In her 1981 memoir Keep on Dancing, Sarah Churchill recalls how her show business aspirations were temporarily placed on hold when she and her sister Diana were called upon by their brother to support the family profession.
In January 1935 the routine of dancing classes was interrupted by a Parliamentary by-election. My brother Randolph decided to stand as an independent Conservative candidate in the Wavertree division of Liverpool. He was not, needless to say, looking for a safe seat, but he took the candidacy with alacrity as a challenge. He commandeered Diana and me to go up to Liverpool to help in the campaign. I murmured something about my dancing, which he imperiously pooh-poohed: politics were far more important. I adored him, so I went meekly—later enthusiastically—to help.
The political hustings were quite familiar since as children we had often accompanied my father on his campaigns. On this occasion my father watched Randolph from afar with a proud paternal eye, but desisted firmly from intruding, although he was obviously dying to. He confined himself to one appearance at an eve-of-poll meeting….[My mother] was away during Randolph’s campaign, so I kept her informed with two long letters:
22 January 1935 Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
…I came up here last night to be with Randolph for his first meeting. It was very exciting. Sunday he was very depressed as he could get hold of no one, and everything was closed. Monday he Read More >
Randolph perhaps epitomises the difficulty of being the son of a famous father. In his twenties, he veered between adoration of his father and bitter accusations of being treated as a ‘wayward and untrustworthy child’, interspersed with periods of excess drinking and ill-considered political initiatives.
Randolph duly stood for parliament in the 1930s but despite the obvious advantage of his father’s support, he was defeated each time, being seen – in true Churchill style – as a political maverick. He was elected as MP for Preston in 1940 but lost his seat at the 1945 General Election. While he had his father’s weaknesses (notably, obstinacy, arrogance and bad temper), he did also inherit some of his strengths, including a gift for writing and considerable personal bravery, serving with the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS) and conducting dangerous missions in the Libyan Desert and Yugoslavia. Yet, ultimately, he lacked his father’s political skills, charm and charisma.
Churchill no doubt loved his son, but sometimes despaired of him. Their strong personalities would often clash.
Churchill’s relationship with his parents was difficult. They were remote and inaccessible, often preoccupied – his beautiful heiress mother, with her social life and her numerous affairs with young men, and his father, with his politics. Churchill doted on his mother and idolised his father and as a child was constantly seeking their attention and praise (not often forthcoming). He was determined to do things differently with his own children. Winston and Clementine had five children; Diana (1909), Randolph (1911), Sarah (1914), Marigold (1918) and Mary (1922). He vowed that, unlike his father, he would spend time with them and was an affectionate and devoted parent, building a tree house at Chartwell for the older three and, utilising his bricklaying skills, a little summer house for the youngest, Mary. With Churchill spoiling his children with affection, Clementine ended up doing most of the disciplining, but she was busy supporting her husband’s political life and work – she always put Winston first – and the children were really brought up by a succession of governesses and nannies. Like their father before them, the three older children, in particular, may have suffered as all three had difficult adult lives.
‘Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and to millions tragic and terrible years?’
Letter from Churchill to Clementine, 23 January 1935, quoted in Official Biography by Gilbert
From right to left: ICS Chairman Laurence Geller, GWU Dean of Libraries Geneva Henry, GWU President Steven Knapp, ICS Vice-Chairman Jean-Paul Montupet, ICS President Randolph ChurchillThe National Churchill Library and Center (NCLC) officially opened on the campus of The George Washington University in the heart of Washington, D. C. on 29 October 2016. Chairman Laurence Geller of the International Churchill Society joined university president Steven Knapp, National Churchill Museum Chairman Jean-Paul Montupet, and Randolph Churchill for the official ribbon cutting.
125 Years ago
Autumn 1891 • Age 17
“He is just at the ‘ugly’ stage”
Lady Randolph had written Lord Randolph in late July that Winston “has improved very much in looks.” She wrote to him again on 25 September that “on the whole he has been a very good boy— but honestly he is getting to be too old for a woman to manage and he really requires to be with a man…He is just at the ‘ugly’ stage—slouchy and tiresome.” In the first volume of the Official Biography of his father, Randolph Churchill wrote of his grandmother that “Unless Winston’s looks greatly fluctuated, it would seem that Lady Randolph was somewhat capricious in her judgment for only two months earlier she had written that he had improved very much in looks.”
His mother’s “ugly” comment, however, was not directed toward her son’s looks. Rather, it was directed at Winston’s manners and maturity, especially towards his mother. That “ugliness” of which she wrote was in full bloom as he reached his seventeenth birthday. The occasion for such a prolonged display of “ugliness” was the desire of Harrow’s Head Master that Winston stay the Christmas holidays with a French family so as to improve his French in preparation for the Sandhurst exams. In this, the Head Master was simply carrying out Lord Randolph’s desire that everything be done at Harrow to ensure that Winston made it into Sandhurst.
Fred Glueckstein is the author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015).
Lady Randolph Churchill loved the literary world. She particularly enjoyed meeting American authors who visited England and often spoke with delight a story of her friend Mark Twain.
Lady Randolph told of a London gathering where Twain asked Mrs. J. Comyns-Carr, “You are an American, aren’t you?” Mrs. Carr explained that she was of English stock and had been brought up in Italy. “Ah, that’s it,” answered Twain. “It’s your complexity of background that makes you seem American. We are rather a mixture, of course. But I can pay you no higher compliment than to mistake you for a countryman of mine.”1 While American-born Lady Randolph found Twain’s comments extremely amusing, it is doubtful that Mrs. Comyns-Carr did.
Other social events often brought Lady Randolph into contact with writers. When Stephen Crane and his wife rented Brede Place, a feudal home in Sussex built in 1350, Lady Randolph and her sisters attended a three-day party that Crane gave for sixty guests, which included Henry James, Joseph Conrad, H. Rider Haggard, and H. G. Wells.
Lady Randolph’s esteem of literature and writers inspired her in late 1898 to conceive the idea of starting a literary magazine. She envisioned a quarterly miscellany edited by herself that contained articles of verse, fiction, and essays by contributors considered to be among the finest writers on both sides of the Atlantic. Each issue was to be individually decorated in a stylish pattern of gilt tooling on leather covers.
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