A Life in the News

A Life in the News –

Winston Churchill

By Richard Toye

Oxford University Press – £25.00

No matter how intimate his relationship with the subject, no matter how free the flow of confidences and reminiscences between them, there is no substitute for diligent, methodical note-taking from the press cuttings dated 1900 onwards. Here will be found the raw, unadorned substance of Churchill’s vacillating career: political campaigns that the world has forgotten, speeches that have been excluded, as if by conspiracy, from every hack panegyric masquerading in the form of biography.


The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appears to be in the news constantly at the moment; although for all the horrendous wrong reasons such as cloying corruption, expensive wallpaper, swashbuckling embezzlement, running the country into the ground and generally, if not systematically, destroying the union formerly known as the UK.

Not forgetting the telling of relentless lies of course.

And all within the somewhat fraught and delusional gambit of him coming on like a fifth-rate Churchill.

Were he to read this altogether concise and chronologically illuminating book, he might, for a seething split-second, realise how a true politician and statesman ought to behave in the public eye. With dignity. With decorum. In other words, the sort of behavioural qualities that are clearly and utterly alien to the likes of Johnson – especially within the working parameters of the press and media. Something which Churchill, surely the country’s most popular prime minister ever, understood exceedingly well. And visa versa: ‘’If it was his own efforts that made him a hero, it was the press that made him a celebrity – and it is the media that has been considerably responsible for perpetuating his memory and shaping his reputation in the years since his death.’’

Moreover, what accounts for A Life in the News – Winston Churchill being such an interesting and all-round captivating read, is its relative simplicity of language (especially considering some of the subject matter) and fine nuance within the actual telling itself.

This is a quality in evidence, very early on in the book: ‘’The volume of coverage was significant, insofar as it was greater than most of us receive in a lifetime, but its importance should not be exaggerated: it was typical disposable Victorian newspaper content, which was doubtless instantly forgettable to most readers. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the Cuban affair marked the small beginnings of Churchill’s global fame; and the same model of adventure plus controversy would help him feed a hungry press and his own desire for celebrity over the remaining years of the century’’ (‘A Pushing Age’).

Apart from the fact that he breaths air, a loquacious lust for celebrity might be the only thing Johnson will ever have in common with Churchill. That is not to say the latter was without his faults (some might say very far from it), but in this high-octane age of acute and immediate media frenzy, it is both astonishing and rather soul destroying to come to terms with just how very low the current prime minister has stooped.

Again, Johnson needs to read this book.

He might actually learn how to conduct himself.

David Marx

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