Documentary reveals how Winston Churchill’s need to prove himself to his father drove his ambition

He was the wartime Prime Minister regarded by many to be the greatest Briton who ever lived.

Sir Winston Churchill’s leadership during the fight against Nazi Germany was symbolised by the indomitable spirit he championed in his numerous speeches to the British public.

Now, a new documentary sheds light on how the ambition and drive which saw him serve two terms as Prime Minister stemmed from a childhood desire to prove himself to his harsh father.

Lord Randolph Churchill, himself a prominent politician who rose to become Britain’s youngest Chancellor of the Exchequer, died at the age of just 45 in 1895 from suspected syphilis.

In Channel 5’s Churchill, the first episode of which airs on Friday, the politician’s granddaughter Celia Sandys tells how he ‘idolised’ Randolph, even though his father penned letters telling him he would become a ‘social wastrel’.

Experts reveal in the show how Churchill was ‘utterly prostrate with grief’ following his father’s death and strove from then on to reconcile himself with the man’s ‘ghost’.

Viewers also learn of Churchill’s exploits as a soldier, both in India and in the Boer War in South Africa – when he became a national celebrity after he was taken prisoner and wrote of his daring escape.

His father Lord Randolph, seen in 1885

A new documentary sheds light on how Winston Churchill’s childhood desire to prove himself to his harsh father went on to fuel a political career which saw him serve as Prime Minister, where he lead Britain to victory in the Second World War. Left: Churchill aged 7 in 1881. Right: His father Lord Randolph, seen in 1885

Channel 5’s show features the voices of a series of experts, as well as footage and photos of Churchill as a young child, soldier and fledgling politician.

The letters he sent to his father whilst away at boarding school are also shown, as are the older Churchill’s written rebukes to his son.

Born at Blenheim Palace – his father’s ancestral home – in 1874, Churchill was an ‘unloved’ and ‘difficult’ child who grew up amid opulent surroundings.

Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill archives, tells of how Churchill’s ‘aristocratic birth’ likely had an ‘enormous impact’ on the young man, who felt like he needed to ‘live up’ to the great lives of his ancestors.

Churchill’s American mother Jenny was a glamorous socialite who spent her time socialising. She had a series of affairs, including with the then Prince of Wales.

It meant that Churchill was largely left to be brought up by his nanny. Whilst that was not unusual for someone of his social status, he is said to have felt it ‘particularly keen’.

Churchill was sent to Harrow boarding school. Reports from his teachers described him as ‘very naughty’ and ‘troublesome’.

Winston Churchill is seen above in Downing Street in 1940, at the start of his first stint as Prime Minister

Winston Churchill is seen above in Downing Street in 1940, at the start of his first stint as Prime Minister

Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace - his father's ancestral home in Oxfordshire – in 1874

Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace – his father’s ancestral home in Oxfordshire – in 1874

He was an 'unloved' and 'difficult' child who grew up amid opulent surroundings. Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill archives, tells of how Churchill's 'aristocratic birth' likely had an 'enormous impact' on the young man, who felt like he needed to 'live up' to the great lives of his ancestors. Pictured: Churchill in 1888, during his time as a boarder at the prestigious school Harrow

He was an ‘unloved’ and ‘difficult’ child who grew up amid opulent surroundings. Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill archives, tells of how Churchill’s ‘aristocratic birth’ likely had an ‘enormous impact’ on the young man, who felt like he needed to ‘live up’ to the great lives of his ancestors. Pictured: Churchill in 1888, during his time as a boarder at the prestigious school Harrow

Churchill's American mother Jenny was a glamorous socialite who spent her time socialising. She had a series of affairs, including with the Prince of Wales, who went on to become King Edward VII

Churchill’s American mother Jenny was a glamorous socialite who spent her time socialising. She had a series of affairs, including with the Prince of Wales, who went on to become King Edward VII

The bad feedback meant that Lord Randolph did not think much of his son. 

Churchill would write letters bearing kisses to his father kisses but would often not get a reply.

David Lough, the author of Churchill and his Money, said: ‘Lord Randolph didn’t have a high opinion of his son’s academic abilities or really his career prospects.’

After finding his son playing with toy soldiers, he decided the army would be the best fit.

At the age of just 18, Churchill was sent to the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

Despite being ‘desperate’ to get his father’s approval, Churchill disappointed once again when he failed to make it into the Infantry – which was regarded as the top class.

Instead, he was put into the cavalry, landing his father with an extra cost of £200.

Lord Randolph then penned a letter which read: ‘I am certain you will become a social wastrel. One of the hundreds of public school failures.’

However, Lord Randolph then fell seriously ill with what was then believed to be syphilis. Churchill rushed to his father’s bedside in the hope of speaking to him one final time.

But the politician was unconscious and died without seeing his son.

