“The P.M. also has them typed in this curious way – like Psalms…”

If you are an antiquarian bookseller, then no physical object is just an object. Each item we handle, however mundane it may physically appear, encapsulates, represents, preserves, or conveys something greater than just the sum of its physical attributes.

Take, for example, four old typed sheets, pasted on some blue notepaper. These humble sheets are a proverbial front row seat to one of the most gifted orators in recorded history and a physical artifact of the Second World War. They are also a connection not only to Winston Churchill in the early days of his wartime premiership, but also to a man who closely, long, and loyally served and observed Churchill.

The Object

These sheets are the final paragraphs of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill’s 8 October 1940 speech to the British House of Commons, typed and hand-emended on four pages in Churchill’s distinctive ‘psalm form’, along with a manuscript note from Churchill’s Private Secretary, John Rupert “Jock” Colville, explaining the origin and use of these pages.

Four typed sheets are pasted on to the recto and verso of blue-ruled notepaper. In his own hand, filling the first six lines of an additional sheet of blue-ruled note paper, Colville provides both explanation and provenance: “The end of the P.M.’s speech in the House on Oct 8th. | These pages are flimsy copies of the actual text from which he | spoke and are those from which I checked and followed | the speech as it was delivered. | The P.M. also has them typed in this curious way – like | the Psalms, as Lord Halifax says!

The “Tuesday, October 8th” entry in Colville’s diary, published many years later, refers to these very notes: “I followed the speech from a flimsy of the P.M.’s notes, which are typed in a way which Halifax says is like the printing of the psalms.” (The Fringes of Power, Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955, p.258)

Of course, Churchill’s speech has been reprinted many times in many volumes and can readily be read off not only myriad printed pages, but also off of any screen after a moment’s quick search of the internet. But you experience something entirely different when reading Churchill’s words thus, looking over Colville’s spectral shoulder, holding the same pages he held, and mouthing the words as you imagine listening to them as they were actually delivered by Churchill in the House of Commons on 8 October 1940.

Colville’s confirmation that Halifax coined the term for the layout of Churchill’s speeches (allegedly because it reminded the pious Halifax of lines from the Book of Psalms) is a delicious bit of irony. Halifax had been Neville Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary and an architect of the failed policy to appease Hitler. It was Halifax’s unwillingness to succeed Chamberlain that cleared the way for Churchill to become Prime Minister; Halifax instead became Churchill’s ambassador to America. Halifax’s “psalm” observation is no accident of liturgical linguistics; the church-going, fox-hunting, politically adept aristocrat was given the nickname “The Holy Fox” by none other than Churchill.

Churchill’s speeches were not only typed out in ‘psalm form’ but then “hole-punched with a tool Churchill called ‘Klop,’ named for the noise it made…” so that they could be “fastened with a… short piece of yarn with metal bars at each end, which allowed him to flop from sheet to sheet…” (Langworth, The Churchill Project)

The four sheets are hole-punched at the upper left. Consonant with Colville’s note that these pages “are those from which I checked and followed the speech as it was delivered”, there are two minor emendations.

Colville’s explanatory note shows loss and scarring along the right edge and a paperclip stain to the upper left. The typed speech sheets remain as originally glued to the note paper, with some attendant original wrinkling. They are marked in pencil at the upper right “E” and “F” respectively.

The Moment

On 8 October 1940, Britain and her Prime Minister were suffering the dire consequences of appeasement. The four pages of Churchill’s speech, comprising the final, two-paragraph peroration, encapsulate the state of Britain in October 1940, beleaguered, alone, and enduring the sustained air assault by Hitler’s Luftwaffe that would become known to history as the Battle of Britain.

The day Colville held these notes while he listened to his boss deliver the words in the House of Commons, he arrived for work at No. 10 Downing Street and “found everybody crouching in the shelter because bombs had fallen in the Horse Guards Parade and on the War Office.” There was no forgetting that London was under attack, even at comparative ease in the waning hours of the day. Colville recorded that in the evening, after the speech, Churchill “was in great form – as always after a speech has been successfully achieved – and amused [Anthony] Eden and me very much by his conversation with Nelson, the black cat, whom he chided for being afraid of the guns and unworthy of the name he bore. ‘Try and remember,’ he said to Nelson reprovingly, ‘what those boys in the R.A.F. are doing.” A year later, Colville would be one of “those boys in the R.A.F.” but that night he spent like the rest of his fellow Londoners, beneath the bombs, recording of his sleep “The air in the shelter went wrong in the middle of the night and I almost stifled.”

