Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Churchill Series - Aug. 21, 2007

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

Today begins a five-part series intended to refute assertions by some historians that Churchill was insensitive to the problems and accomplishments of ordinary people, particularly ones who worked for him.

In this first post historian Maurice Ashley, who as a young academic just beginning his career worked for Churchill during the 30s and remained a friend for life sets out the case (scroll down)others have made for Churchill as insensitive to ordinary people:

Clementine Churchill once remarked to Lord Moran about her husband: "You probably don't realize, Charles, that he knows nothing of the life of ordinary people. He's never been in a bus and only once on the underground."

Taking this as their text, some commentators on Churchill have suggested that he was indifferent to the lot of ordinary people, even those who worked for him. A.J.P. Taylor has written that he was an "atrocious" employer.

A reviewer of William Manchester's book, The Lion Caged, deduced that he treated his research assistants and secretaries badly and underpaid them.

That was certainly not my own experience nor my own impression. He paid me £300 a year on a half-time basis and later raised my salary to £400 a year. When I was with him I applied for a lectureship in history at Reading University: the pay offered was £250 a year and there were a hundred applicants for the post. Later when I joined the Manchester Guardian as a lead-writer I was paid £5 a week.

He always treated me with the utmost consideration, almost as an equal. […]

His secretaries, when I was with him, adored him. They knew he was temperamental and could be annoying, but they recognized that he valued their work and could show consideration. Violet Pearman, then his chief secretary, was devoted to him. When she was taken ill he gave her work to do at home and he gave her daughter money after she died.

Other secretaries received paintings, which they were able to sell at a high price, which gave them comfort when they retired. When I was with him his chauffeur had a wife who was dying of tuberculosis; so Churchill never expected him to work in the evenings.

My own impression is that Churchill was perfectly well aware of the difficulties of ordinary people.
Tomorrow’s post will include details of some legislation Churchill fought for and helped put in place a century ago that had an enormously beneficial effect on the lives of ordinary people than and ever since.

BTW – I respect Ashley but I’m skeptical of most statements about Churchill that come to us via Lord Moran. Can any of you find a source for the Clementine Churchill quote other than Moran? Did she ever confirm it?