Looking into Churchill and his bulldog spirit
Friday: Churchill: Beginnings; (Channel 5, 9pm)
In a nationwide BBC poll in 2002, more than a million voters decided Winston Churchill was the ‘greatest Briton of all time’, ahead of Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell.
The inspiring leader with a bulldog spirit remains Britain’s most iconic Prime Minister.
He was also a Great War hero who took part in the last cavalry charge in British history, not to mention a mercurial adventurer and defender of a declining Empire, an author of gargantuan output, and political chameleon who was both radical liberal and reactionary conservative.
But all that is only part of the story, and behind the legend lies a extremely complicated man.
This major six-part series from award-winning filmmaker Chris Durlacher, whose docu-drama George Orwell – A Life In Pictures won a Grierson and an Emmy, explores every facet of the man.
Family members, experts and close friends speak honestly about Churchill’s tough aristocratic upbringing, his formative years in the military, his battles for political power, his depression, his dogged wartime leadership and his determination to create a lasting legacy. Modern historians assess his more controversial beliefs, and shed light not just on his finest moments, but his darkest hours and the lesser-known stories that defined his character.
In tonight’s opening edition, we see how Churchill’s early life was driven by the desire to prove himself to his father, Lord Randolph Churchill.
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born into aristocracy in the grand family home of Bleinhem Palace, the seat of his grandfather the 7th Duke of Marlborough, on 30 November 1874.
Surrounded by paintings of his illustrious ancestors, from a young age he was acutely aware that he had a lot to live up to. His father was an ambitious, controversial, highly successful Conservative politician and a strict disciplinarian and his mother the daughter of a New York financier. Both failed to give young Winston the affection he craved.
At 13, he scraped into the lowest class at Harrow, and Randolph, believing that his son was academically unsuited for politics or law, had him placed in the army class. Following his father’s untimely death, reportedly from syphilis, aged just 45, Winston channelled his sense of loss at his into a fierce determination to succeed at all costs.
He joined the army, enrolling at Sandhurst as an officer cadet in September 1893, before fighting in numerous wars and eventually giving up soldiering for journalism. After the Boer Republics declared war on Britain in 1899, Churchill travelled to South Africa to cover the conflict as a war correspondent.
While there, he was on an armoured train in Natal when it was ambushed, and he was captured and imprisoned in Pretoria.
However, when the guards’ backs were turned, he took his opportunity to escape, clambering over a prison wall, jumping on a passing train, and hiding among sacks.
Churchill arrived in Durban a hero, while back in Britain, stories of his exploits made him famous.
It was then that he made his move into politics, becoming an MP, aged just 25. But no matter what success he achieved in his early years, and throughout his life, Winston never managed to escape the ghost of his hugely influential, but distant father.
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