Posts Tagged ‘Paul Reid’

Winston Churchill and “the English-speaking club”

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

reidWinston Churchill the speaker was a force of nature. His rhetorical powers had a critical role to play in saving Europe from the biggest threat it had faced in a millennia, perhaps ever. There’s a reason why his rhetoric worked. Paul Reid writes in The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965: “Churchill, like Samuel Johnson and Shakespeare, could string together phrases that resonated with Glasgow pub patrons, Welsh coal miners, and Cockney laundresses, as well as with the Harold Nicolsons and Lady Astors. At his dinner table or in the Commons during Questions, he sprayed the room with fusillades of bons mots. But his broadcasts and speeches were strategic assaults, not tactical, and were crafted with infinite care. His broadcasts sound so English, but in fact their structural foundations date to Cicero.”

But Churchill was above all a writer, and a professional one (we wrote about that here). According to Reid:

“Churchill had been a professional writer before he became a statesman; he had supported his family with a tremendous stream of books and articles. His love of the language was deep and abiding, he had mastered it as few men have, and he was quick to correct anyone who abused it, especially those who tried to camouflage sloppy thinking with the flapdoodle of verbose military jargon or bureaucratese. He believed, with F.G. Fowler, that big words should not be used when small words will do, and that English words were always preferable to foreign words. He said: ‘Not compressing thought into a reasonable space is sheer laziness.’ On his orders ‘Communal Feeding Centres’ were renamed ‘British Restaurants,’ as ‘Local Defense Volunteers’ had become ‘Home Guard.’ And why not ‘ready-made’ rather than ‘prefabricated’? ‘Appreciate that’ was a red flag for him; he always crossed it out and substituted ‘recognize that.’ Another was ‘intensive’ when ‘intense’ was required. Once [Churchill’s private secretary] John Martin, driving along the Embankment with him, described the winding of the Thames as ‘extraordinary.’ Churchill corrected him: ‘Not “extraordinary” All rivers wind. Rather, “remarkable.”‘ In the margins of official documents, he often quoted Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a copy of which he sent to Buckingham Palace on his first Christmas as prime minister.

fowlers“John Martin believed that the P.M.’s ‘interest in basic English was inspired by politics rather than linguistics: it was a means of promoting “the English-speaking club.”‘ Certainly that was one reason. He believed that all countries where English was spoken, including America, should merge. Here lay a profound contrast with the foreign policies of his predecessors at Downing Street. They had focused upon the Continent and the various combinations of the great powers there. Neville Chamberlain had referred to the United States with amusement and contempt, and called Americans ‘creatures.’ But Churchill, though a European patriot, looked westward, and not only because he knew Hitler could not be crushed without American troops. British to the bone, he was nevertheless the son of an American mother, and long before the war, he had envisaged a union of the world’s English-speaking peoples: the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the far-flung colonies of the British Empire.”

That’s strategy, not tactics.

P.S.  Speaking of Cicero, my colleague Frank Wilson over at Books Inq reminds me that today is the birthday of the Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist, with this quotation, which is altogether fitting for a discussion of Churchill: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero, born on this date in 106 B. C.

Winston Churchill’s skivvies

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

But the skin was delicate...

Sir Winston Churchill, Nobel laureate writer, spent a wads on his skivvies.  Who knew?  And who needed to knew?  According to a letter from his wife Clementine, it was  “very finely woven silk (pale pink) … from the Army and Navy stores and cost the eyes out of his head.”

Jason Diamond in The Paris Review writes here: “Churchill had style, and even though his choice of undergarments might not suit his public image, comfort was his first concern. The silk was an extravagant expense, justified by a therapeutic application toward Churchill’s persistent skin problems.”

The article does not set out to discuss Churchill’s unmentionables, nonetheless, it provides some riveting detail in an article that otherwise discusses the only bookstore in the world dedicated to Churchill. In keeping with the former prime minister’s half-American heritage, the bookstore “Chartwell” is located in downtown Manhattan, not the U.K.

The proprietor, Barry Singer, has become “a Churchill historian by osmosis,” writes Diamond.  Singer is the author of Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill, published this month by Abrams.

