Friday, October 03, 2008

The Churchill Series – Oct. 3, 2008

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

In March 1991 Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, spoke at the International Churchill Societies' meeting in London. He offered his listeners “a biographer’s reflections,” referencing in particular his classic one-volume Churchill: A Life.

Here’s part of Gilbert’s reflections:

Churchill was always at the front of new ideas and radical ideas. I found a very interesting letter, which [his daughter]Lady [Mary] Soames helped me decipher, which Churchill wrote to Clementine while he was at a shooting weekend near York in 1910, and surrounded by all the action of the shoot: "I expect I will have a headache tomorrow night after firing so many cartridges. All the glitter and excitement of the world appeals to me but not, thank God, in comparison with serious things."

This was the period when serious things with which Churchill was concerned included the two great pieces of legislation - the Mines Bill, which established decent conditions in the mines, including for the first time pit-head baths which had henceforth to be provided by the owners; and also the Shops Bill, every clause of which, save one, was destroyed by a hostile Parliament, but every clause of which in due course entered the Statute Book, to the benefit of hundreds of thousands of working people.

The one element Churchill was able to bring in then, in 1911, was the compulsory meal breaks for all people working on the shop floor. So he was the creator, not only of pit-head baths, but of the British tea break. Incidentally, he was enormously proud, and rightly so, when as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1927, he abolished the tax on tea which had existed since the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth.
Almost all of you reading this are Americans. I don’t doubt that you’re saying to yourselves something like:
”Of course he’d want to get rid of the tea tax. That feeling came to him from his American mother.”
Gilbert’s entire reflections are here. I hope you all find time this weekend to give them a look. You’ll be well rewarded.

My thanks go to the Churchill Centre for hosting Sir Martin's reflections.

I hope you all have a very nice Fall weekend.