Winston Churchill at The Telegraph ed. Dr. Warren Dockter

winston churchill at the telegraphDon’t mention the war!

🙂 🙂 🙂

Before he became a politician, Churchill was both a serving soldier and a war correspondent, forging a relationship with the right-wing Telegraph newspaper that lasted on and off for the whole of his life. This book is an amalgamation of articles which appeared in the paper, either written by or about Churchill over his long career. Having thoroughly enjoyed another Telegraph publication last year, The Telegraph Book of the First World War, I had high expectations of this one, which sadly it didn’t wholly meet.

Some of the articles written by Churchill are outstanding. His description of the naval war in WW1 is lucid and revealing about the arguments over tactics between the politicians and Admiralty bigwigs. It’s a potted history of the whole thing, from the positioning of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow through to the U-boat war and the measures taken to combat it – the Dover barrage and the adoption of the system of convoys. As always in his writing, Churchill’s personality comes through – his criticisms of the Admiralty feel personal on occasion – but he is very good at making complicated issues clear for the less well informed reader.

Churchill in the uniform of the Fourth Queen's Own Hussars. Do you think that's a disgruntled cat in the background?
Churchill in the uniform of the Fourth Queen’s Own Hussars.
Do you think that’s a disgruntled cat in the background?

He also speaks intelligently and perceptively about the ‘dole’ – how National Insurance should be used, in his opinion, to support those people who are left without work for a period of time. Many of the arguments he was putting forward back in the middle of the last century are still being debated today and he was unusually perceptive at recognising that the future would probably lead to an ageing population with all the pressures that would place on the newly-formed Welfare State. It’s rather depressing to think that present-day politicians seem to have been taken by surprise by issues Churchill foresaw 60 or 70 years ago.

There is also a rather excellent section in the book on Churchill’s post-WW2 plea for the formation of a United States of Europe, where he envisions much of what has subsequently come to pass, and pretty much in the way he suggested. He felt that it was crucial for France, still reeling from the war, to reach out a hand of forgiveness to defeated Germany, and to forge unbreakable bonds between first the major and then the minor nations of Europe to prevent the never-ending wars that had brought the entire continent to its knees. He believed both the United Nations and a treaty between Europe and the US (subsequently NATO) would be crucial in ensuring peace and in providing a bulwark against the encroachment of communism in the form of the USSR. All familiar stuff to us now, but prescient and influential when he was writing.

Churchill the artist - The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell 1932
Churchill the artist – The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell 1932

So there’s plenty of good stuff in here. Unfortunately, a lot of the rest is either filler or not set well enough in context to make it informative without pre-existing background knowledge. Each section has a little introduction, but these don’t give enough information to explain the background to the following articles. Therefore, the bits I’ve picked out as excellent are the things that I already had some knowledge of. But when Churchill is talking about his time in India way back before WW1, for example, I was completely at a loss – I didn’t know who we were fighting or why, or who won, and I was none the wiser afterwards. Like the First World War book, this one has no notes, but while I felt in worked in that book by pushing the reader into the same position as the original readers of the newspaper, in this one it felt like a real weakness – the original readers would have been aware of the context in a way that most modern readers won’t be. I also found the articles about Churchill arriving at train stations, complete with descriptions of what he and his wife were wearing, or the articles about his pets(!), lacked much relevance or interest to all but the most dedicated Churchill enthusiast.

Churchill with Rufus the poodle
Churchill with Rufus the poodle

My other main complaint is that the book is by no means complete. We are told that Churchill wrote a series of fortnightly articles for the paper during the run-up to WW2. But we only get to read a couple of them. Had the bits about his budgerigar been left out, perhaps the space could have been filled with something more enlightening. Also, the way the book has been divided up into sections by subject means that the timeline jumps all over the place – one minute we’re in the 1940s and then suddenly we’re back in the 1910s. And oddly, WW2 seems to be almost entirely missing! I grant that Churchill probably didn’t have much time for article writing at that period; however, presumably the paper was reporting on the war and on Churchill’s role, but the mentions of it in this book are few and far between.

So, despite a few excellent articles, overall I found the book pretty disappointing. A missed opportunity – with more focused editing, a linear structure and fuller contextual information I feel this could have been done so much better. As it is, I can’t give it more than a lukewarm recommendation at best.

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48 thoughts on “Winston Churchill at The Telegraph ed. Dr. Warren Dockter

  1. I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed in this one, FictionFan. It sounds as though there was a little too much chaff among the wheat, so to speak. But I’m not surprised Churchill was able to explain complicated issues in some places. It is said that he maintained it was a good thing he struggled so in school. While the brighter boys went on to learn Latin and Greek, he went on to learn to write good, English sentences.


