Friday, 19 April 2019

Reliving Churchill’s 1,009 lives

Andrew Roberts
Phyllis Court Club

BY Andrew Roberts’s own calculation, his new biography of Winston Churchill is the 1,009th book to be written about the great man. Why yet another?

Roberts’s very convincing answer lies not only in his profound respect for Churchill and his historical command of the period but in the emergence of new material.

The jewel in the crown is his access to the private diaries of King George VI, as well as the newly available journal of Mary Soames, Churchill’s daughter, for the crucial year of 1940.

As for the King and the Prime Minister, they lunched together every Tuesday. Servants were sent away. Afterwards the monarch recorded what they’d discussed. Churchill was the only one of his four premiers to be called by his first name.

Andrew Roberts’s new life is imposingly titled Walking with Destiny. From his earliest days, Churchill believed that he was reserved for something special. At school he even foresaw himself one day saving “London, the country, the Empire”.

This sense of destiny was reinforced by his frequent escapes from death. With more lives than a cat, he survived illness (pneumonia), accident (house fire, near drowning, plane and car crashes), and enemy action in the Sudan and the trenches of World War One.

Churchill was a “natural gambler” — an 18th century adventurer like his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, rather than a late Victorian, the period into which he was born.

Driven by passions, often tearful, he always displayed great physical and moral courage, as well as good humour. Roberts put to rest the “black dog” myth — Churchill could be depressed when things went wrong but he was not a depressive.

Questions from the large and attentive audience at Phyllis Court included ones on the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt (genuinely friendly) and whether there was anyone else in the 1940 government who might have led resistance to the Nazis (there was no one).

Asked what Churchill would have thought of Brexit and the current politics, Roberts neatly sidestepped by citing Mary Soames’s opinion that it was no good musing on “What would Winston say?”

By the end of the session Andrew Roberts had more than justified the need for that 1,009th book.

Philip Gooden

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