The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

Standard

This is the true story of how Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia at 14 and how the food described in books helped her to recover.  I’m pleased to say that Laura, thanks largely to the support of her wonderful mum, is now doing well, with a successful writing career, a nice husband, and a double first from Cambridge; but she went through a very rough time.

This is an interesting book, even though her taste in books isn’t that similar to mine, but I’m probably the wrong person to be writing about it.  I know all about binge eating disorder, and I can understand bulimia, but I find anorexia difficult to relate to.  But Laura does a wonderful job of explaining it – through the prism of seeing her mind as a library, in which the books have all fallen off the shelves and got in a mess.

Books and food.  She doesn’t talk about whether there was any connection in her mind between books and food *before* she developed anorexia, so I assume that there wasn’t one.  Now, I grew up reading books in which everyone was always eating.  And we’re not talking a cup of tea and a biscuit – we’re  talking huge slabs of cherry cake, crumpets dripping with butter, and “young bathtubs” of whipped cream.  And sardines, but we’ll ignore that bit: I don’t like sardines.  The Malory Towers and St Clare’s girls were always having midnight feasts, with goodies from their enormous tuckboxes (strangely unaffected by rationing). The Chalet School girls ate vast quantities of cream cakes and fancy bread twists.  The Five Find-Outers spent so much time eating sticky buns in the local cafe that it’s a wonder they ever had time to search for clues.  The Famous Five, the Mystery gang and all the others consumed large picnics followed by equally large high teas.  Even the Ingalls family, who lived in the middle of nowhere and had no money, were always eating Ma’s “good” food.

Is there some sort of connection between all that and my eating disorders?  No: I honestly don’t think there is.  Probably because there’s never much connection between the amount of food eaten by characters in books and their weight.  About the only one who worried about her weight was Caroline Scott in the Wells books, who went through a phase of turning down second helpings of afters … before magically losing all her “puppy fat”, developing a perfect figure, and being swept off her feet by a handsome Spaniard.  In about 1987, a kind old lady assured me that I’d lose my “puppy fat”.  I’m still waiting.  And, anyway, none of them eat for no specific reason, or to punish themselves.  They only eat at “occasions”.  Like midnight feasts.  I really want to say that I’ve just discovered the answer to eating disorders, and that it’s that you need to have high teas and midnight feasts with a gang of mates rather than eating your way through the contents of the fridge (or, if it’s empty, the freezer) for no reason whatsoever.  How lovely what that be?   But, sadly, it isn’t, because if I ate even one of those high teas, I would put on 3lbs.  This does not happen to people in books.  Lucky them!!

There’s a definite negativity about overweight characters in books, though.  It’s just that their weight is shown as a character trait (a bad one) rather than as a function of what they eat.  It’s OK for Frederick “Fatty” Trotteville to be fat, because he’s supremely self-confident, but it’s made very clear that no-one would want to be like the unfortunately-named Alma Pudden, or Linda Fischer, or even Hilda Jukes who gets picked on despite having a very kind personality.

Strangely – well, strangely to me – Laura Freeman doesn’t see it like that.  She picks up on books portraying being thin as being a negative thing.  The examples she gives are Charlie Bucket and his family, painfully thin because all they can afford to eat is cabbage, Anne Shirley being very thin when we first meet her, because no-one’s really looked after her until she goes to live with Matthew and Marilla, and Mary Lennox looking “thin and yellow” because she’s been living in “unhealthy” India.  I suppose I take the point.  There’s a lot of talk in books about feeding people up, especially after they’ve been ill.

She doesn’t mention that until the end of the book, though.  Most of it is an account of the different books she read as she recovered, and how the food described in them, and the way in which it was described, appealed to her and made her want to try it.  I suppose that’s what I should be writing about, but they weren’t really my favourite books, so I haven’t really got much to say about them.  Interestingly, they weren’t the sort of books you’d usually associate with food.  The writings of the First World War poets.  And Charles Dickens: the only food I associate with Dickens is the gruel which poor Oliver Twist had to eat in the workhouse.  Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie.  Elizabeth David’s recipe books.  Harry Potter.  They aren’t my books, as I’ve said, but it’s a wonderful account of how books can help people, and I’m so glad to know that Laura is now doing so much better.

