The last of our 800 emails since 2012 arrived May 13th, a stab in the heart: “I am very poorly, I have developed a severe form of cancer of the blood. I spent most of the last four weeks in hospital—out today after an operation to remove liquid from around my lungs. I am extremely weak and cannot make any plans for the future.”
A bright star in the Churchill firmament vanished on June 2nd. Our colleague Dave Turrell speaks for us all: “One of the nicest, kindest men I ever met.” Paul Rafferty’s fine book on Churchill’s Riviera paintings was translated by Antoine: “He was a joy to work with,” Paul wrote. “He was precise, knowledgeable, questioned everything, and got it ‘right.’ My French edition has few to zero errors to my knowledge, and this is down to Antoine.”
To those Martin Gilbert called “toilers in the Churchill vineyard,” Antoine Capet was known through 2014 as Professor of British Studies at the University of Rouen. He ran numberless lectures, seminars and proceedings. He wrote erudite book reviews, and published in Cercles, Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone.
For the Hillsdale College Churchill Project, Antoine Capet produced a score of articles, abstracts and book reviews, exhaustively researched and pinpoint-accurate. Refusing honoraria, he requested copies of The Churchill Documents as they were published. He soon had them all, but waved away further rewards. To Antoine, ferreting out the truth was reward enough. When I asked if he’d seen the exquisite Monaco a la voile latine edition of Savrola, he acquired a copy, and then another, and another. He was soon an expert on this beautiful limited edition, and wrote an informed article about its variations.
Joie de vivre
If you want to know about wine, ask a Frenchman. Antoine knew wine as well as he knew Churchill, and advised me with his usual precision about what to buy and avoid. “Skip those fancy châteaux on the 1855 Bordeaux classification,” he urged. “Cru Bourgeois boasts exquisite but little known châteaux that are equally good and a fifth the price.” When I felt adventuresome, he sent me to the Haut-Pyrénées: “Now, from the Madiran area, you might like to look Château d’Aydie. But beware: the Odé d’Aydie is their ‘second wine.’ One must insist on Château d’Aydie. I only discovered it recently, seduced by the value for money.” I promise, you can take his advice to the bank.
Antoine’s English was as flawless as his French. I admired his unimpeachable command of two languages, a skill denied me. Only a few weeks ago, we joked about a U.S. newspaper giving the French spelling of “Putin” as “Putain.” This is a derogatory term in French. Antoine quipped: “I can only contribute by indicating that in French, Putin becomes ‘Poutine’ (like Lénine and Staline). So no confusion is possible!” He laughed when I told him Quebec has renamed “poutine,” its national dish. To avoid connotations with Mr. Putin, it is now called “pommes frites and gravy.”
On a more serious level Antoine brought his quality of cheery pedantry to every subject under the sun, and we will vastly miss his skillful advice, always delivered in the politest terms without the slightest hint of rebuke. Combined with his comprehensive knowledge of the Churchill saga, those are rare qualities. We miss him already, for he has left an unfillable hole among the friends who loved him.