Churchill so doted on his son Randolph that he turned into a brat who once urinated on Lloyd George



by Josh Ireland (John Murray £20, 400 pp)

In 1964, Winston’s Churchill’s only son, Randolph, went into hospital to have a tumour removed. It was not, the doctors announced, malignant.

‘A typical triumph of modern science,’ his sometime friend Evelyn Waugh noted in his diary, ‘to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.’

In his lifetime Randolph Churchill often had a poor Press and, in the decades since his death, he’s found few defenders. Many people have agreed with Jock Colville, his father’s private secretary during the war, who described him as ‘one of the most objectionable people I had ever met: noisy, self-assertive, whining and frankly unpleasant’.

Josh Ireland has penned a book exploring how the relationship Randolph had with his father Winston Churchill shaped his entire life. Pictured: Winston Churchill at home with Randolph and daughter Diana

Drunk more often than not, he careered through life from blazing row to blazing row, leaving a trail of broken friendships behind him.

Randolph was highly intelligent and could be charming, but his main gift was for anger. When he lost his rag, he lost it spectacularly, jumping up and down like a child, kicking out at the furniture and letting loose volleys of obscenities and wounding remarks. ‘A black fog envelops me,’ he once said, ‘and I just don’t care what I say.’

Josh Ireland doesn’t deny his subject’s many faults but he creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the man — and of the relationship with his father that shaped his entire life. Winston Churchill had hero-worshipped his own father, the late 19th-century politician, Lord Randolph Churchill. ‘The problem was,’ Ireland notes, ‘that while he was alive, Lord Randolph barely spared his son a second glance.’

Winston was determined that he would be closer to his own son. After his heir arrived in 1911, he gave him Lord Randolph’s name, but he lavished love and attention on the child in ways that his own father had not done on him.

Sadly, the effect was to turn the young Randolph into a spoilt brat. While still in short pants, he drove a series of nannies out of the family home. He would stand on the staircase as they left, crying ‘Nanny’s going, Nanny’s going. Hurrah! Hurrah!’ On one occasion, he urinated out of a bedroom window onto the heads of his father and Lloyd George, walking in the garden below.

As he grew up, he continued to enrage and delight his father in equal measure. Winston would write to his son in words that, as Ireland points out, could come from a love letter. (‘My darling, only a line to give you all my love and to tell you how often I think of you,’ runs one written during World War II when Randolph was in his 30s.) Randolph could also drive his father into such a fury that onlookers feared he would have a heart attack.

The recurring problem of what Randolph was to do with his life vexed both men. Winston wanted his son to enter Parliament and create a political dynasty. Randolph was happy to oblige but, unfortunately, the voters of various constituencies were less keen.

Randolph split the Tory vote, which let Labour in when he stood as an Independent Conservative in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935. Pictured: Winston Churchill with Randolph and daughter Diana

Randolph split the Tory vote, which let Labour in when he stood as an Independent Conservative in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935. Pictured: Winston Churchill with Randolph and daughter Diana

Standing as an Independent Conservative in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935, Randolph only succeeded in splitting the Tory vote and letting in Labour. A campaign in Ross & Cromarty in northern Scotland where, as someone noted, there were ‘more stags than Tories’, also ended in failure. For much of the 1930s, Randolph was reduced to journalism — ‘the calling for which no credentials or examinations are required’, as he described it.

In spite of this, Winston remained, in Ireland’s words, ‘luminously proud of Randolph’. He continued to shower him with love, which was ‘reflected back to him doubled in force’. Throughout Churchill’s ‘wilderness years’, his son was his noisiest and most devoted supporter.

With the coming of World War II, Winston’s meeting with destiny had arrived but Randolph still found it difficult to carve out a place for himself in the world. He decided it was time to get married and, after proposing to eight women in a fortnight, he found one — Pamela Digby — who said yes.

Joining the Army, he was posted to Egypt where he was seen ‘fondling his Egyptian girlfriends’ in Cairo bars while Pamela, back in London, was embarking on an affair with the American diplomat Averell Harriman. Despite Randolph’s own unrestrained infidelity (he was in bed with another woman when Pamela went into labour with their son), he was outraged when he discovered this.

CHURCHILL & SON by Josh Ireland (John Murray £20, 400 pp)

CHURCHILL & SON by Josh Ireland (John Murray £20, 400 pp)

Randolph was not an ideal soldier (he did not seem to understand that, as Ireland neatly puts it, ‘strict military hierarchy actively discouraged humble second lieutenants from haranguing their seniors about how they should be running the war’), but he was a brave one. Fighting with the Partisans in Yugoslavia, he was known as ‘the incredible Englishman’.

In some ways, the war years were Randolph’s best. His post-war life was one of decline and ill-health. He divorced Pamela and married again. ‘The young lady . . . must be possessed of magnificent courage,’ Evelyn Waugh remarked. Randolph’s drink problem grew worse.

At one stage he was working his way through two bottles of whisky a day. ‘There were nights,’ Ireland writes, ‘when Randolph would be thrown out of three hotels before dawn.’

He was briefly revitalised when he was given the job of official biographer to Winston, but by then he had destroyed his constitution. He died in 1968, three years after his father. He was, as Ireland makes clear, a terrible, arrogant, fearsomely quarrelsome man. ‘Randolph would pick an argument with a chair,’ his sister Mary once noted. She also saw that ‘the greatest misfortune in R’s life is that he is Papa’s son’.

Randolph recognised this all too well. ‘If I achieve anything,’ he told a journalist in the 1950s, ‘they all say it’s because of my father, and when I do something badly they say, “What a tragedy for the Old Man.” I can never win.’

His story is, ultimately, a sad one, but Josh Ireland tells it very well and very entertainingly.

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