Churchill’ speech was long. He spoke of homes destroyed in the Blitz, and of personally visiting the destruction, showing his gift for encapsulating and projecting British resilience: “I have never been treated with so much kindness as by the people who have suffered most. One would think one had brought some great benefit to them, instead of the blood and tears, the toil and sweat which is all I have ever promised.” Churchill resisted calls for in-kind reprisals on Germany, insisting that only military targets should be attacked. Churchill also spoke of U.S. aid to Britain and addressed press criticism of Britain’s recent Dakar expedition.

He also spoke of Spain, which is where the four pages of Colville’s copy of Churchill’s speech notes begin. In his closing, Churchill strikes a characteristic tone – boldly defiant, lyrically inspiring, and soberly realistic all at once.

“Because we feel easier in ourselves
        and see our way more clearly
          through our difficulties and dangers
              than we did some months ago;

        because foreign countries,
                     friends or and foes,

          recognise the giant,
                               resilient strength

            of Britan and the Br. Empire,

do not let us dull for one moment
      the sense of the awful hazard
                 in which we stand.

Do not let us lose the conviction
       tt it is only by supreme and
             superb exertions,
                     unwearying, indomitable

       tt we shall save our souls alive.

No-one can predict or even imagine
      how this terrible war against
             German and Nazi aggression
                   will run its course,

      or how far it will spread,

        or how long it will last.

Long dark months of trial and tribulation
         lie before us.

Not only great dangers,

      but many more misfortunes,

              many shortcomings,

                        many mistakes,

                                    many disappointments

      will surely be our lot.

Death and sorrow will be the companions
        of our journey,
            hardship our garment;

        constancy and valour are our
                   only shield.

We must be united;

            we must be undaunted;

                         we must be inflexible.

Our qualities and our deeds
      must burn and glow
               through the gloom of Europe

      till they become the veritable beacon
               of its salvation.”

Colville himself noted that this peroration “was eloquently spoken and enthusiastically received.”

Jock Colville

The Second World War was only a month old when, on 3 October 1939, a brilliant 24-year-old civil servant in the Foreign Office was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Seven months later, when wartime leadership famously passed to Winston Churchill, Sir John Rupert Colville (1915-1987) began working for Churchill. Colville would remain “almost constantly at Winston’s side” for the majority of Churchill’s two premierships (May 1940-July 1945 and October 1951-April 1955).

Colville’s 10 Downing Street service to Churchill was interrupted only by Colville’s active service as an RAF pilot between October 1941 and December 1943. Apart from Colville’s official contributions to history, we are obliged to him for his defiance; although it was forbidden under wartime regulations, Colville kept meticulous diaries that he locked nightly into his 10 Downing Street desk. Significant excerpts from this diary were eventually published in 1985, self-deprecatingly titled The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955. Colville’s diaries continue, even now, to illuminate Churchill’s wartime leadership. Most recently, New York Times bestselling author Eric Larson relied heavily on Colville’s diaries in writing The Splendid and the Vile (2020), his novelized take on the first year of Churchill’s wartime Premiership.

Of course, Colville did more than observe and record. On 8 October 1940, after following the speech from these very notes, “John Peck and I corrected the official report and altered the text in many places to improve the style and the grammar; for the P.M.’s speeches are essentially oratorical masterpieces and in speaking he inserts much that sounds well and reads badly.”

Colville’s compulsive will to write, his position at the epicenter of action, Churchill’s deep confidence in him, and his keen and discerning intellect render Colville’s diaries a significant contribution to the known history of Churchill and his time. In the interwar years, Colville served as Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II (while she was still Princess Elizabeth) and married one of her ladies-in-waiting. Colville raised funds for the establishment of Churchill College, Cambridge (where his diaries now reside), and was eventually a trustee of both Winston’s and Lady Churchill’s estates.

Colville was knighted in 1974, having previously been awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1955, and the Companion of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 1949. 


Vivienne & Winston

Florence Vivienne Entwistle, nee Mellish (1889-1982) first photographed Winston S. Churchill sometime between late December 1949 and early February 1950. Her journey to both photography and the Churchill family was intriguingly oblique.

She had trained and performed as a singer. Upon marriage to the artist Ernest Entwistle, she took up a successful career as a miniaturist. Her photographic career did not begin until 1934, when, midway through her forties, she began assisting her husband and son, Antony Beauchamp, with photography. When Antony set up his own studio, she did the same, adopting the name “Vivienne”, photographing an array of public personalities, including five successive prime ministers.

