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No More Champagne

Churchill and his Money


David Lough


London: Head of Zeus, 201

Hardcover. xii+532 p. ISBN 978-1784081812. £25


Reviewed by Antoine Capet

Université de Rouen


‘The only thing that worries me in life is money’: the Introduction to No More Champagne starts with that passage from a letter of 1898 by the young Winston Churchill to his mother – thus setting the tone for the rest of the book, which magnificently and relentlessly expands on this phrase, directly at times, indirectly at others. It must be said that the author was uniquely qualified to write a monograph on the subject, having studied history at Oxford before becoming a financial advisor at the head of his own firm – and selling the business to take up historical research again.

The difficulty for Lough started with the fact that Churchill’s attitude to money cannot be studied in a vacuum: as the scion of a great and large family, the grandson of a duke, linked to distant relations who came suddenly to play a decisive part in his financial position, as with his unexpected Irish inheritance, he was by birth at the centre of a vast network which he soon learnt to put to good use. Moreover, his parents’ financial situation was extremely complex. To compound the difficulty his widowed (from 1895) mother – theoretically a wealthy American heiress – was hopeless with money. ‘The only thing you must avoid on all accounts is not to overdraw the money due to you’, she wrote to her son in 1890 – with Lough’s immediate comment that ‘her credentials for offering such advice are dubious’ [31].

Basically, the young Winston was brought up in a home in which money was spent more quickly than it came in. His mother, especially, spent lavishly on Paris dresses and entertained on a scale far above her real income – and she lived until 1921, which means that Churchill was always involved in complex negotiations with her and their solicitors, who acted as trustees to the money initially left by Lord Randolph, Churchill’s father. After marrying in 1908, in effect Churchill had two households to take care of: that of his spendthrift mother on top of his own – with a wife who, though reasonable with money, expected a wardrobe and travels compatible with their status in fashionable society.

Churchill was not financially hopeless, contrary to his mother: all his life he was able to achieve a delicate balancing act between his constant quest for funds and his equally constant taste for the luxuries of life. Most of the time, he was in the red, with large unpaid bills and substantial bank overdrafts – but he was always able to make good in the end, thanks to his hard work as a writer, but also thanks to the generosity of the many wealthy friends and benefactors who always came to help when his financial situation seemed desperate.

His obsession with money was not the innate craving of the hoarder, but the acquired trait of the self-indulgent. As Lough puts it when discussing the period from 1900 and 1908, ‘the young batchelor MP’s expenditure began to assume a pattern, dominated by fine clothing, footwear, books, wine, cigars, hotel meals and horses, for hunting and polo’ [67]. Many of the bills have survived in Churchill’s archives, as he kept everything – and Lough has made a fascinating exploration of all these documents, complementing the pioneering task done by Sir Martin Gilbert in his Companions to the Official Biography. All his spending was not frivolous: it is well known that Churchill was largely self-educated, devouring history books and the great classics of English and Continental literature, and Lough has dug up booksellers’ bills for 1906 amounting to over £300 (he suggests a conversion factor of 100x at 2015 rates) for new and second-hand books [76], as well as ‘4 cwt. of books’ imported from France [451]. Still, Lough indicates that Churchill ‘spent an average of £1,160 with the family’s wine merchants between 1908 and 1914’ and ‘was smoking about a dozen cigars a day, costing more than £13 a month’ (and he had not paid the supplier’s bill for five years) [91]: again one must bear in mind the 100x cost adjustment. Forty years later, we are told, ‘the champagne continued to flow at Chartwell: during April and May 1949, Churchill’s staff recorded the consumption of 454 bottles, plus 311 bottles of wine, 58 bottles of brandy, 56 bottles of Black Label whisky, 56 bottles of sherry and 69 bottles of port’ [357 – the statement by the secretaries is reproduced on Plate 29].

It would be tedious to give all the figures meticulously gathered by Lough – they will of course be invaluable to anyone studying Churchill’s particular interests at various stages in his life: for instance his spending on ‘chargers’ (polo ponies) over the years, copiously documented, must faithfully reflect his growing, then dwindling, passion for the game. After the Second World War, this was to be replaced by his ‘investment’ in race horses – also of course fully discussed. Initially, his stable had more than broken even thanks to many fortunate wins, but his luck ran out ‘and the losses increased, reaching almost £10,000 in 1962’ [400] (the conversion factor now being 20x).

The book is also a major source of documentation on Churchill’s early dwellings, before he bought Chartwell – but also on the Manor itself – as well as his days at Hyde Park Gate after the Second World War. The travels and stays – especially in France – are also excellently covered. They are often linked to one habit which he equally shared with his mother and mother-in-law: playing roulette at the casino. Here again, the balance between gains and losses was unfavourable in the long run, and one wonders when Lough speaks of his losses at Easter 1937 as ‘no more than a fairly modest £200’ [254]: this would be £12,000 today if we follow his conversion factor. Incredibly, Henry Luce of Life quietly accepted to cover Churchill’s losses at the Monte Carlo casino in 1948 as part of his ‘expenses’ [352].

Two other strands in the volume are also invaluable: how Churchill made most of his living from his writings, and how he was helped to manage his income – resorting to all the devices of legal tax avoidance – by what Lough calls ‘his large coterie of tax advisers’ [321], initially at a fee (Theodore Lumley, the family solicitor [44]), but later for free, as friends, like Lord Camrose [e.g. 313]. The field is already excellently covered by David Reynolds (In Command of History : Churchill fighting and writing the Second World War. 2004) and Peter Clarke (Mr Churchill’s Profession : Statesman, Orator, Writer. 2012), but Lough delves deeper into the intricacies of the second strand. So deep in fact that one has to be an expert at inheritance law, income tax law and property law (and perhaps other aspects of the British fiscal and legal system at various periods between the 1890s and the 1960s) to be able to benefit fully from Lough’s detailed indications and computations. Churchill’s struggle with the Inland Revenue – which might seem incongruous in someone who approved of the introduction of supertax under Lloyd George in 1909 [93] and was himself in charge of it as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1925 to 1929 – was of course dictated by the punitive rates of tax on ‘unearned income’ during the war, when he was Prime Minister: 19/6 in the pound, that is 97½ %, only reduced to 92½ % by the Labour Government in October 1945 [321]. In fact, Lough tells us, ‘it was during the 1920s that Churchill began a battle of wits agains Britain’s tax authorities that was to last for the rest of his life’ [413].

He had declared during the war that he was not prepared to write only to keep six pence in each pound he earned – and neither was he willing to do so if he was generously allowed to keep one shilling more after the war. Hence the complex manoeuvres already described by Reynolds over the income derived from The Second World War, supplemented here by the successful repetition of the process for the money accruing from all his past and later writings, and by a discussion of the negotiations over film and television rights. Lough reminds us that they were excellent money-spinners, too.

Churchill was not permanently in the red. Indeed, we are told, he ‘had begun the war with a large hole in his finances; as it drew to a close, his bank balance stood above £100,000’ [315]. Thanks to the excellent job of tax avoidance done by the ‘coterie’, the sum had risen considerably when Churchill died, in spite of his very expensive life style. The family had to pay some £260,000 in death duties – this represented 65% of his estate, viz. £430,000 [406]. Lough then discusses the renewed negotiations with the Treasury about the value of the paintings which the family was prepared to donate in lieu of tax as well as the protracted and finally successful efforts of his grandson to sell the remaining ‘private’ papers to the Major Government – which he supported as a Conservative MP – for £12.5 million in 1994. Even better for the heirs, they kept the considerable copyright income until 31 December 2038 [411]. Clearly, another monograph is needed: The Churchills and their Money.

In the meantime, Churchill and his Money will be found a most welcome addition to the Churchill canon. The proof-reading must have been very careful (as appropriate for a book on someone who took the task very seriously) since no English mistake was detected (though there is one in French: 'The Pug is décassé' [91] should of course be déclassé  as in Churchilll's letter from which the phrase is taken); there is no pretentious jargon; the footnoting is beyond reproach: all the elements are there to enable this reviewer to recommend acquisition unreservedly to all University libraries.


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