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Winston Churchill
A Biographical Companion
Chris Wrigley
Santa Barbara, Denver & Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2002.
Hardback. xxvi-367 pages. ISBN 0874369908.

Antoine Capet
Université de Rouen

That Churchill should be the subject of yet another book1 should come as no surprise if one bears in mind that he was recently voted the Greatest Briton ever—admittedly by a somewhat limited electorate. The format of this new Biographical Companion2 is half-way between a regular biography and an historical alphabetical encyclopedia, i.e. many entries in fact cover people, places, organisations and events closely or remotely connected with Churchill. In practice, it is almost impossible to find fault with the list of people whom Churchill met at some stage in his long career, since there is no doubt that the list of "political" people, from Lord Addison to Lord Woolton, is as complete as one would wish, with remarkable alphabetical clusters like Bevan ("Churchill...calling him a squalid nuisance")—Beveridge ("Churchill was politically embarrassed by the level of popular support for Beveridge's report")—Bevin ("a major contributor to the success of Churchill's wartime government").

If one were to adopt a nit-picking attitude, one could perhaps suggest that in Churchill's foreign relations, Eamon de Valera, with whom he reluctantly made his peace in his later years3, deserved more than one line (in the Earl of Middleton entry!). Likewise, outside the world of high politics, the film-maker, Alexander Korda, deserved perhaps at least a passing mention. Also, Wrigley uses an idiosyncratic way of giving first names. Instead of giving a man's most common first name, he sometimes gives the legal mention on his birth certificate—so Marshal Philippe Pétain becomes Henri Pétain, Admiral François Darlan becomes Jean Darlan, whilst Chamberlain is correctely listed as (Arthur) Neville.

Most of the entries are devoted to people, as the useful list of all entries given at the beginning of the book shows, and therefore one has to rely on the index for Churchill's attitude to Ireland, Germany, the United States or France. This is probably the greatest weakness in the format adopted. The young reader who has no real clue on what Churchill thought about these countries will find it very difficult to form an opinion from the dispersed information (with the exception of France, because Wrigley devotes a long paragraph to Churchill's feelings for it in his "Introduction"). Likewise, there is no obvious treatment of his attitude to Communism—all we have is an index entry for "anti-socialism:" one expects the references to be connected with his lifelong fight against the Labour Party (which of course he always chose to call the Socialist Party when he thought it would embarrass it), but they do in fact send the reader to "Mussolini" ("Churchill admired Benito Mussolini as a staunch anticommunist"), "Spears" ("Spears eagerly supported Churchill in his crusade against Bolshevism in Russia" [1919]) and "Stalin" ("Churchill was vehemently opposed to the Bolsheviks and was the most determined major Western politician to support White Russian forces against the Bolshevik government").

The index, though at times extremely useful for finding information which does not have a separate entry (e.g. Coventry, Keynes, The Malakand Field Force), does not unfortunately deserve the description it receives in the back cover blurb, "a thorough index," since it fails for instance to give "Ightham Mote," "December Club" or "Maginot Line" (found in the Spears entry), or "Villa Politi" and "Syracuse" (Colville entry). Regrettably, it also does not include "La Pausa" (mentioned in the Onassis entry: "the home of Emery and Wendy Reves") and "Roquebrune"—both deservedly getting full treatment in the text on Reves, as they occupied a large place in Churchill's post-retirement years:

After retiring from office, Churchill stayed eleven times with Emery and Wendy Reves at their villa, La Pausa, at Roquebrune in the South of France between January 1956 and April 1959. La Pausa, a former lavender farm, was 600 feet above sea level and had superb views of the coast. According to Emery Reves's estimates, Churchill spent some 400 days at La Pausa. There he finished A History of the English Speaking Peoples, painted, discussed painting, listened to classical music, and generally relaxed. He considered his stays there among the most enjoyable times of his life.

The place is also mentioned in the "Adenauer" entry, since the Chancellor "went out of his way to visit the ailing ex-premier at Roquebrune on 13 February 1958."

Even worse, the layman who has a vague memory of Churchill delivering a controversial speech on the "Iron Curtain" will not find the expression in the index, even though it is used to designate the speech in the entry on Averell Harriman : "Harriman visited Churchill when he was in the United States in 1946, and endorsed Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech." If he somehow remembers that Churchill made a joke about Westminster in his "Introduction" (the speech being given at a then obscure American college, but with an easy name to remember for a Briton, Westminster College), he will not find this name either in the index (only the Duke of Westminster), though Westminster College is mentioned in the second line of the entry. The specialist will know that it is sometimes called the Fulton Speech, of course, and he will then immediately find that an entry is deservedly devoted to it. But if he has forgotten the exact title of the speech, "The Sinews of Peace," and looks for it in the entry, he will be disappointed as it is not given. Also, the speech contained what is arguably4 the first occurrence of the expression "Special Relationship"—which is another reason why it is "one of his most famous speeches," as correctly indicated in the entry—but there is no mention of the fact in the information given on Churchill's text.

In the same vein, the Companion also does not give any information on Churchill's celebrated concept, the "three circles," first put forward at a Conservative meeting in 19485. There is no index entry for "Europe"—only one for "European Movement," and the index entry for "Zurich," which leads to the entry on Leo Amery, gives the false impression that Churchill was for European Integration as now commonly understood, i.e. including the United Kingdom: "Amery strongly supported Churchill's sentiments in favor of a united Europe." Churchill was only of course in favour of a united Continental Europe.