Reports from his teachers at Harrow described the young Churchill as 'very naughty' and 'troublesome'. They were revealed in Channel 5's documentary

Reports from his teachers at Harrow described the young Churchill as ‘very naughty’ and ‘troublesome’. They were revealed in Channel 5’s documentary

The bad feedback meant that Lord Randolph did not think much of his son. Churchill would write letters bearing kisses to his father kisses but would often not get a reply

The bad feedback meant that Lord Randolph did not think much of his son. Churchill would write letters bearing kisses to his father kisses but would often not get a reply

Katherine Carter, the curator at Churchill’s Kent home Chartwell, said: ‘When Lord Randolph died, it had a huge effect on Winston.

‘He was utterly prostrate with grief for the day and the night that followed his father’s death. Completely inconsolable.’

Just weeks after his father’s death, Churchill passed out of Sandhurst and became an officer in the British Army.

He was posted to India – which was then part of the British Empire – and was involved in the suppression of an uprising in the Malakand region.

Churchill sold articles to British newspapers about his fighting. In them, he branded Indian people as ‘simple races’ and said British rule would end their ‘dreadful state of barbarism’.

Oxford University historian Dr Priya Atwal said: ‘Churchill most definitely viewed himself as racially superior to so-called native people in India.

At the age of just 18, Churchill was sent to the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Despite being 'desperate' to get his father's approval, Churchill disappointed once again when he failed to make it into the Infantry – which was regarded as the top class. Instead, he was put into the cavalry

At the age of just 18, Churchill was sent to the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Despite being ‘desperate’ to get his father’s approval, Churchill disappointed once again when he failed to make it into the Infantry – which was regarded as the top class. Instead, he was put into the cavalry

‘And I think we can see that as a fundamentally racist ideology in that he felt that his whiteness and his culture somehow entitled him to rule over that person and to rule in such a way that he could change the civilisation and culture of that other person.’

However, Churchill’s writing helped to make him a household name. Once again, it was the quest to emulate his father which drove him on.

Professor Richard Toye, the author of Churchill’s Empire, said: ‘The quest for glory is what motivates Winston. 

‘I think he sees his father’s career as to some extent glorious and wants to emulate that.

‘His father didn’t believe that he was going to be able to achieve anything. He wants to show that he can and indeed do that in the arena which his father thought was the most important one.’

At the age of just 24, Churchill returned to the UK to try to launch his political career.

Mr Packwood said that the young man’s mother was crucial in helping him to establish himself.

‘She had used her network to support Randolph’s career. She transfers that support network to pushing and developing her son’s political career.

After his first attempt to become a Member of Parliament failed, Churchill decided to put his political life on hold and instead headed to South Africa to act as a war correspondent in the Boer War

After his first attempt to become a Member of Parliament failed, Churchill decided to put his political life on hold and instead headed to South Africa to act as a war correspondent in the Boer War 

On arriving in South Africa, Churchill was quickly embroiled in action when his train was ambushed by heavily armed Boers – who opposed the British Empire's influence in South Africa. After helping to load wounded soldiers onto the train's remaining carriages, Churchill was captured. Pictured: The stunning image of Churchill's arrest, revealed in Channel 5's documentary

On arriving in South Africa, Churchill was quickly embroiled in action when his train was ambushed by heavily armed Boers – who opposed the British Empire’s influence in South Africa. After helping to load wounded soldiers onto the train’s remaining carriages, Churchill was captured. Pictured: The stunning image of Churchill’s arrest, revealed in Channel 5’s documentary

Churchill was taken prisoner ended up launching a daring escape which saw him travel 200 miles to safety. Pictured: The wanted poster which called for the return of Churchill 'dead or alive'

Churchill was taken prisoner ended up launching a daring escape which saw him travel 200 miles to safety. Pictured: The wanted poster which called for the return of Churchill ‘dead or alive’

Ms Sandys added: ‘She may not have been a great asset to him as a child but he made a very good relationship with his mother after his father died. And she helped him enormously.’

But Churchill’s first attempt to stand as a Member of Parliament, in the working class town of Oldham, Greater Manchester, in 1899, failed.

He therefore decided to put his political life on hold and instead headed to South Africa, which was then named Rhodesia as part of the British Empire, to act as a war correspondent.

Mr Packwood said: ‘Churchill is the archetypal young man in a hurry. He knows what he wants to achieve.

Churchill wrote an account of his escape for British newspapers. It made him a national celebrity and was, says Dr Jacob Field, one of the 'turning points' in his early life. Pictured: The Daily Mail's account, which was published in December 1899

Churchill wrote an account of his escape for British newspapers. It made him a national celebrity and was, says Dr Jacob Field, one of the ‘turning points’ in his early life. Pictured: The Daily Mail’s account, which was published in December 1899

A Daily Mail article reporting on Churchill's 'political debut'. It described him as 'Lord Randolph's son'

A Daily Mail article reporting on Churchill’s ‘political debut’. It described him as ‘Lord Randolph’s son’

‘He believes in himself, he believes in his abilities. And he is impatient of all obstructions and frustrations in his path.’

