Friday, May 18, 2007

The Churchill Series - May 18, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

In a review of David Reynolds’ In Command of History, an account of Churchill’s authorship of his six-volume "The Second World War," military affairs author Max Boot recounts some of the impediments to Churchill’s undertaking the work:

For one thing, the government's wartime files would not be opened for decades. Churchill had tried to get around these restrictions by collecting bound volumes of his "personal minutes" and "personal telegrams" while prime minister, but a good case could have been made that they were actually state property. And even if Churchill had been able to make use of his own papers, he would still have needed access to other sealed files to round out his narrative.

To gain the documents he required, Churchill had to promise his successor, Clement Attlee, that he would submit his text for vetting by the government before publication. This would turn Churchill's volumes into a "quasi-official history."

There was still the question of whether it would be worthwhile to write at all. Under Britain's confiscatory tax regime [then in place], Churchill would have owed 97.5 percent of his royalties to the state. "I shan't write while the Government takes all you earn," he growled.

To get around this obstacle, his lawyers came up with a dodge worthy of Enron: Churchill would donate his papers to a trust run by his friends and family, which would sell them to publishers for a handsome sum without any tax liability and provide the proceeds for Churchill to live on. The actual writing of the book would be done for a nominal - and taxable - fee.

Churchill reaped quite a bonanza from this arrangement. His chief literary agent, the press baron Lord Camrose, negotiated lucrative deals with publishers in 15 countries and even more lucrative syndication deals with 50 newspapers and magazines in 40 countries. Churchill was to clear at least $18 million in today's money - enough to secure a very comfortable dotage.
While I can’t be 100% certain, I feel sure there must have been at least one other contingency to the arrangement as Churchill’s papers wound up at the Archives Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge University.

I’m traveling now but will be home Wednesday evening, at which time I’ll check further on the terms of the arrangement.

In the meantime, those of you who wish to are certainly free to check to make sure you’ve paid everything you owe the government. But if I have any say in the matter, I’d rather you just have a nice weekend.