Vivienne’s relationship with the Churchills had a rocky start. On 18 October 1949, the Churchills’ daughter, Sarah, married Antony. Winston and Clementine “learned of the marriage… from the newspapers” and were “greatly upset… particularly Clementine, who took it very hard indeed.” Nonetheless, on 19 December 1949 Winston and Clementine visited Antony’s mother, Vivienne, in her studio and on 20 December Clementine wrote to Sarah “We have made friends with Antony’s father and mother and we had an agreeable luncheon together.” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, p.496)

It was then, or very soon thereafter, that Vivienne made her best-known image of Winston Churchill. It may have been captured when Churchill first visited Vivienne’s studio in December 1949. Given that it was used in a campaign publication for the February 1950 General Election (see Cohen A247.2), it was taken no later than early 1950. We can also be certain that it was captured in Vivienne’s studio; Vivienne was known for requiring her subjects to come to her. Indeed, Vivienne’s autobiography is titled They Came to My Studio (1956) and this very image of Winston graces the dust jacket. Vivienne recalls (p.16) that this iconic and often reproduced image was the last of their photo session, the product of Churchill agreeing to give her “only one more minute” after he had already risen to go.

The relationship with the Churchills became familial. Vivienne “is possibly the only photographer to have had the privilege of photographing the entire Churchill family.” Vivienne eventually made exceptions to her in-studio rule for the Churchills. The National Portrait Gallery holds 214 of Vivienne’s portraits, including her most famous one of Winston (NPG x45168) and fourteen others of Winston, Clementine, and their grandchildren, the majority of which were taken at the Churchills’ country home, Chartwell.

We have the good fortune to currently offer three signed Vivienne portraits of the Churchills, all of which have a story to tell beyond just the general improbability of having been captured by the mother of the man who maritally absconded with their daughter.

Our first offering is a pair – one of Winston and one of Clementine – each signed, respectively by Winston and Clementine. Significantly, Winston’s print is not only signed, but dated in his hand “1950”.

The date is significant; widely used during his second and final premiership (1951-1955), this portrait is often mistakenly dated to 1951, even by the National Portrait Gallery. A date of “1950” in Churchill’s own hand rather decisively settles the issue. Of the image of Clementine (p.28), Vivienne recalls “I was proud when Lady Churchill came to me, because she so rarely consents to go to a studio. I believe she came – as she does so many things – for her husband’s sake.”

Our second offering is another Vivienne studio print of Churchill, but this one signed by both Churchill and Vivienne, and accompanied by a 17 November 1953 presentation letter signed by Churchill’s personal private secretary. This double-signed studio print was a gift to a collector upon the occasion of Churchill being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Notably, the fact that Churchill would receive the award had been announced only a month prior, on 13 October 1953, and the award ceremony did not take place until 10 December 1953. So this collector was demonstrably eager and swift in both requesting and receiving this signed photograph.

But, in our opinion, the accompanying presentation letter from Jane Portal suggests the more compelling story – one that renders the minor scandal of Sarah and Antony’s marriage quite tame by comparison.

Jane Williams nee Portal, Lady Williams of Elvel (1929-2023) “was the niece of both Air Chief Marshal Charles ‘Peter’ Portal and of ‘Rab’ Butler, who served as president of the board of education in Churchill’s wartime coalition government and as chancellor of the exchequer when Churchill returned to power in 1951.” (Stelzer, Working With Winston, p.222) “It was “Uncle Rab” who told his niece in December 1949 that Churchill was looking to hire a new secretary and suggested that she apply.” (Freeman, ICS, 16 July 2023) Portal worked for Churchill from December 1949, when he was still Leader of the Opposition, until April 1955, when he resigned his second and final premiership.

Why Portal left turns out to be quite the story, which took years to be told. Churchill had asked Portal to continue working for him, but Portal left Churchill’s service anyway. Ostensibly, she left to elope with Gavin Welby, from whom she was later divorced. “In 1975, Portal married Charles Williams, Baron Williams of Elvel. Her long life “extended just far enough to enable her to watch her son Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury, crown King Charles III in Westminster Abbey”. (Freeman, ICS, 16 July 2023) But in later years it was discovered – and disclosed by Lady Williams – that her son, the Archbishop, was the issue of an affair immediately preceding her first marriage with another Churchill staffer, Montague Browne. Browne remained in Churchill’s service almost continuously until Churchill’s death in 1965.

All of which is to say that this is why we love doing what we do. Sure, a little bit because these portraits of Winston and Clementine provide indirect testimony to the intriguingly dramatic, sometimes scandalous, and occasionally even salacious web of relationships appended to the long public life of Winston Churchill. But, more broadly and much more significantly, because of how physical artifacts can viscerally connect us to lives long ago spent in an ever-receding past.

A decade before Vivienne captured her portrait of Winston, in November 1940 the newly minted wartime Prime Minister told the House of Commons: “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.” Each object we handle, if we are able to discover and tell its story, steadies and brightens the lamp.