The suggestions for further reading which follow each entry are extremely useful, and so is the final bibliography. Churchill bibliography is a field of study in itself, with several books on the market or forthcoming, and Wrigley has managed to make an eight-page selection which does not leave out anything important (except that he had to stop with early 2001 books, with an unending flow of seminal publications [including the 2001 volume of Transactions of the Royal Historical Society in which he contributed "Churchill and the Trade Unions"] since that date—but as anybody at all interested in Churchill bibliography knows, it is impossible to keep pace in print with the constant output: only an electronic database like that of the Royal Historical Society6 can begin to approach "real time" listing). One puzzling bibliography entry is that of Princess Bibesco (no first name given), who published Sir Winston Churchill: Master of Courage in 1957. The Companion has an entry for "Bibesco, Princess Elizabeth" (1897-1945) [née Elizabeth Asquith], but the connection between the two is not made clear. Library catalogues have Princess Marthe Bibescu [or Bibesco] as author of the book in French in 1956 and in English in 1957. Why Princess Marthe (whether Princess Elizabeth's daughter or not) also was an admirer of Churchill is not explained in the Companion.

Owing to the existence of numerous collections of Churchill photographs, it was probably not easy for the author to choose his own selection. Many are interesting and unusual (e.g. the Quai d'Orsay meeting between Bonnet, Chamberlain, Daladier and Halifax on 10 January 1939), some totally unexpected, like the large-size photograph of "Reinhard Heydrich, head of the German secret police, speaking with Vermeer von Blomberg" to illustrate the entry on "The Secret Service." The captioning is generally poor. Sometimes the date is not mentioned (e.g. Montgomery & Churchill, Smuts). Often, the characters are not identified, even when they have their own entry in the Biographical Companion (e.g. Chiefs of Staff like Portal and Pound standing behind Churchill at Casablanca, Teheran [incorrectly spelt Tehran, in the modern style] and Yalta). In extreme cases, the informative content of the photograph is even totally lost, as on the picture of the Anglo-American staff meeting at Casablanca (illustrating the "Pound" entry), where twelve people are sitting round the table, but only seven are listed: it becomes a "spot-the-Admiral" game for the nonplussed layman. To illustrate the "Casablanca" entry proper, we have a photograph of what is probably a press conference (though this is not specified) with "Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, and other military leaders, 1943." On the staff meeting photograph, specialists could of course recognize Pound anyway, but this reviewer was hard put to it to find de Gaulle, let alone "other military leaders" among the crowd at the press conference.

It is surprising that a Biographical Companion should not give a more detailed Chronology, always useful for quickly finding confirmation of a date which one has half-forgotten. Admittedly, many Churchill biographies have one, but it is the stated objective of the book to facilitate the task of the enquirer by providing him directly with the information he needs, without having to reach for those heavy tomes on his Churchill shelf. When did he receive the Garter, for instance? There is no mention of it in the index (or of Knight or Knighthood or Order, either), and a cursory glance at the 1950s in the Chronology shows it is not there (it should be under "1953"—as indicated in the text, but only in the "Elizabeth II" entry). In such instances, no time is of course gained by picking up the Biographical Companion rather than conventional biographies with comprehensive indexes.

It is also difficult for the interested layman to have a quick idea of Churchill's domestic tastes and habits outside alcohol and cigars (which do have their own entries): his pastimes (bezique is mentioned under "Harriman," but with no index entry, unlike horse racing, which has one; his favourite films are not mentioned), his pets, the cats' cemetery at Chartwell or his dress (the world-famous polka-dotted bow tie, the siren suit, his love of fancy uniforms). In this respect, the reader who wants to have quick information on Pol Roger (his horse named after his favourite champagne) or Jock (the "marmelade cat" offered by John ["Jock"] Colville) or the Warden of the Cinque Ports will not agree with the back cover blurb that the book saves him "from the laborious and time-consuming task of using indexes to access specific information from the standard biographies of Churchill." The concept was excellent, but the Companion simply does not deliver its promise: the non-specialist does have much too often to continue to rely on the indexes of his usual Churchill books if he is weary of thumbing haphazardly through the Biographical Companion.

The major strength of the Companion is that it is an unparalled compendium of people connected with Churchill c.1875-c.1965 as relatives, friends, enemies, business associates, hosts, colleagues, rivals, advisers, aides and subordinates—mostly in Britain but also to a certain extent in the United States and Commonwealth—with some well selected political leaders from non-English-speaking countries. But the index is too badly devised to be of any help for quickly finding characters and other information which do not have their own entries. Paradoxically, therefore, it is the "Churchill scholar" who will derive most benefit from the substantial mass of information in the Biographical Companion—because he will know how to circumvent the serious shortcomings of the "Index" and "Chronology" when quickly checking some fact or other.

Not an advisable purchase for the average undergraduate library, but highly recommended for a postgraduate school with doctoral students working on subjects connected with Churchill as a politician and war leader (and there are many in 20th century British studies!).


1 See reviews of recent books on Churchill in Cercles :

Geoffrey BEST, Churchill: A Study in Greatness, London: Penguin, 2002.

Klaus LARRES, Churchill's Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2002.

John RAMSDEN, Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and his Legend since 1945, London : HarperCollins, 2002.

2 Other Companions in the series include Benjamin Franklin, Adolf Hitler, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Joseph Stalin, Queen Victoria and George Washington.

3 See Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and his Legend since 1945, pp. 258-259 & 368-369.

4 See the discussion in LARRES, K., Churchill's Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy, p. 83 and in D. REYNOLDS. "Churchill's War Memoirs and the Invention of the 'Special Relationship' ", in A. CAPET & A. SY-WONYU, [Editors], The "Special Relationship," Rouen: Publications de l'Université de Rouen, 2003, p. 45.

5 "Conservative Mass Meeting : A Speech at Llandudno, 9 October 1948." Reprinted in Europe Unite: Speeches 1947 & 1948. London: Cassell, 1950, pp. 416-418.

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