Ms. Camilla Long (“TV Review, Sunday Times, March 11th)* has a way with words. Never mind that some of them are so ultra-camp that she could be accused of gratuitously inflicting them on the rest of us proles with malnourished intellects.
“Hoorays,” “lilo,” “naff,” “proto-Wallis” and “pantomime horse-named” may be daily vernacular in the rarified atmosphere of the Sunday Times Culture Section. But they’re likely to confuse anyone who prefers communication to obfuscation. However, the Long View of my colleague Andrew Roberts as a “striped-piglet historian” makes me forgive her everything. I will dine out on that one many times, not least with the Striped Piglet himself.
“Churchill’s Secret Affair”
Long deftly carves up the nonsense-story of Churchill’s 1930s “secret affair” with Lady Castlerosse. “Something I’ve never wondered is what Winston Churchill was like in bed,” she writes. “Not that this has stopped the raunchy old dogs in Channel 4 [from giving us] chewing gum history [to make] Churchill more ‘accessible’ and ‘real’ to millennials, none of whom presumably know who he was.”
In the TV show, Long continues, “No detail was too salacious, too small, too silly … publicity-hungry relatives were dredged up and hosed down to repeat family rumours … Churchill College, Cambridge [was] instantly re-imagined in my mind as the Dan Brownish History College, Oxbridge…”
“Churchill’s Secret Affair fell beneath any kind of sensible analysis,” Long adds. “It obsessed over fantasy threats to national security at the expense of details on, say, Doris Castlerosse herself. A nymphomaniac proto-Wallis [Long means Mrs. Simpson], she moved from rich man to rich man, gathering houses.”
What about my friend? “Striped piglet historian Andrew Roberts has dismissed the whole programme by claiming that Churchill couldn’t possibly have fancied Doris because he thought she was ‘dim.’” Well—most educated observers agree with the Striped Piglet. That sort of woman definitely did not appeal to WSC. Clementine Churchill, Violet Bonham Carter, Lady Diana Cooper, even, God bless her, Nancy Astor—now those were more to his liking.
Long on the Oscars
Coming round to the Oscars, Long says Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour “sees Churchill as an out-and-out comedy act…his Churchill is bumbling, dithering, childlike, humanly soft.” Indeed he was all of those, on occasion. Darkest Hour excels in portraying them as part-time, but by no means dominating characteristics. Long says Oldman presents a “centrist” Churchill. WSC preferred coalition to party government. He switched parties twice, railed against Tories and Liberals alike. (That description would delight him.)
The artistry of Oldman’s portrayal is that Churchill’s human frailties do not govern his instincts. Thus they do not deflect from his achievement. His greatness rests not in winning the war—that took more than Britain. It rests in the fact that when everything depended on him, he didn’t lose it.
Long’s take on the Oscars makes me almost a a devotee of this iconoclast writer: “The hideous, self-serving urge to put past wrongs right. The dreadful, saccharine segments in which the Academy promised to honour black people and women—issues that will be abandoned now they have tragically found out that sanctimony doesn’t boost ratings.”
Back in the cornfields and the Ozarks and the offshore islands, those of us who don’t read the Sunday Times silently agreed with Camilla Long—by resolutely switching the Oscars off. And being happy for Gary Oldman the next morning.
Well done—I think!
*The Sunday Times is one of those papers with an hyper-vigilant paywall, guaranteeing itself diminishing influence. If they’re not careful, they’ll have Donald Trump calling them “the failing Sunday Times.” If you can’t read it online without paying tribute, contact me for a surreptitious copy provided by someone at MI5. But don’t spread this around, lest I become a Guest of The Queen. There is extradition in The Bahamas.