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Winston Churchill

“At No. 10 Downing Street everyone referred to the newly appointed sixty-five-year-old P.M. as ‘the Old Man.’ In many ways he was an alarming master. He worked outrageous hours. He was self-centered and could be shockingly inconsiderate.

Churchill cared little for obtuse political or social theories; he was a man of action: state the problem, find a solution, and solve the problem. For a man of action, however, he was exceptionally thoughtful and well read…

Afterward everyone who had been around him in 1940 remembered the Old Man’s astonishing, unflagging energy. He was overweight and fifteen years older than Hitler; he never exercised, yet ‘he was working,’ Kathleen Hill, one of Churchill’s typists, recalled, ‘all the time, every waking moment.’ Young Jock Colville marveled at ‘Winston’s ceaseless industry’...

He kept hours that would stagger a young man. Late each evening, at midnight or shortly thereafter, a courier arrived in Downing Street with the first editions of the morning newspapers, eight or nine in all. The Old Man skimmed them before retiring, and sometimes, Kathleen Hill later recalled, he would telephone the Daily Mail to inquire about new developments in a running story.

The prime minister’s day began at eight o’clock in the morning, when he woke after five or six hours’ sleep and rang a bell summoning his usual breakfast: an egg, bacon or ham or chipped beef (when meat was available), sometimes a piece of sole, all washed down by his glass of white wine, or a pot of tea, a black Indian blend. Then a typewriter arrived, accompanied by a stenographer—usually Mrs. Hill or Miss Watson—to whom he would dictate a stream of memos as she rapidly hammered them out and he worked his way through a large black dispatch box.

When boredom struck, he could be depended upon to make a ‘ruthless break’ in pursuit of a more enjoyable source of entertainment. The balm might take the form of dictating a letter, singing off-key renditions of Gilbert and Sullivan, perhaps wielding his trowel to lay bricks in the gardens at Chartwell… He always kept his quiver full of possible activities: read a novel, feed his goldfish, address his black swans, parse the newspapers, declaim on England’s glorious past…

In relief of boredom, almost any action—short of the wicked—would do, with one prerequisite: it had to possess value, and Churchill was the arbiter of the value. There simply was none to be had by sitting through Citizen Kane or lingering in reception lines…

He possessed, John Martin recalled, a ‘zigzag streak of lightning on the brain.’… ‘If he hadn’t been this sort of bundle of energy that he was,’ recalled Martin, ‘he would never have carried the whole machine, civil and military, right through to the end of the war.'”


Excerpted from The Last Lion: Winston Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid.

In private meetings with his confidants, Hitler called Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s capitulating predecessor, a “little worm”. The Führer would come to refer to Churchill as “a superannuated drunk sustained by Jewish gold”.

Amongst his advisors, Churchill, who had a considerable talent at the easel, also had a pet nickname for Hitler, a failed artist. He would call him, in a voice derisively deadpan, “The housepainter”.