About Churchill and his world

“Let It Roll”: Churchill’s Chartwell Cinema

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 26

By Justin Reash

Justin Reash is Deputy Editor of Finest Hour and works at the University of Michigan.


Churchill. Chartwell. Cinema. How did an unused room on the lower level of Chartwell become a portal for Churchill’s escapism? By chance, as it happens. Though not a subject found in many books or academic studies, films played an important role in Winston Churchill’s life. They were an extension of his personality. Like painting, watching movies helped him to relax.

Furthermore, as an artist himself, films allowed Churchill to criticize and explore the creativity of others. But movies held another attraction for him. Stories are told on the screen, and Churchill was passionate for stories. He wrote stories, spoke stories, and painted stories. Thus, films were yet another medium for him to live his storied life.

Churchill’s love for the cinema produced memories for people beyond himself. His granddaughter Celia Sandys says that some of her first memories of Chartwell, her grandfather’s home in Kent, are those of watching films in rooms that smelled of “Napoleon brandy and cigars and my grandfather saying ‘let it roll’”— which was the signal to start the film. Lady Williams of Elvel, who as Jane Portal worked as a secretary to Churchill from 1949 to 1955, remembers spending many weekend evenings in the cinema and how much pleasure it brought her boss.

Celia and Jane recently discussed the Chartwell cinema together at the 2017 International Churchill Conference in New York City. Based on their memories and those recorded by others, we can tell the story of how, thanks to good friends and new technology, Churchill’s treasured home became the epicenter for one of his great passions and most important forms of entertainment.

Failed but Fateful Gift

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Love, Self-Sacrifice, and Whomping the Bad Guys: Winston Churchill’s Favorite Films

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 22

By Robert James

Robert James received his Ph.D. in English from UCLA. He is author of the series Who Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars.


Winston Churchill had excellent taste in movies. His three favorite films have all remained recognized classics, beloved by fans for generations: Charlie Chaplin’s masterwork, City Lights (1931); Alexander Korda’s romance That Hamilton Woman (1941); and Laurence Olivier’s most innovative work as a director, Henry V (1944). City Lights is a strong candidate for the greatest of Chaplin’s films, as well as the height of American silent film. That Hamilton Woman tops the category of the doomed lover genre, as well as being the most enduring of the three films Olivier made with Vivien Leigh. Henry V broke new cinematic ground in adapting Shakespeare, and for many endures as the finest of all Shakespeare films not directed by Orson Welles or Akira Kurosawa. Churchill loved all three of these, and had a hand in either promoting or creating them—or both.

City Lights

Charlie Chaplin was facing disaster aft er Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie,” on 26 October 1927. But then, so was all of Hollywood, although it took people time to recognize that—and nobody took longer than Chaplin, the king of the silent screen, the most famous face in the world (even today, people are more likely to recognize Chaplin than any other movie star of the first half of the Twentieth Century—except perhaps Mickey Mouse). Chaplin would go on making silent films long aft er everybody else had converted to sound; he did not release his first true talking picture until The Great Dictator in 1940. He had other tragedies on his hands as well, including the troubled production of The Circus (the sets burned down), his mother’s death, his ugly scandalous divorce from his second wife, and the IRS demanding payment of back taxes.

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Action This Day – Autumn 1892, 1917, 1942

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 40

By Michael McMenamin


125 Years ago
Autumn 1892 • Age 18
“If He Fails Again…”

Winston’s brother Jack joined him at Harrow in the fall and the two boys shared a room. On 24 September, their mother wrote to Winston: “I hope you & Jack are settled and comfortable. Do write & tell me all about it, & what you find your room wants.” In fact, their room did not want for much as he advised her in a letter on one occasion: “The room is very beautiful. We purchased in London sufficiency of ornaments to make it look simply magnificent.” He later wrote that “The room is now very nice, in fact it is universally spoken of as the best room in the House.”

On 25 October, Lord Randolph advised his sons that their mother was “extremely ill yesterday and we were rather alarmed.” In fact, Lady Randolph was diagnosed on 12 October as having an enlarged ovary that was causing her a great deal of pain for which the treating physician had advised her to “rest and do nothing to bring on pain.” By 22 October, her condition had not improved and she was given morphine as “the absolute necessity of controlling the pain.” The problem did not clear up until early in December.

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An Impressionistic View: Winter Sunshine, Chartwell

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 24

By Barry Phipps

Barry Phipps is an art historian and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. He wishes to thank Katherine Carter and the staff at Chartwell for assistance with this article.


The snow has stopped falling. Chartwell and the garden sit under a hefty, white cloak. The air is cold, quiet, and still. Sunshine dazzles, reflected by the snow and glowing from the house; only the shadows of trees and shrubs give respite from the intensity of the phosphorescent light.

