Churchill the Young Carouser

Churchill the Young Carouser

Churchill, arriving at his wedding in 1908, was described as having  "a glorified coachman appearance."
Churchill, arriv­ing at his wed­ding in 1908, was described as hav­ing “a glo­ri­fied coach­man appearance.”

Michael Shelden, author of Young Titan, a new biog­ra­phy of Churchill, set Lon­don media buzzing with spec­u­la­tion that young Vio­let Asquith attempt­ed sui­cide after Churchill decid­ed to mar­ry Clemen­tine Hozi­er (Finest Hour 158: 6). Not only that, reports the Dai­ly Mail, “He caroused with West End call girls and pro­posed to THREE soci­ety beauties—who turned him down.”

The soci­ety beau­ties were Pamela Plow­den, Muriel Wil­son and the actress Ethel Bar­ry­more. But the most rak­ish thing Mr. Shelden reports Churchill doing is show­er­ing Miss Bar­ry­more with “arm­fuls of flow­ers” and show­ing 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 media’s lurid headline—“He caroused with West End call girls”—has main­ly to do with the 83-year-old sto­ry of Churchill as a Sand­hurst cadet, stand­ing up for the show­girls of the Empire The­atre when “prudes on the prowl” attempt­ed to erect bar­ri­ers shel­ter­ing their lair from more upright soci­ety. Churchill him­self 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!”

The carous­ing sto­ry is was appar­ent­ly caused by Mr. Shelden’s note that Churchill and Lord Rose­bery once dat­ed a pair of “Gai­ety Girls,” and each 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”—which jibes with numer­ous oth­er reports of young Churchill.

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 watchchain”—even silk under­wear. But this was the stan­dard dress of most Edwar­dian Mem­bers of Parliament—except for the silk under­wear, which WSC explained to Clemen­tine: “I have a very sen­si­tive cuticle.”

Read the book, but take the press cut­tings with a grain of salt!


*Ted Mor­gan,  Churchill: The Rise to Fail­ure 1874-1915 (Lon­don: Jonathan Cape, 1983), 255. Pub­lished in the U.S. as Young Man in a Hur­ry.


2 thoughts on “Churchill the Young Carouser

  1. Pass my bleat to the edi­tors then, but the arti­cle car­ries your byline. My post is about the arti­cle, which I notice you don’t defend. Dai­ly Mail read­ers can only read what’s there.

  2. Edi­tors write the head­lines in British nation­al news­pa­pers, not the writer, so if you want to judge my Young Titan, you ought to refer to what the book says. You’d find that it’s the first to give a detailed and sym­pa­thet­ic account of when and how young Churchill romanced three extra­or­di­nary women, each of whom reject­ed his pro­pos­als but remained his friends for life. No one has pre­vi­ous­ly explained, for exam­ple, how Churchill’s romance with Ethel Bar­ry­more was played out against the back­ground of her fail­ure on the Lon­don stage, and his dra­mat­ic deci­sion to change polit­i­cal par­ties. My book is also the first to quote from Barrymore’s only sur­viv­ing let­ter to Churchill, and from the reveal­ing cor­re­spon­dence of their mutu­al friend Richard Hard­ing Davis, whose com­ments on the Empire The­atre episode shed new light on Churchill’s atti­tude toward it. I would hope that you might take a sec­ond look at Young Titan, and give it a fair eval­u­a­tion based on its actu­al con­tent, and not on the head­line of an edi­to­r­i­al writer in Lon­don prepar­ing a news­pa­per extract. You will find that there is much more to my sto­ry than this extract rep­re­sents. It is a full account that cov­ers every aspect of young Churchill’s rise to pow­er and his sud­den fall in 1915.

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