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.