There are more books about eating disorders than there used to be, but it’s still a subject that’s not talked about very much, and this is a really different take on it.  I feel like I’ve just written a load of stuff about myself rather than about Laura’s book, but books like this are important for people who’ve got their own issues, and you’re bound to try to relate what they say to yourself.   An interesting read.

Flickerbook by Leila Berg

Standard

I absolutely love the fact that a fellow Old Girl of my school had her books banned from Listen With Mother for being “a corrupting influence” -the issue being that the characters in them did such terribly shocking things as coming down the stairs backwards.  Listeners were so horrified by this subversive behaviour that they complained, and the BBC decided that the books had to go.  Janet and John, and Peter and Jane, would never have dreamt of coming down stairs backwards.  Leila Berg did end up winning the Eleanor Farjeon award in 1974, though, so evidently, everyone had come to terms with kids coming down the stairs backwards by then.

Unfortunately, this book, her autobiography of her early years, doesn’t go that far, only up to when she was in her early 20s.  It’s not very coherently written – I think the idea is that it sounds like a child or young adult talking, rather than “sounding” like prose – and anyone who isn’t familiar with Higher Broughton will probably be thoroughly confused by the first third or so of it.  If you do know Higher Broughton, and know exactly where she means when she talks about Bury New Road, Great Clowes Street, Leicester Road et al, you’ll love this; but it’s very localised and very much a personal memoir.  She hasn’t even changed the names of her neighbours.   If you know Manchester/Salford in general, you’ll love her descriptions of walking round town, especially all the references to Sherratt and Hughes bookshop (sadly no longer with us); but, again, if you don’t, you may just feel rather confused.

The later chapters, about her involvement in the radical movements of the inter-war years, may be of more interest to everyone – although probably particularly so to people who know the area.   Everyone’s heard of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, and the National Trust is actually a bit obsessed with it, but no-one talks much about the backgrounds of those involved, and you certainly never hear much about there having been women and girls involved.  And British involvement in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War – Leila Berg didn’t go to Spain, but two of her boyfriends were killed there –  has become associated with either intellectuals like George Orwell or well-to-do people like Jessica Mitford, and there isn’t as much focus as there could be on the many “ordinary” people who joined up.

It’s not a very readable book, because the style’s so rambling, but it’s quite interesting.

She does seem to have been very keen on coming across as a rebel.  “Nice” girls in the inter-war years did not use mirrors to look at all bits of themselves, and did not “carry on” with various different boyfriends and write about it.  Even when she’s writing about herself as a young child, she seems rather obsessed with toilets, which you wouldn’t normally write about – too much information!   Her brother does what he’s supposed to – wins a scholarship to our brother school 🙂 , and then goes on to university.  Leila refuses to go to university, drops out of teacher training college, and spends most of her time hanging around at meetings of the Young Communists.  She does a lot of name dropping, but I’m going to assume that she did actually meet all those people.   She certainly had an interesting time of it.

And I do miss Sherratt and Hughes!  It was originally taken over by Waterstones, so at least it was still a bookshop, but then it was turned into a branch of W H Smith when the main W H Smith had to close because of the IRA bomb.  Then that went as well.  But some of the little bookshops in Shudehill, which she also talks about, are still there.  I think she must have been a fan of E J Oxenham, because some of the books she mentions definitely sound like “EJO”s, and she talks a lot in general about expecting secondary school to be like school stories.  That’s all so conventional, but then she turned out to be very unconventional.   And the Listen With Mother ban really does amuse me!

This is probably of limited interest to people who don’t know the area, but it kept me entertained.

 

(Sorry, double-posted because I messed up the Facebook link!)

Flickerbook by Leila Berg

Standard

I absolutely love the fact that a fellow Old Girl of my school had her books banned from Listen With Mother for being “a corrupting influence” -the issue being that the characters in them did such terribly shocking things as coming down the stairs backwards.  Listeners were so horrified by this subversive behaviour that they complained, and the BBC decided that the books had to go.  Janet and John, and Peter and Jane, would never have dreamt of coming down stairs backwards.  Leila Berg did end up winning the Eleanor Farjeon award in 1974, though, so evidently, everyone had come to terms with kids coming down the stairs backwards by then.

