Michael Dobbs Churchill Novels

Michael Dobbs Churchill Novels

My in-laws gave me the four-book series of Win­ston Churchill nov­els by Michael Dobbs. They are set against the back­drop of the Sec­ond World War. I enjoyed them immense­ly. They are very sat­is­fy­ing reads. Dobbs offers infor­ma­tive, insight­ful, sub­jec­tive views of the major play­ers of the era. —T.D.

I cer­tain­ly agree, and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly reviewed these nov­els when pub­lished. Years lat­er they still res­onate: Winston’s War (2002), Nev­er Sur­ren­der (2003), Churchill’s Hour (2004) and Churchill’s Tri­umph (2006).

Michael Dobbs (Lord Dobbs of Wylye) is most famous as the author of House of Cards, the long-run­ning British and Amer­i­can series of polit­i­cal skull­dug­gery in high places. His Churchill nov­els are how­ev­er of anoth­er genre. They are fic­tion with a sense of place and and char­ac­ter. They do not strain his­tor­i­cal creduli­ty. Dobbs gives us an hon­est pic­ture of Churchill with­out slap­ping him with per­ceived foibles. (Churchill’s real foibles are plain enough in the Dobbs lex­i­con.) Here is an excerpt from my review of the first title in the series.

Winston’s War (2009)


In April 1938, fac­ing a moun­tain of debt, Churchill put Chartwell, his beloved coun­try home, on the mar­ket. A few days lat­er he with­drew it. Bren­dan Brack­en, his polit­i­cal dis­ci­ple, had saved the place with a can­ny inter­ven­tion. Brack­en con­vinced the financier Sir Hen­ry Strakosch to man­age Churchill’s invest­ments, being respon­si­ble for all debts and loss­es. Strakosch thus spared Churchill finan­cial dis­trac­tions dur­ing his cam­paign for British resis­tance to Adolf Hitler.

For pur­pos­es of this nov­el you are required to believe that the Strakosch res­cue nev­er occurred—that Churchill’s finances were still pre­car­i­ous when Neville Cham­ber­lain went to Munich in Sep­tem­ber 1938; and that Churchill was incensed by Munich because his invest­ments, made in antic­i­pa­tion of war, might not now pay off.

You must also believe that two civ­il ser­vants, Sir Horace Wil­son and Sir Joseph Ball, were, respec­tive­ly, Chamberlain’s emi­nence grise and polit­i­cal assas­sin. The first dic­tat­ed the PM’s every move between Munich and the inva­sion of Poland. The lat­ter went after Chamberlain’s ene­mies with the tac­tics of a Mafia chief­tain. This is not too rad­i­cal a descrip­tion of Wil­son, but the real Ball was a milder character.

What war was…

If you are will­ing how­ev­er tem­porar­i­ly to believe all that—and if you will fur­ther accept that Cham­ber­lain hat­ed Churchill till the day he died (he didn’t)—Michael Dobbs will spin you a good yarn about the par­lia­men­tary machi­na­tions, treach­ery and betray­al by which Churchill became Prime Min­is­ter in 1940.

He will also tell you, bet­ter per­haps than any his­to­ry book, what the war was like for ordi­nary peo­ple, try­ing to pre­serve their fam­i­lies amidst the chaos brought by incom­pe­tent leadership.

These lit­tle sto­ries, inter­twined with the main plot, tell a sto­ry end­less­ly repeat­ed in Britain, whose cit­i­zens knew bet­ter than any­one the sheer hor­ror of the Sec­ond World War.

True to life

Many of the char­ac­ter sketch­es—Alfred Duff Coop­er, Samuel Hoare, Lord Hal­i­fax, the King—are pow­er­ful­ly believ­able. Two fic­ti­tious Cham­ber­lai­nite MPs are quot­ed throughout—I was con­vinced I was hear­ing Wal­ter Runci­man and Rab But­ler. The omnipresent shade of Lord Ran­dolph Churchill remains in Winston’s mind, Lord Dobbs wrote me: “I have always com­pared and con­trast­ed Churchill’s rela­tion­ship with his father to that of—wait for it—Adolf Hitler. Hitler loathed his father. I sus­pect that rela­tion­ship might have been a cause of the son’s bru­tal and deper­son­al­ized char­ac­ter. Churchill, by con­trast, embraced his father’s neglect and gained char­ac­ter, strength and com­pas­sion from it. A huge plus for Winston.”