The grounding colours of Winter Sunshine, Chartwell (1924/5) are greens, browns, and blacks, which are constructed to frame the view of the house between the foliage of shrubs and trees. The house is draped in russet colours of reds, oranges, and yellows, contrasting sharply with the background of deep shadows. The white paint is laid thick, with heavy layers foregrounding the vista, as if it had just fallen and now rests upon our view. An intense sense of sunlight shimmers across the scene. The colours are sensational rather than representative, lending the painting an emotional dimension. It is a work that prioritises subjectivity over observation.

The painting is one of Churchill’s most important. It is the work that elevated his hobby from personal pastime to critical acclaim. The story of how the painting was submitted anonymously to an amateur art exhibition is well-documented. On the reverse of the canvas is a letter signed by Oswald Birley relating how he, as one of the judges for the exhibition, awarded it first prize. He did so, however, against the wishes of one of the judges, Sir Joseph Duveen, who is said to have refused to believe it was by an amateur. It was only when the renowned art historian Kenneth Clark sided with Birley that the prize was duly awarded. Emboldened by this success, Churchill subsequently entered the same painting, under the pseudonym David Winter, to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, which gained him entry into the RA in 1947. Read More >

The Dream That Refused to Die: A Country Seat

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 08

By David Loug

David Lough is author of No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money (Head of Zeus, Picador, 2015).


Was it the rolling acres of Blenheim or the chicken and rabbits of Banstead? Something in Winston Churchill’s childhood kept propelling him toward the dream of his own house in the country, surrounded by land and animals. It lay beyond reach until the First World War, when property prices had fallen far enough by 1915 for the two Churchill brothers to lease a small estate where their young families could spend the summer together. It was the land around Hoe Farm rather than its fifteenth-century house that appealed: “It really is a delightful valley and the garden gleams with summer jewellery,” Churchill wrote to Jack.1

The lease lasted just one summer, but his wife Clementine was equally smitten; that winter while Churchill fought in the trenches she wrote of her own longing for “a little country basket.”2 Churchill found on his return that he could earn much more than he expected by writing articles for newspapers, so the hunt was soon on for what he described to Sir Archibald Sinclair, a large landlord himself, as a permanent “country seat.” “I wish to find a place to end my days amid trees & upon grass of my own!” he wrote his former companion in the trenches. “Freed from the penury of office these consolations become possible.”3

First Efforts

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Fifteen Shades of Churchill

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 46

Review by John Campbell

Richard Toye, ed., Winston Churchill: Politics, Strategy and Statecraft, Bloomsbury, 2017, 231 pages, $29.95/£21.99. ISBN 978–1474263856


Readers of Finest Hour know better than anyone that there is no end to the outpouring of books about Winston Churchill, focussing on ever more obscure corners of his titanic life. This slim volume, on the contrary, seeks to encompass the most important elements of his whole career, not in another full-scale biography—there have surely been enough of those—but in fifteen short essays on different strands or themes.

It is not entirely clear who it is aimed at. It aspires simultaneously to be “suitable for those coming to Churchill for the first time” while also “providing new insights for those already familiar with his life.” But inevitably it falls between stools—too academic for the first category, but too brief to offer much to the second. It is best seen as a concise survey of how a number of distinguished scholars view Churchill today.

What is original, however, is that the endnotes provide full references to the papers held at Churchill College, Cambridge, now digitised and available online, while an e-book edition provides links to the original documents. So perhaps the real target audience is students. The fifteen essays are of variable quality. The first two or three, covering Churchill’s early career, are a bit perfunctory, adding little to the received picture, though Peter Catterall defends Churchill’s controversial 1925 decision as Chancellor of the Exchequer to put Britain back on the gold standard, arguing that it could have worked and was less responsible for provoking the general strike the following year than has often been alleged.

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Action This Day

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 42

By Michael McMenamin


125 Years ago
Spring 1892 • Age 17
“His Quick and Dashing Attack”

Winston ’s parents knew of his interest in fencing, but he modestly downplayed his talents, telling his father in a mid-February letter, “I am getting on with my fencing and hope, with luck, to be school champion.” A month later he wrote his mother: “I am awfully excited about the fencing which comes off on Tuesday. I know I shall get beaten yet…!”

On 24 March, Winston wrote his mother, telling her that he had “won the Fencing” at Harrow and received a “very fine cup.” His earlier modesty was cast aside as he went on to say, “I was far and away the first. Absolutely untouched in the finals.” He had also written to his father about it, and Lord Randolph replied on 25 March: “I congratulate you on your success. I only hope fencing will not too much divert your attention from the army class.” His father enclosed a twopound note “with which you will be able to make a present to yr fencing master.”

