Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
10 October 2018

BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, Churchill’s Passions, is full of powerful images, and sounds fantastic

Over five days, the historian Andrew Roberts condenses some of his new book’s 1,152 pages into five essays that he also narrates.

By Antonia Quirke

Having occasionally prayed for release from Winston Churchill (two movies last year alone; ten-plus door-slamming episodes of The Crown; news that Boris Johnson’s biography just topped 250,000 UK sales) I dragged my heels to Churchill’s Passions (8 October, 9:45am). Over five days, the historian Andrew Roberts condenses some of his new book’s 1,152 pages into five essays that he also narrates… and it sounds fantastic. Not least Roberts’s speaking voice – brisk, fastidious. He says that from the age of 16 Churchill believed, with a blinding light, that he was destined to “save London and England from disaster”, and henceforth operated with a clear sense of a code.

This conviction was dependent not upon some change in outward facts but upon his own will. Having escaped death as often as Bruce Willis (Winston was born premature, stabbed as a schoolboy, voluntarily went into No Man’s Land on 30 occasions, and was in three car and two plane crashes), Churchill had a faith in fate and providence that verged on a “psychological disorder”. He was spookily prescient, too, in his twenties correctly predicting (like some Hindu monk) the exact date of his death. And he was overwhelmingly emotional.  “The older Churchill got,” notes Roberts, “the more he wept.” Poetry set him off. Birthdays. Stories of loyal dogs. March-pasts. Visits to submarines. Train journeys. The memory of funerals of people he didn’t even admire.

Voters loved snaps of Churchill buried in a huge hankie, under a splashy hat – that swollen face, custardy and post-blub (no PM has achieved an approval rating even close to his). Churchill may technically have been a late Victorian but (says Roberts) he resembled more a Regency aristocrat of the kind who bore Nelson’s coffin from church, bawling. It’s one of many powerful images in the essays. We are lucky, states Roberts, to have been led by someone who was not a “cold calculating logician”. Instead we got someone who sounds frequently mad – not in a funny, cuckoo way, but in an unmodern, obsessed sort of way. The familiar narrative that Churchill “saved” us – that there existed a “hero” who actually did it – bears endless, increasingly tantalising retellings. Because it’s not that far from the truth. 

Book of the Week: Churchill’s Passions
BBC Radio 4

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
The green transition can unlock 40,000 new businesses and £175bn
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”
Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 10 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How austerity broke Britain