    • Ah, that’s interesting! He certainly writes with ‘the common touch’, unlike a lot of his generation. I was sorry there wasn’t a lot of his war correspondence in this, because I’ve read some of it elsewhere and he makes it read almost like the great adventure stories of John Buchan or Conan Doyle. It’s a pity this didn’t work better – the basic idea of it is so good.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, he actually exhibited his art and it fetches quite high prices – though whether that’s because he’s any good or whether it’s just because he’s Winston Churchill, I don’t know. But I liked that one of the goldfish pond…


  2. That’s him as a boy?! Wow. He looks royal with all that stuff on there. Either a cat, I’d say, or a feather in someone’s cap. Maybe his girlfriend’s.

    He could paint?! *double-shocked* And he had a poodle? Goodness. I’ve learned lots today.


    • Well, a young man – he was fighting a war by that age. *laughs* Yes, we Brits do like fancy uniforms! Scares the opposition… *laughs even more* But do gentleman shove their girlfriends down behind the sofa??? Or is she just really tiny…?

      Yes, he could do all sorts of things. He also liked bricklaying. The poodle is gorgeous! At least, we must hope it’s a poodle and not that poor girlfriend again…


      • Was he really? *impressed* I think it might be stuffy to wear such a uniform, still, I would jump at the opportunity. And walk around all impressed with myself and whatnot. Some gentlemen do, I suspect. Even though they probably catch it later!

        Bricklaying? Huh. Stone laying is better, I say. Poodles are such girly dogs!!


        • Ooh! You just said that ‘cos you know the thought of the Professor in a fancy uniform would make me swoon… *swoons* Then they are not gentlemen, sir!!

          Egg laying takes greater skill though. *gasps* How dare you! You’ll catch it if Debbie hears you say that! Actually, I thought it looked rather like Kenny, only cuter…


          • Yeah, but I’d need a red cape. Gentlemen are usually quite ferocious, you know.

            *laughs* But…still, the fact remains. And Debbie has a collie! They’re manly. *laughing lots* So mean…to him poor Kenny.


            • A red cape!!! *swoons again!* They should be ferocious in battle but courteous in the ballroom…

              Debbie’s childhood dog, like mine, was a miniature poodle, so you’re treading on dangerous ground, sir!! My Sandy was manly! He used to pick fights with Alsatians… he was a true warrior!


            • Yes, with pictures of a bear on it. And toads. NO! Vicious everywhere. That’s the thing, see.

              *laughs* Of course, you and Debbie happen to be girls…so, the professor is right after all! *pins meddle on* Alsatians…I think you made that up.


            • See, suddenly it sounds less swoonworthy and more like something out of Harry Potter…

              Yebbut WOB loved Sandy too! So I’m right! *grabs medal and runs off* Did not! His technoque was to get right underneath the Alsatian and snap from below. It baffled them, you know, you know…


            • Well, part of that is good, but the other part isn’t! Hmm. Maybe just daggers on it, then.

              How old was WOB when Sandy was about? Oh!!!! You mean a German Shepherd! Alsatian…! Shepherds are amazing.


            • Aha! Yes, daggers could take it back into swoon territory – agreed!

              About 12 to about 28-ish. So, nearly adult! Yeah, usually. But they don’t look quite so amazing when being befuddled by a poodle… *proud face*


            • I’m beginning to like your Mom lots!! P&P, poodles – excellent taste! You must take after your Pop… *runs away as fast as she can*

              Poodles were actually used as gun dogs in France, I believe, before people started giving them silly haircuts and calling them Fifi…


            • Haha. I think i’ll just call a retreat and regroup at the moment. Nah, Dad doesn’t care much about either topic, really. *laughs* A gun dog! That sounds novel, I must admit.


            • *laughs* Very wise! Yeah, that’s ‘cos he’s a man and you all have to pretend you don’t like romance… oops! I mean, social commentary!! But he ought to like poodles…


  3. A thoughtful and cogent review, as ever. PS, I can only, wickedly, assume that your wish for fewer pet anecdotes means that the great man didn’t have cats (runs away fast, weighed down by recent additions to the TBR and several boxes of chocolates) Hope i don’t drop any. (C’mon Andy, C’mon Jamie)


    • Merci buckets, madame! He didn’t! But he did have a budgie that he took everywhere with him… most odd! (Chocolates?? Bring them back here immediately!!) Whew! Andy got a bit lucky this morning… and now he’s got to beat Djokovic… *gulps*


  4. So sorry this one didn’t live up to your expectations, FF. Churchill was a fascinating subject, though, and I didn’t realize he was so forward-thinking when the topic was welfare. I’ve got to say, I love that photo of him with Rufus! As for the “disgruntled cat,” hmmm…looks like there are several other places for similar cat-tails, so who knows??!


