BY CELIA LEE AND JOHN LEE
PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, £20 Edmund Leach told us that, far from being the basis of the good society, “the family, with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrets, is the source of all our discontent”.
This new book by Celia and John Lee lends weight to the great social anthropologist’s argument while setting out on a journey to try and destroy what so many “establishment” historians see as myths and caricatures about not only Winston, but the entire Churchill clan.
The family’s rich, influential, hugely privileged and wellconnected members have so influenced the way we see ourselves and understand key events of the last century, particularly the Second World War.
Thanks to an obsession with the Tudors and the Nazis, this is a book that is almost certain to go down well on both sides of the Atlantic.
Churchill fans have already applauded the Lees’s diligent research. Rightly so.
One of the greatest of Winston’s admirers, Andrew Roberts, says that the husband and wife team has done Churchillian history a great service and thrown light on parts of a story that have for too long been in the dark.
Reviews have concentrated on “revelations” that Winston’s American mother, the heiress Jennie Jerome, had a secret affair with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and that she dressed as a geisha girl to get him while still married to Winston’s impotent father, Lord Randolph (who did not die of syphilis, we are finally assured).
The Lees have also introduced us all properly at last to Winston’s little-known younger brother, Jack, who played an important off-stage role in Winston’s life and successes and in holding the Churchill family together during tough financial times.
Aged 15 when Lord Randolph died, Jack was forced to go and work for a family friend, Lord Cassel, and enter the “ungentlemanly” profession of stock broking.
Winston, guardian of the working class during the war, was ashamed his brother had been forced to go into “trade” to earn his keep.
Celia and John Lee wrote a book called Winston and Jack in 2007. But it is this new work that will make the younger Churchill better known to an international public, thus meeting the wish of his son, Peregrine.
When he died of a heart attack in 2002, the Lees spent over seven years sifting through a diamond mine of personal papers, letters, diaries, notebooks and other documents entrusted to them by Peregrine’s widow.
This book brings Jack into the picture but whether this is a work that will really clear up some of the misunderstandings, myths and caricatures spread by Winston Churchill’s growing number of critics remains to be seen.
The late Lord Blake wrote about Churchill’s arrogance, his snobbery, class consciousness and loathing of some members of the darker races and what Kipling damned as “lesser breeds without the law”.
You don’t have to get too far into this new book to see how right Blake was about the man voted the Greatest Briton.
There is much in this useful book that’s well known to students – Churchill’s role in the Anglo-Boer War, the disastrous Dardanelles campaign which has Churchill’s signature all over it and his feverish (and greedy) desire to write his own version of history after 1945.
But to suggest it is some kind of celebration about the loving nature of the Churchills strikes me as over-blown. They were a pretty loathsome lot at times.
What moved me most after two careful readings of this worthwhile book is contained on pages 36 and 37 – the 10year-old Winston begging to be visited by his too busy, or indif ferent, parents while being beaten so badly on his bottom by the perverted headmaster of St George’s school, Ascot, the Rev Herbert William SneydKynnersley.
“Peregrine said the wounds had festered,” write the Lees. “Sneyd-Kynnersley’s abuse of Winston was much talked of in the family for years afterwards.” At Harrow, Winston went looking for the man who’d inflicted such pain and humiliation on him.
When he got to Ascot, he discovered that the vile old pervert had died the year before.
Had Winston found him and carried out his revenge, what then? There’s a story for a Churchill fan to explore and write about.