Dobbs nov­els are well craft­ed. I couldn’t put Winston’s War down. A grip­ping tale, told with the famous skill that gave us Fran­cis Urquhart MP, the evil schemer of House of Cards—what more could you want?

Dobbs on Dobbs

Here are in the views of Lord Dobbs him­self on the role of the novelist:

A novelist’s eye looks to the inner man: not sim­ply what he achieves but who he is, how true and how strong his heart beats. In my eye, Win­ston Churchill had one of the most extra­or­di­nary hearts of all time. It beat as res­olute­ly as a drum, and to its tim­bre the world marched from the jaws of Hell. Yet that same huge heart also over­came obsta­cles in his pri­vate affairs that would have crip­pled most ordi­nary mor­tals. He was great not because he got every­thing right (hah!) or because he was always pleas­ant and polite (he wasn’t), but because he man­aged to save our world even while bat­tling with his own pri­vate demons.

Is he rel­e­vant in today’s world? Of course he is. Open your news­pa­per and you will be bom­bard­ed with mes­sages about a World Cri­sis, a Gath­er­ing Storm, nations torn between the appeals of meet­ing jaw to jaw as an alter­nate to war. Some of the issues have changed, of course. But the fun­da­men­tal inspi­ra­tion of Churchill’s life was that we make our own world. The tide of his­to­ry isn’t dri­ven by irre­sistible Marx­ist-Fas­cist tides and irre­versible social trends but by the pas­sions of men and women. What we do, you and I, and those we elect, makes a dif­fer­ence. In the end, it’s up to us, and how big we find our hearts to be.

Identifying with the Old Man…

Yet it’s the nature of the man that appeals to me most. When I talk to school chil­dren about that strange beast Win­ston Churchill, I show him not just as an over­ly-round six­ty-some­thing with lit­tle hair and a fat cig­ar who did extra­or­di­nary things, but also as a tor­ment­ed and at times fright­ened child who was sub­ject­ed to abuse at school and—let’s be frank—a fair dose of parental neglect at home. Yet still he made it through. If Win­ston were in a class­room today he would be sit­ting in the back row, a child with few friends, with a trou­bled home life, with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, with school reports that summed him up as all but worth­less, who couldn’t even make it to uni­ver­si­ty. And yet….

To watch the fas­ci­na­tion of young eyes sud­den­ly alert, iden­ti­fy­ing with our Old Man, real­is­ing that per­haps they, too, might find some way to over­come their own per­son­al chal­lenges, nev­er fails to be a tran­scend­ing moment.

What would his mes­sage be today? I sus­pect it would not be framed in terms of Mis­sion Accom­plished, but nei­ther would it be Mis­sion Impos­si­ble. Wher­ev­er he is remem­bered, the mem­o­ry brings hope and a reminder that noth­ing in the course of human affairs is beyond our reach. He remains an inspi­ra­tion to school­child­ren and states­men, and to the rest of us who fall some­where in between.

2 thoughts on “Michael Dobbs Churchill Novels

  1. I agree that Dobbs’ Churchill nov­els are enter­tain­ing, accu­rate, and give a good feel­ing of who Churchill was as a man. I take excep­tion with one dis­turb­ing aspect. In Winston’s War Dobbs used, of all peo­ple, Guy Burgess to prop up a less than resolved Churchill to deal with the Hitler threat. In the sec­ond nov­el in the tetral­o­gy, Nev­er Sur­ren­der, Dobbs used Ruth Mueller, a refugee from Ger­many, to stiff­en Churchill against the Hitler men­ace. Sci-fi nov­el­ist James Hogan (The Pro­teus Oper­a­tion, 1985) sent a team of Amer­i­cans from 1975 back to 1939 sim­i­lar­ly to prop up Churchill to fight Hitler. Every­one should know that Churchill need­ed no one to stiff­en his resolve. The asser­tion that Churchill was need­ed some­one else to moti­vate him is fal­la­cious and down­right offen­sive. Nev­er­the­less, the nov­els are worth read­ing and give keen insights of the back-of-the-room pol­i­tics that Churchill had to navigate.

  2. Langvorts, Great stuff. Keep it com­ing and I will remain and inter­est­ed and avid read­er. Dieus Sveti Latviu. With fond mem­o­ries of ear­li­er years and all best wish­es for future years. Russells.

    Paldies, Rase­lam, un ar laba vēlēju­miem Jau­na­jam gadam un Latvi­jas neatkarības 51. gadam. -Langvorts

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