    • No, I hadn’t known much about his post-war views either and certainly on the basis of the articles in this book he seems to have been proved right pretty often. Rufus is lovely – my childhood dog was a poodle, so I have a huge soft spot for them. Haha! The cat will get its own back, I’m sure… 😉


  5. I need to read a good biography on Churchill. He’s such an interesting figure. And “I’m so bored with it all,” is my favorite last words ever. But I’d probably go with The Last Lion. Have you read this?


    • No, I haven’t read that one, but it seems to be getting good reviews. I read Roy Jenkins bio of him, which a lot of people think is the definitive one, and it’s certainly good, but I find Jenkins’ style quite dull and a bit pompous. I highly recommend Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor – it’s not a staright biography, more an examination of what made Churchill tick, but it’s brilliantly written and very readable and gives a good coverage of all the main bits of his life without going into endless detail. And it’s full of humour…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Disgruntled cat.. 😀
    We had a lesson in school on Churchill and his wisdom, but turns out not many people in Asia/Africa are very fond of him..apparently he had a cruel streak which resulted in him indirectly killing off loads of people during the Bengal famine here and elsewhere..just another point of view.. 🙂
    I bought a book of his quotes recently, and he does seem to have been quite racist, at least about the ‘natives’..


    • Yes, he was very pro-Empire and very anti-Indian independence, I believe. But – and I’m really not making excuses for him here – his racism was pretty much standard for the times, I think. I’m afraid the great British Empire was based on the Brits genuinely believing they were superior to the ‘natives’ of whichever country we happened to be occupying at the time. Haha! The sad thing is that many Brits still believe that, of course… It does make reading any history set during the height of the Empire quite uncomfortable. I also find a lot of the British literature from that period quite unreadable because of the racist attitudes too – Kipling, John Buchan etc.

      I’m not a huge Churchill fan myself – I think he was a great war leader but he was on the ‘other side’ from me politically otherwise. And even in Britain he comes in for a lot of criticism for a lot of what he stood for.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, racism wasn’t exactly uncommon during the Raj..we read so much about our freedom movement and imperialism here, so everyone gets all patriotic and jingoistic and stuff sometimes.. 😛
        We had something of Kipling’s in school too..I think our textbook writers don’t care much about personal attitudes of the authors or whether they were racist, which, I suppose, is a sensible thing to do.. 😛
        I do get a bit indignant and angry about this old racism whenever I read about it, but, really, what can one do now? The Raj was over long before we were born..
        But I find Churchill extremely witty, despite his racism..I wish I could learn to separate the two.. 🙂


        • Yeah, I can imagine! But I do think the legacy of Empire was mixed rather than all evil, and being honest, racism is not specific to the Brits – most countries have practiced discrimination in some form or another based on race, religion or class. The search for true equality is a work in progress inside most countries, much less between them. 🙂

          I really try to overlook racist attitudes in older writers – or sexist, anti-Semitic etc. But sometimes it’s harder than others. Rider Haggard, for instance, I love, because although he undoubtedly thinks the Brits were superior, he also treats the Africans in his books with dignity and shows admiration for them. Kipling, though, is just horrible in the way he portrays India and the Indians – I find it hard to understand how anyone can read him these days without cringing. But I guess it’s important that we know our history, the bad bits as well as the good…

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ha, yes, that’s isn’t all bad, and we have our own crazy caste issues here.. 😛
            Yes! I just finished reading King Solomon’s Mines, and his portrayal of the African tribes is very nice..
            The only Kipling I’ve read is Mowgli, so I don’t know much about him, but I read an argument somewhere that said Kipling’s been misunderstood and he wasn’t really racist.. 😛


            • And we still fight about whether we’re Protestants or Catholics… 😉

              Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed King Solomon’s Mines – it’s one of my favourite books from way back when I first read it, when I was about ten or so. Of course, I wasn’t aware of any racism or anything in it way back then but I re-read it fairly recently and was pleasantly surprised to still find it just as enjoyable.

              I haven’t read much Kipling – I’ve started quite a few but always end up abandoning them ‘cos I just can’t take his style. But I do think these old imperialists weren’t racist in the same way as racists are today. It was an unthinking thing with them, and usually they didn’t actually hate the people they were racist about. In fact, they seemed to think of them almost as we think of pets these days – we love them but don’t consider them our equals… Not good, but maybe not as bad as the hate-filled racist thugs of today…

              Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! If one of my cats’ tails looked like that, I’d know there was trouble a-brewin’… 😉

      Yes, his paintings still sell, though whether for the quality or because of his name I’m not qualified to judge. I do love this one too, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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