Winning the fencing championship at Harrow meant that Winston would represent his school at the all-Public Schools gymnastic, boxing, and fencing competition to be held at Aldershot in early April. He wrote to his father on 27 March asking him if he would be able to attend, as “I would so much like you to go.” Unfortunately, he also asked his father if he “could send me a sovereign for myself,” since it “would be great service in making up my accounts.”

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Universal Appeal: Churchill’s Essay about Extraterrestrial Life THE FULTON REPORT - From the National Churchill Museum

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 40


An eleven-page essay by Winston Churchill entitled “Are We Alone in the Universe?” in the archives of the National Churchill Museum has developed into an international news story that revealed Churchill was clearly open to the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets.

Churchill drafted his first version of the essay in 1939 and then revised the text slightly in the 1950s. The manuscript of the revised version was among four boxes of materials that were donated to the museum some thirty years ago by Wendy Reves, widow of Churchill literary agent Emery Reves. There it sat unnoticed until its rediscovery last year.

Seeking insights about the validity or the accuracy of Churchill’s astronomical perspective, Timothy Riley, Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum, provided the essay to Westminster science faculty as well as renowned astrophysicist Mario Livio, during his Hancock Symposium lecture at Westminster College last fall.

Excitement grew when Livio and the Westminster science faculty expressed great amazement over Churchill’s faith in science and his belief in potential alien life on other planets. Riley gave support to Livio, who wrote an extensive article about the essay for the 16 February 2017 issue of Nature, the prestigious science journal.

The article touched off an avalanche of news stories in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, The Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report, The Guardian, the South China Morning Post, the Times of Israel, El Universio, and El Diario and was carried by the newsagencies Reuters, Agence France-Press (AFP), AFP Japan, and Xinhua, the official news agency of the People’s Republic of China. And the story continued to grow.

Newsweek, Smithsonian, the Christian Science Monitor, The Independent, The Times of London, and hundreds of other publications began using the news story, followed by regional, national, and international broadcast outlets from NBC and Fox News to NPR and the BBC, as well as Yahoo and dozens of major online news portals worldwide. Read More >

Churchill’s Marlborough as the “Sum of Things”

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 32

By John von Heyking


Winston Churchill wrote his biography of his great ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, ostensibly to counter the claims of Thomas Babington Macaulay and other historians about Marlborough’s apparent failures as a military commander, his corruption and selfishness, his reliance upon Prince Eugene’s professional knowledge for his victories, and sheer luck. All culminated in what Churchill characterized as “Macaulay’s story of the betrayal of the expedition against Brest” that was “an obstacle I could not face.”1 Churchill faced and repudiated it along with the other charges and presents Marlborough instead as the greatest military and political leader Great Britain has ever known.

More than Churchill’s attempt to save Marlborough’s reputation, however, what strikes the reader with this biography, published first in 1933 with subsequent volumes appearing up until 1938 (the time of the Munich Agreement), are the parallels Churchill draws with his contemporary situation. Marlborough was written during the important “wilderness years” and led his wife Clementine to claim that writing it had taught him patience.

From Student to Practitioner

Churchill applied many lessons from Marlborough to his own fight against Hitler. The main threat to British liberty and security was a despot in the middle of the continent; Marlborough had to lead an alliance of continental nations against that despot and encircle him on several fronts; naval control of the Mediterranean was necessary before engaging the enemy on the continent (an instance of requiring patience); there was necessity for a vast network of personal spies; Marlborough had military command but lacked leadership of the House of Commons, which Churchill would make a point of combining when he became prime minister; there was a necessity of keeping friendships and covenants with allies as a way of preserving not only national honour but also national security and prosperity; and perhaps most important of all, friendship with one’s greatest ally with whom to share a Clausewitzian coup d’œil of the whole scene and to inspire member armies to fight “as if they were the army of a single nation.”2

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A Younger Winston: A Modern Man of Our Time

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 28

By Randolph Churchill

My father, the younger Winston, like his father Randolph, was born during a tumultuous world war. He loved the fact that he was born on 10 October 1940, during the Battle of Britain, at the Prime Minister’s country house Chequers. The night before, his imminent arrival was foreshadowed by the delivery of a German bomb landing one hundred yards from the house. My father liked to say that he was the next bombshell to arrive at Chequers!


Thus began a life full of adventure, daring, and a role on the international stage, which lasted six decades. He inherited the energy and dynamism of his father—my grandfather—who in 1941 in the Libyan desert with SAS founder David Stirling talked his way into the Benghazi German naval base, remained there for twenty-four hours and succeeded in doing no damage to the enemy before they talked their way out. Randolph had an eventful life, full of political opinion and a good measure of drama. Winston’s mother Pamela, the irrepressible daughter of Lord and Lady Digby of Minterne, met Randolph in autumn 1939 on a blind date and married him three weeks later. Theirs was a generation where the cocktail of the war years provided impetus to getting married expeditiously.

