Friday, September 11, 2020

Richard Toye's "Winston Churchill: A Life in the News"

Richard Toye is Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. He previously worked at the University of Cambridge. He has written widely on modern British and international political and economic history. His critically acclaimed book Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness won him the 2007 Times Higher Young Academic Author of the Year Award.

Toye applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Winston Churchill: A Life in the News, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Winston Churchill: A Life in the News is fairly typical of the book as a whole, in that it finds Churchill worrying about his image. It is 1915 and he faces one of the greatest crises of his career. He has been dismissed from his position as head of the Admiralty, though he remains for the time being a Cabinet minister. Churchill’s fall was intimately wrapped up with, though not wholly caused by, the Dardanelles fiasco: the failed naval assault on Turkey for which he attracted considerable blame. The Gallipoli landings that followed had become horribly bogged down, but it was not yet clear that they would fail utterly. As I relate:
Churchill remained obsessed with vindicating his Admiralty record. He buttonholed any journalist who would listen, on one occasion staying up till 2 a.m. to try to prove to an unconvinced Charles Repington [of The Times] that he had been right about Antwerp and the Dardanelles. Churchill showed confidential documents about these and other episodes to [Manchester Guardian editor] C. P. Scott, and even offered to let him take them away to study, before having second thoughts.
However, Churchill’s preoccupation with his own reputation, and his attempts to influence the media, are only one part of the story that the book relates. Churchill, from his early twenties onwards, was a skilful and prolific journalist. He kept up this work, to some degree or another, until the late 1940s. It helped keep him in the public eye and was a means of funding his extravagant lifestyle. Yet there were times too when – usually due to the pressures of office – he gave up writing for the papers for significant periods. The time of Gallipoli overlapped with one of these fallow spots though Churchill would return to journalism later in the war. As C.P. Scott recorded in his diary at the end of 1916:
I urged him to make a business of Parliament and make himself a figure there, but he said the papers (with the exception of the Manchester Guardian) would not report him and on the contrary ill natured remarks were always made, as that ‘There were few members present and no one troubled to come in’ or ‘what a contrast with the days when his rising was the signal for the House to fill’ & so on. Therefore he preferred to find his public in the Press. Then at least every word he wished to say was printed and it took him no longer to write an article for the ‘Sunday Pictorial’ for which he got £250 than to prepare a speech which was not reported.
Thus, the events that are covered on page 99 are quite consistent with Churchill’s long-term behaviour, but they do not fully represent the many ebbs and flows of his long and complex career.
Learn more about Winston Churchill: A Life in the News at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue