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Posted 02 March 2010 - 02:24 PM
Winston Churchill, who died today aged 69, never quite managed in 27 years as a Conservative MP to shrug off the burdens of having had the wartime leader as his grandfather and the ebullient, self-destructive Randolph Churchill for a father.
Faced with the choice of emulating Sir Winston or pursuing a career outside politics, he opted for the former, proved competent if mercurial, but lacked the exceptional flair to establish himself in his own right.
Churchill was at a disadvantage not only through his legacy but because his preoccupation with it led some to consider him bumptious; alone of more than 650 MPs, he insisted on signing Commons motions without using his Christian name.
He caused a furore in 1995 when he negotiated the payment to the Churchill family of £12.5 million in National Lottery funds for his grandfather's personal papers to remain at Churchill College, Cambridge rather than be sold abroad, himself retaining the copyright for 20 years. It had not been widely appreciated, even among historians, that the papers were eligible for sale as the family had already received £393,000 for them in 1946.
There were suggestions that Churchill needed the cash to offset his losses as a "name" at Lloyds, to finance his divorce from his first wife or even to bail out his mother Pamela Harriman, who had almost exhausted the £100 million railroad fortune of her final husband. The Churchill trustees insisted first that he would only receive some of the investment income, then said they would consider a request to fund the divorce.
Randolph Churchill had observed of his son: "His name is such a disadvantage", but young Winston saw both sides: "A famous name can be terrible if you are lousy, but if you are any good, it helps." It may have got him bullied at school, but it did secure him the best tables at restaurants. It did not always carry weight, however; when after the Gulf War he introduced himself to a squaddie in the desert, he received the reply: "Yes, and I'm Rommel."
It would been difficult for Churchill to escape his legacy even had he tried. He was a favourite grandchild; Sir Winston once asked his tobacconist to send some cigars "of good quality, but not quite as good as mine" for his birthday, and he was a valued bricklayer's mate at Chartwell.
From his appearance as page at the wedding of the Duke of Marlborough's daughter Lady Sarah Spencer Churchill in May 1943, he was part of the Churchill legend. He was one of three generations of Churchills to attend the Coronation, as page to Viscount Portal, in his teens he dined with Aristotle Onassis and Greta Garbo, and he accompanied his father to the ceremony in 1963 at which President Kennedy signed the legislation making Sir Winston an American citizen. The pictures at his first wedding in July 1964 were the last taken of Sir Winston.
Churchill was frequently at the bedside during his grandfather's final coma; his elder son Randolph was born two days before the great man died. At the funeral he and his father walked beside the gun carriage, and afterward Lady Churchill came to stay. He kept the flame alive as a trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, an honorary fellow of Churchill and an honorary LLD of Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, where Sir Winston's "Iron Curtain" speech was delivered.
He was quick to protect his grandfather's reputation. When in 1968 Rolf Hochhuth's play Soldiers accused Sir Winston of complicity in the wartime death of the Polish leader General Sikorski, Churchill led the protests against this "ungrounded libel"; he was trenchant four years later in attacking a BBC programme suggesting that Sir Winston connived in the sinking of the Lusitania, and in 1981 when the BBC (again) claimed he had planned biological warfare against Germany.
But his most celebrated defence of his grandfather came in the Commons on November 30 1978, when James Callaghan, recalling Sir Winston's role in the 1911 South Wales pit dispute, urged him not to pursue "the vendetta of your family against the miners of Tonypandy". Churchill demanded that the prime minister withdraw, as Sir Winston had not sent in troops as Labour tradition maintained; Speaker George Thomas declared that as an old boy of Tonypandy grammar school he had never imagined he would have the last word on the issue.
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