Diamond shares another sartorial tidbit:

“… his greatest sartorial triumph was the zip-up, all-in-one ‘siren suit,’ which Singer’s book points out was conceived and designed by Churchill before World War II. The suits, which looked like a cross between a child’s onesie and the boiler suits worn by bricklayers, were made by the tailors Turnbell & Asser and came in several different colors and fabrics. While the suits did make the prime minister look like he was gearing up for an air raid, they may have also been the single most comfortable article of clothing worn by a world leader while commanding an army in the history of modern warfare.”

They went with the undies, I guess…

Book sounds fascinating and fun – kind of like dessert.  But save some room for the entrée, in the form of Paul Reid‘s forthcoming volume 3 of The Last Lion.


Out from under his bed: Paul Reid speaks about Churchill, Manchester, and The Last Lion

Monday, December 12th, 2011

A few weeks ago I wrote about the world anxiously awaiting the final third volume of William Manchester’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm:  “I know, I know,” I wrote. “It’s going to be written not by Manchester, who died in 2004, but by Paul Reid, and everyone is wondering if it will be up to snuff.  So much so it’s a wonder that Reid doesn’t just hide under his bed and refuse to write anything at all.”

Relax, everyone!  He’s fine!  Paul Reid emailed me over the weekend to say: “I have emerged from under my bed to assure you that The Last Lion is being edited, all 470,000 words, every man-jack of them composed, proofed, and sourced while I labored with just ten inches of head room.  It’s so cramped under there even the rats are stoop-shouldered.”

Then he invited me to chat:  “Please allow the phone to ring several times, as it takes me a while to crawl from under the bed, climb the ladder from the bunker to the padded room, and reach the phone.”

Chat we did, and it was great fun.

He recalled the October night when his friend Bill Manchester, in failing health, asked him to continue the series.  “We were watching a Red Sox game – the Red Sox lost, as usual.”

“The night he asked me to do it, I said, ‘Gee I don’t know, Bill.’”

Both men had been feature writers for daily newspapers, banging out articles of about 800 words.  Manchester’s advice to the budding author: “String together a thousand short feature stories and you’ll have a book.”

“If I imagined 800 pages, I would have been pretty daunted,” Paul admitted. He also said that he would have been cowed if asked to write about, say, Paganini.  However, Paul had been a World War II buff from way back:  “I knew the battles, I knew Montgomery, ‘Bomber’ Harris – my whole life, that’s been my hobby. I loved history, from my earliest memory.”

Speaking out from the bunker

“You can do it, just write,” Manchester exhorted Paul. “I’ll have my red Number 2 pencil. I’ll edit; you write.”

That was the plan.  “But he died 7 months later,” Paul said.  Then the younger author was on his own, guided by 4,000-5,000 pages of Manchester’s notes.

Manchester was “an organization guy.” But it was an organization not necessarily recognizable to anyone else.

“He had his own system for putting his notes together.” Manchester had called them “clumps” of notes, formed by taking a hundred sheets of paper, taping or gluing pairs of them together to form one long sheet, and binding them at the top to create his own “tablet.” He would tape or glue Xeroxes of speeches and official documents.  He left behind dozens of these makeshift tablets.

Manchester also had his own notation system. On the lefthand margin of the manuscript, he would jot one of at least a hundred “topic codes” (for example, De Gaulle, Nazi Germany).  A little pound sign would indicate information on Churchill’s family.

He marked the righthand side with cryptic “source codes.”  Paul cracked one early: HAR was a code for Averell Harriman’s memoir. But the others?

“I finally had a brainstorm,” he said.  He called the Wesleyan Library where Manchester did his research, and asked for a list of all the books Manchester had borrowed.  It didn’t keep any such list.  “Because I knew Bill,” Paul said he had another flashbulb moment:  Could have a list of all Manchester’s overdue books? “That ran to dozens of pages.” The code was cracked again.

“I went out and purchased everything,” including collections of Hitler speeches, Roosevelt speeches, diaries of generals.  The Bostonian’s North Carolina bunker has about 25 linear feet of World War II books.  “The war is 85 percent of the story, and that what a lot of people are waiting for.”

