I never planned to be a “historian.” I was a Chemistry drop-out at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1960), a fail-safe graduate of Wagner College (1963), a 120-day-wonder U.S. Coast Guard officer (1964-67), a bored bureaucrat at the Pennsylvania Department of Health (1967-70). Chance sale of a car article landed me an editorship at Automobile Quarterly, then in its heyday, where I got into my bones the essentials of writing history. I left AQ to freelance in 1975 and have been, as my wife likes to remind me, unemployed ever since.
Sleepless in Harrisburg, I began collecting stamps and founded the Churchill Study Unit to investigate Churchill commemorative postage in 1968. Three years later it became the International Churchill Society, a broader organization for anyone interested (pro and con) in Winston Churchill, his life and times, and editing its quarterly journal, Finest Hour. I left the Society to others in the 1970s in single-minded pursuit of an obsession with funny old cars. I wrote, co-wrote or published 54 books and 2000 articles on automotive history—American, English and European, most of them “potboilers,” but a few have stood the test of time: Kaiser-Frazer: Last Onslaught on Detroit, Triumph Cars, The Studebaker Century, The Encyclopedia of American Cars, The Complete Book of Collectible Cars, GM: 100 Years, and Packard: A History of the Motorcar and the Company.
For me, Packard built the grandest cars in America. I had the honor to serve as editor of The Packard Cormorant from 1975 through 2001, and have been a trustee of the Packard Motorcar Foundation since 2003. I was betimes editor of The Milestone Car, The Vintage Triumph and Car Classics magazines, and sampled about forty collector cars. For eight years I owned a wonderful 1936 Packard One Twenty convertible named “Gatsby,” now in Germany.
With part of the proceeds I bought a body-off restoration, a 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner with stick overdrive. My old friend Bob Bourke, who is no longer with us, would love to see this beautiful car, the high point, I believe, of American production styling in the 1950s:
In 1981 the doorbell rang and Winston Churchill was standing there (figuratively). I had dug out an old box of stamps and picked up his wonderful autobiography, My Early Life: exaggerated, egotistical and not quite accurate, but in Harold Nicolson’s words, “like a beaker of champagne.” I revived the Churchill Society, moribund since 1975, and produced a new issue of its journal Finest Hour.Little did I imagine that by 1995 the Society would become The Churchill Centre, dedicated “to fostering leadership, statesmanship, vision and boldness among democratic and freedom-loving peoples through the thoughts, words, works and deeds of Winston Spencer Churchill,” or that Finest Hour would grow to a 64-page magazine and publish its 150th issue in 2011. I have also since become a historical consultant to the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, the official U.S. national memorial to Winston Churchill.
Along the way I began collecting Churchill’s books and, because I couldn’t get enough, was a Churchill specialist bookseller from 1982 to 2004, when I sold the business to Chartwell Booksellers in New York City. I published an American edition of Churchill’s rare 1931 book, India (1991), A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill (1998) and four books of quotations, Winston Churchill by Himself (2008), The Definitive Wit of Winston Churchill (2009). The Patriot’s Churchill (2010) and All Will Be Well: Good Advice from Winston Churchill (2011).
And now for something completely different. In 2003 we built a house on Eleuthera, Bahamas, which we’ve loved since 1981, where Barbara and I now spend four months a year, writing, playing, and editing our local property owners association newsletter, The Rainbow Times.
In 1998 Her Majesty the Queen saw fit to reward me with a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), “for services to Anglo-American understanding and the memory of Sir Winston Churchill.” I could only respond with Churchill’s words when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953: “I am proud, but also I must admit, awestruck at your decision to include me. I do hope you are right. I feel we are both running a considerable risk and that I do not deserve it. But I shall have no misgivings if you have none.”
It has been the work of Finest Hour (certainly the only likely credit to stipple on my crematory urn) to reflect on Winston Churchill, the Washington or Lincoln of modern times; to rise above the trivial and the legendary, above the frothy soap opera picture, above the memorabilia, above even the blood, sweat and tears; to defend his greatness from carpers and cranks; to show that warts and all, Churchill was one of a kind—a politician who not only talked, but thought—not just the person of a century, but of a millennium.
Churchill wrote of the culminating event of his life, the night he became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940: “I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and was sure I should not fail.” Well, that is what this website is about: an opportunity to share what I know; to answer questions; to set the record right (and Churchill was not always right); to poke curiously into obscure corners of history; to learn more myself—and to communicate with Churchilllians, car nuts, Bahamian adventurers, an eclectic mix—but I do know a good deal about it all.
I once referred to the seven (count ’em) people who subscribed to both Finest Hour and The Packard Cormorant as “The Sainted Seven Subscribers.” And that is what you are: a Sainted Web-Browser, for having landed here at richardlangworth.com. I hope the visit will reward you in some pleasant or useful way.