Growing up Winston

It was never going to be easy growing up as effectively an only child (his half-sister Arabella was nine years younger) and also as the namesake and grandson of the legendary wartime Prime Minister. My father noted: “I had come to realise from an early age that the name of Winston Churchill, which I was so proud to bear, was both a lot to live up to and a lot to live down.” He was a young man in a hurry. He would often escort his mother on her travels and lacked the benefit of growing up with siblings and other young ones around him. He never liked structure or authority, and he did not enjoy his time at school. He wanted to get on and make his mark in life.

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J. E. C. Welldon: Churchill’s Head Master at Harrow

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 18

By Fred Glueckstein


In The Churchillians, Winston Churchill’s former Private Secretary Sir John Colville wrote that one of the men from his youth whom Churchill held in high regard was the Head Master of his old school, Harrow. James Edward Cowell (J. E. C.) Welldon was educated at Eton and attended King’s College, Cambridge. He was ordained as a deacon in 1883 and as a priest in 1885. In May 1883, Welldon was appointed Master of Dulwich College. He resigned this post in July 1885 to become the Head Master of Harrow, a position he held from 1885 to 1898.

After Lord Randolph decided that Winston would attend Harrow, Churchill, age thirteen, was required to take the Entrance Examination on 18 March 1888. Churchill was accompanied by Miss Charlotte Thomson, who founded and headed the preparatory school in Brighton that he attended. As explained in My Early Life, however, examinations for Churchill “were a great trial.”

Entrance Exam to Harrow

The subjects Churchill liked were history, poetry, and writing essays. He wrote, however: “The examiners were partial to Latin and mathematics. And their will prevailed. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations. This was especially true of my Entrance Examination to Harrow. The Head Master, Dr. Welldon, however, took a broad-minded view of my Latin prose: he showed discernment in judging my general ability.”1

“This was the more remarkable,” wrote Churchill, “because I was found unable to answer a single question in the Latin paper. I wrote my name at the top of the page. I wrote down the number of the question ‘I’. After much reflection I put a bracket around it thus ‘(I)’. But thereafter I could not think of anything connected with it that was either relevant or true….”2

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FROM THE EDITOR The Churchill Men

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 04

By David Freeman, April 2017


In our last issue we looked at some of the women closest to Winston Churchill. In this issue we look at some of the men who surrounded his life, especially those in his family.

Churchill was the grandson of both the stolid seventh Duke of Marlborough and the mercurial Leonard Jerome. Paul J. Taylor looks at this Yankee entrepreneur and finds that no shortage of the American’s personality found its way into his grandson. Paul Addison then examines the enigmatic relationship between Churchill and his father Lord Randolph and notes a key difference in their political vision.

Much has been written about the relationship between Churchill and his parents, which Churchill saw as unbearably distant. Little attention, however, has been paid to how Lord and Lady Randolph were viewed by their younger son. Celia and John Lee look at the life of Jack Churchill and, in so doing, slightly change our perception of the self-centered young Winston. Similarly, we see Churchill’s own son Randolph somewhat differently by looking at him here through the eyes of his sister Sarah Churchill.

We are also pleased to follow a long standing Churchill tradition of having sons write of their fathers. Randolph Churchill, President of the International Churchill Society, tells the story of his father the “Younger Winston” and the challenges of living up to such a famous name.

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Leading Myths – Chartwell “Manor”

Finest Hour 175, Winter 2017 Page 50 By Stefan Buczacki A common trap that people fall into is to refer to Winston Churchill’s beloved country estate in Kent as “ Chartwell Manor.” Even Mary Soames in her wonderful memoir A Daughter’s Tale made this error. It is true the house was informally, but only ever […]

Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Mauvais appétit

Finest Hour 175, Winter 2017 Page 46 Catherine Heyrendt-Sherman, Winston Churchill: Biographie gourmande series. Paris: Payot-Rivages, 2016, 160 pages, €15. ISBN: 978– 2228916547 Review by Antoine Capet Antoine Capet is Professor Emeritus of British Studies at the University of Rouen. The “Churchill industry” does not only operate in the Anglophone publishing world. France has seen a […]

Action This Day – Winter 1892, Winter 1917, Winter 1942

Finest Hour 175, Winter 2017 Page 40 By Michael McMenamin 125 Years ago Winter 1892 • Age 17 “The food is very queer….” Given the protracted battle Winston had waged with his mother to avoid spending the Christmas holidays with a French family as his Head Master had recommended (“he has bombarded me with letters […]

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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.