Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Churchill Series - July 29, 2008

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

Readers Note: Yesterday, outside the series, I posted a few Churchill book recommendations, including three by one of the 20th century's greatest historians, Sir Martin Gilbert. I thought, therefore, you might be interesed to read a bit about Gilbert. So I "dusted off" the following post which first ran in Dec. 2006.


Frequent readers of this series know I often quote passages from the works of Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert. I thought it might be interesting, therefore, to offer something today about Gilbert himself.

So here are excerpts from an interview a writer for an Ottawa, Canada newspaper conducted shortly after the publication of Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life.

Everyone asks Gilbert if he ever actually met Churchill. Regrettably, no. But as a schoolboy he regularly went to the House of Commons and watched him in action, and one night stood outside No. 10 ("You can’t do that now of course") when Churchill gave a dinner party on his resignation.

Gilbert had, of course, met Clementine. "I used to read chapters to her once a month. She insisted I look at all their private letters. . . . She imposed no censorship whatsoever and let anything be used. . . . She felt he was a large enough man to survive things that were not so creditable. You did not need to whitewash someone like him."

The sheer volume of their correspondence amazes even Gilbert. "When he came to Canada, in 1929, every night he would write eight or nine pages to her, and in the trenches during the war, while his fellow officers were sleeping, he would write her five or six pages every night."

Gilbert himself did not have an official assistant for years — "I couldn’t afford one" — until enough money was sprung loose for a graduate researcher on a three months’ trial. He married her.

"We both read all the documents (most of which are photo-copied because of the risk of loss). I write my next chapter and she reads it and points out anything I may have left out. Sometimes she suggests re-writing." The eighth volume is dedicated to her; the new book, to his two children. It was Suzy, his wife, who recently made a drastic alteration to Gilbert’s writing habits.

Over the years a total of 40 books, which include definitive works on the Holocaust and 12 historical atlases, Gilbert has always written longhand, in pen and ink on the right-side pages only, leaving space for alterations on the left. But two years ago when he started on Churchill: A Life, his wife presented him with a personal computer.
The entire interview is here.

Hat tip: The Churchill Centre