Manchester’s manic writing habits were famous (Vanity Fair wrote about Manchester here) – 7 days a week, for 12-14 hours a day.  Paul, however, is a bit more leisurely: he spends about 5 or 6 hours going over sources about a particular week in the war, writes for a few hours, and starts over the next day.

So what does Churchill have to say to us today? “For Churchill, courage – moral courage – was the first virtue in the Aristotelian sense.”

Paul recounted an incident where the prime minister talked to 8 and 9 year old schoolboys at his former Harrow school in 1940.  “That’s when he said, never give in, never give in, to tyranny, to evil.  These are not dark days, best days of our lives.”  This lesson, for 8 and 9 year children, Paul emphasized.

He had a system.

“There was no guile with Churchill.  He didn’t know how to be dishonest.  Stalin knew that.  He [Churchill] was a brave man, but not foolhardy man.”

Nor was he a despot, like his famous foes:  “He pursued knowledge, not power,” said Paul. His pugnacious stances were not just based on opinions, but on his wideranging study:  “He read everything – Aristotle, Plato, Thucydides, Cicero, The Aeneid, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, British empiricists,  Macaulay, and all of Gibbons, Yeats and Keats and Byron and Shelley, Longfellow and Emerson.  Everything.”

Manchester and Churchill both threaded through Paul Reid’s mind as he worked, but the final work?  “The work is not only yours, it’s you.”

Now he is close to the finish line.  He won’t prophesy exactly when the book will be out – “it’s a big project, and it will take some time.”

“Churchill would just push ahead. That’s what you have to do.”

Just like I said a few weeks ago.”

Waiting for The Last Lion at Churchill’s Chartwell

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Good try, but no photo can catch the perfection (Photo: Baryonic Being)

When, oh when, will the third volume of William Manchester‘s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm come out?

I know, I know.  It’s going to be written not by Manchester, who died in 2004, but by Paul Reid, and everyone is wondering if it will be up to snuff.  So much so it’s a wonder that Reid doesn’t just hide under his bed and refuse to write anything at all.

Such a course of action would not, of course, be in the spirit of Churchill, who was an indefatigable writer.  I wrote about that here.  As Manchester wrote in volume 2: “Only after entering his employ will [his assistant] Bill Deakin discover, to his astonishment, that Churchill lacks a large private income, that he lives like a pasha yet must support his extravagant life with his pen. The Churchill children are also unaware that, as [his daughter] Mary will later put it, the family ‘literally lived from book to book, and from one article to the next.’ Her mother, who knows, prays that each manuscript will sell.”

His daughter had a lot more to say when I visited his home for 40 years, Chartwell, in Kent, over the weekend.  Mary Soames wrote in her introduction to Chartwell’s guidebook:

“While Winston and his children – Diana, Randolph and Sarah (and later myself) loved Chartwell unconditionally, Clementine (his wife) from the first had serious practical reservations about the whole project. Her prudent Scottish side judged the renovations (involving largely rebuilding the house), and the subsequent cost of running the whole property would place a near intolerable strain on the Churchill’s somewhat fragile financial raft.  She was to be proved right, and over the years her pleasure in the place was seldom unalloyed by anxiety.”

She worried.

No photo can quite do justice to the exquisite ponds and gardens – not much to see in wintertime, except Clementine’s pruned rosebushes, the signs where Sweet William and herbs like chervil grew.  Oh yes, and giant rhubarb, “Gunnera manicata.”  But the green expanses flecked with autumn trees on a crisp and flawless November day must be what heaven is like.  I even saw one of the black swans he painted, spreading its wings in the shrubbery.

I am still munching on the apples from the property, sold for donations – a cooking apple called “Bramley,” and a dessert apple.

Other signs of his labor:  His large painting studio on the property, filled with his canvases.  The small hut for butterfly breeding.  The walls he created as a bricklayer.  Even space for a small pet graveyard, walled off from visitors, but which contained a few white benches for solemn meditation.  Alas, however the house is closed to visitors over the winter – I never saw the heavy-beamed studio I described in the earlier post, where he wrote.

And the books did pretty well, apparently.  When I visited Cambridge, I was told that the Churchill family had endowed Cambridge’s Churchill College.  More than 20 of its members have won Nobel prizes – in keeping with its founder, who was awarded the Nobel literature prize in 1953.