time ever.
BLETCHLEY PARK, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, JULY 15TH — The Queen unveiled a memorial sculpture by artist Charles Gurrey to wartime codebreakers during a historic visit to Bletchley Park today. In her dedication Her Majesty said:
‘We gather here to commemorate the work of that remarkable group of people.
“It is impossible to overstate the deep sense of admiration, gratitude, and national debt that we owe to all those men and, especially, women. They were called to this place in the greatest of secrecy—so much so that some of their families will never know the full extent of their contribution—as they set about on a seemingly impossible mission; a massive challenge in the field of cryptanalysis: for the first time pitting technology against technology. And so, these huts and buildings became the centre of a world-wide web of intelligence communications, spanning the Commonwealth and further afield.
‘This was the place of geniuses such as Alan Turing. But these wonderfully clever mathematicians, language graduates and engineers were complemented by people with different sets of skills, harnessing that brilliance through methodical, unglamorous, hard slog. Thus the secret of Bletchley’s success was that it became a home to all the talents.
“We can be proud of the legacy of Bletchley: proud that Colossus was the first computer, and that the British people, supported by our friends and allies, rose to the challenge. At heart we have always been a nation of problem solvers. This natural aptitude was taken to new heights by the emergency of war, showing that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and that battles can be won, and many lives saved, by using brainpower as well as firepower; deliberation as well as force.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.