On arriving in South Africa, Churchill was quickly embroiled in action when his train was ambushed by heavily armed Boers – who opposed the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

After helping to load wounded soldiers onto the train’s remaining carriages, Churchill was captured. 

A stunning image revealed in the Channel 5 programme shows the moment of his arrest.

Churchill then returned to Britain to re-launch his political career. He again stood in the seat of Oldham, and was this time successful. Pictured: Churchill in 1900, the year he became an MP

Churchill then returned to Britain to re-launch his political career. He again stood in the seat of Oldham, and was this time successful. Pictured: Churchill in 1900, the year he became an MP

He was taken to the Boer stronghold in Pretoria, which is now one of South Africa’s three capital cities.

After being told he would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner, Churchill escaped and successfully travelled across more than 200 miles of enemy territory to get to safety.

The Boers used a poster to offer a £25 reward for Churchill ‘dead or alive’.

Mr Packwood said: ‘I think the escape shows incredible reserves of self-confidence and trust that if he pursues this course it will come right.’

Author Sarah Gristwood added: ‘That escapade could have gone wrong at so many stages, but it didn’t and maybe that is the secret of Winston Churchill.’

Churchill wrote an account of his escape for British newspapers. It made him a national celebrity and was, says Dr Jacob Field, one of the ‘turning points’ in his early life.

Churchill then returned to Britain to re-launch his political career. He again stood in Oldham, and was this time successful.

In his maiden speech, he again spoke of his father to a House of Commons chamber full of politicians who would have known him.

Ms Sandys said: ‘There were, obviously, people in Parliament who remembered his father in his heyday when he had been a hugely powerful Chancellor and very prominent politician and very charismatic.

‘So I think he was referring to that and he was determined to try to bring that memory back. The memory of his father in his powerful days.’

Churchill is said to have felt as though he had a ‘mission’ to fulfil of finishing what his father started. 

Churchill rose through the political ranks very quickly. He is pictured above as Foreign Secretary in 1915

Churchill rose through the political ranks very quickly. He is pictured above as Foreign Secretary in 1915

Churchill is said to have felt as though he had a 'mission' to fulfil of finishing what his father started. Pictured: Churchill giving a speech in Chelmsford in 1916

Churchill is said to have felt as though he had a ‘mission’ to fulfil of finishing what his father started. Pictured: Churchill giving a speech in Chelmsford in 1916

He was recorded on several occasions as saying he would one day be Prime Minister.

But even after he achieved the feat in May 1940 and led Britain to victory in the Second World War, Churchill was still gripped by his father’s influence.

In his 1947 essay The Dream, he described how, while painting a portrait of his father, he was visited by his ghost.

Describing the dream, Mr Packwood said: ‘Just before Churchill has had the chance to explain what he has done in the 20th century, the father’s ghost disappears in a puff of tobacco smoke.

‘That short story tells you an enormous amount about the relationship between father and son, or the lack of relationship between father and son.

‘Because these are the conversations that Churchill was never able to have with his father. 

‘And his father was never able to see that he became more than this clumsy, harem scarem youth. ‘

‘We will fight them on the beaches’: Churchill’s most famous wartime speeches

Winston Churchill’s rousing speeches inspired a nation and played a key role in maintaining Britain’s morale during the dark early days of the Second World War. 

His defiant and powerful words allowed ordinary Britons, soldiers, sailors and airmen to feel hope.

He replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on May 10 1940. 

Days earlier, the ‘phoney war’, the period of relative calm following the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, had ended with the German invasion of France, Belgium and Holland.

Churchill’s first speech as premier to the House of Commons, three days later, would go down in history as one of his most famous. 

Winston Churchill's rousing speeches inspired a nation and played a key role in maintaining Britain's morale during the dark early days of the Second World War

Winston Churchill’s rousing speeches inspired a nation and played a key role in maintaining Britain’s morale during the dark early days of the Second World War

He said: ‘I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

‘You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

‘You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

‘Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.

‘But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time, I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’ ‘

 Extract from his first broadcast as PM to the country on May 19, 1940.

‘I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour for the life of our country, of our Empire, of our allies, and, above all, of the cause of freedom . . .

‘It would be foolish . . . to disguise the gravity of the hour. It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage or to suppose that well-trained, well-equipped armies numbering three or four millions of men can be overcome in the space of a few weeks, or even months…

‘Side by side, unaided except by their kith and kin in the great Dominions and by the wide empires which rest beneath their shield — side by side, the British and French peoples have advanced to rescue not only Europe but mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history.

‘Behind them — behind us, behind the armies and fleets of Britain and France — gather a group of shattered states and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians — upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.

‘Today is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago, words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of truth and justice, ‘Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.’ ‘

Extract from his Commons speech on June 4, 1940, after the evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk.

‘I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

‘At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government — every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

‘Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

‘We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.’

Extract from his Commons speech on June 18, 1940.

‘What General Weygand [the French Allied commander] called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.

‘Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

‘Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

‘But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

‘Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.” ‘

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