Posts Tagged ‘William Manchester’

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.