Girlfriends: Was Winston Churchill a Young Bacchanal?

Girlfriends: Was Winston Churchill a Young Bacchanal?

Girlfriends and West End carousing

Girlfriends(Update from 2013.) Michael Shelden, author of Young Titan, set Lon­don media buzzing with spec­u­la­tion that young Vio­let Asquith attempt­ed sui­cide after Churchill decid­ed to mar­ry Clemen­tine Hozi­er.  (An upcom­ing Q&A to be dis­cussed by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project.)

Not only that, report­ed the Dai­ly Mail, “He caroused with West End call girls and pro­posed to THREE soci­ety beauties—who turned him down.” (Some girl­friends! Cap­i­tal­iza­tion theirs.)

The soci­ety girl­friends were Pamela Plow­den, Muriel Wil­son and the actress Ethel Bar­ry­more. But the most raff­ish thing Mr. Shelden report­ed Churchill doing is show­er­ing Miss Bar­ry­more with “arm­fuls of flow­ers.” He also showed up at Claridge’s each night after her West End play end­ed, where he would “insist she have din­ner with him.”

The rest of the Mail‘s lurid headline—“He caroused with West End call girls”—concerns a sto­ry Churchill him­self first told. As a Sand­hurst cadet, he stood up for Lon­don show­girls at the Empire The­atre when “prudes on the prowl” attempt­ed to erect bar­ri­ers shel­ter­ing their prom­e­nades from more upright soci­ety. Churchill report­ed this in My Ear­ly Life (1930). As the bar­ri­ers fell, he made what was appar­ent­ly his first speech ever: “Ladies of the Empire! I stand for Liberty!”

Stretching the sources

The “carous­ing sto­ry” was appar­ent­ly caused by Mr. Shelden’s note that Churchill and Lord Rose­bery once dat­ed a pair of “Gai­ety Girls.” Each of them took one home. Alas, Winston’s date lat­er told Rose­bery he’d “done noth­ing but talk into the small hours on the sub­ject of him­self.” This sounds famil­iar from reports by his actu­al girl­friends. (Clemen­tine Hozi­er said the same.) It jibes with many descrip­tions of young Winston’s encoun­ters with women.

Mr. Shelden’s very well done book reports, “Every­where he went he wore a glossy top hat, starched wing col­lar and frock coat. His acces­sories includ­ed a walk­ing stick and watch chain.” He even wore silk under­wear. This was the stan­dard dress of most Edwar­dian Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment. I’m not sure if they all wore silk under­wear…. But as Win­ston explained to his young wife, who com­plained about the cost: “I have a very sen­si­tive cuticle.”

Read the book, but take the media—as always—with a grain of salt.

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