Unfortunately, this book, her autobiography of her early years, doesn’t go that far, only up to when she was in her early 20s.  It’s not very coherently written – I think the idea is that it sounds like a child or young adult talking, rather than “sounding” like prose – and anyone who isn’t familiar with Higher Broughton will probably be thoroughly confused by the first third or so of it.  If you do know Higher Broughton, and know exactly where she means when she talks about Bury New Road, Great Clowes Street, Leicester Road et al, you’ll love this; but it’s very localised and very much a personal memoir.  She hasn’t even changed the names of her neighbours.   If you know Manchester/Salford in general, you’ll love her descriptions of walking round town, especially all the references to Sherratt and Hughes bookshop (sadly no longer with us); but, again, if you don’t, you may just feel rather confused.

The later chapters, about her involvement in the radical movements of the inter-war years, may be of more interest to everyone – although probably particularly so to people who know the area.   Everyone’s heard of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, and the National Trust is actually a bit obsessed with it, but no-one talks much about the backgrounds of those involved, and you certainly never hear much about there having been women and girls involved.  And British involvement in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War – Leila Berg didn’t go to Spain, but two of her boyfriends were killed there –  has become associated with either intellectuals like George Orwell or well-to-do people like Jessica Mitford, and there isn’t as much focus as there could be on the many “ordinary” people who joined up.

It’s not a very readable book, because the style’s so rambling, but it’s quite interesting.

She does seem to have been very keen on coming across as a rebel.  “Nice” girls in the inter-war years did not use mirrors to look at all bits of themselves, and did not “carry on” with various different boyfriends and write about it.  Even when she’s writing about herself as a young child, she seems rather obsessed with toilets, which you wouldn’t normally write about – too much information!   Her brother does what he’s supposed to – wins a scholarship to our brother school 🙂 , and then goes on to university.  Leila refuses to go to university, drops out of teacher training college, and spends most of her time hanging around at meetings of the Young Communists.  She does a lot of name dropping, but I’m going to assume that she did actually meet all those people.   She certainly had an interesting time of it.

And I do miss Sherratt and Hughes!  It was originally taken over by Waterstones, so at least it was still a bookshop, but then it was turned into a branch of W H Smith when the main W H Smith had to close because of the IRA bomb.  Then that went as well.  But some of the little bookshops in Shudehill, which she also talks about, are still there.  I think she must have been a fan of E J Oxenham, because some of the books she mentions definitely sound like “EJO”s, and she talks a lot in general about expecting secondary school to be like school stories.  That’s all so conventional, but then she turned out to be very unconventional.   And the Listen With Mother ban really does amuse me!

This is probably of limited interest to people who don’t know the area, but it kept me entertained.

A Lakeland Saga by Jeremy Collingwood

Standard

The title of this book’s a bit of a misnomer – it’s the story of the Collingwood/Altounyan family, best known for the fact that the children of Dora, nee Collingwood, and Ernest Altounyan, were the inspiration for the Walker children in the Swallows and Amazons books.  Other members of the family were historians, philosophers, artists and archaeologists.  It isn’t really a “Lakeland Saga” – they were only at Coniston for part of the time.  But it’s still quite interesting.

It’s essentially a family history, and there are pages and pages about how X married Y, their children were A,B and C, this one had a sweet voice, that one had a moustache, etc,  which probably isn’t that interesting unless you’ve got a personal connection with the people concerned.  However, some of the stuff in it is genuinely fascinating – as well as Arthur Ransome, John Ruskin, Lawrence of Arabia and King Faisal of Iraq all feature, and the most interesting section shows the Altounyans, with their Armenian heritage, running a hospital in Aleppo and helping Armenian refugees fleeing the genocide.  Ernest Altounyan’s own uncle was a victim of the genocide.  It also gives a wonderful picture of historical, multicultural Aleppo, which has sadly suffered so much killing and destruction in the past decade.

There’s quite a bit about the Lakes too, especially Coniston, but “a Lakeland saga” it isn’t.  It’s quite interesting, though – I wouldn’t spend a fortune on it, but, if you can get a cheap copy or borrow a copy from a library, it’s worth a look through.

 

Edward VII: The Merry Monarch – Channel 5

Standard

  The Entente Cordiale wasn’t mentioned until the 79th minute of the 90, and the to-do over the People’s Budget wasn’t mentioned at all.  But we heard an awful lot about waistcoat buttons, champagne baths, and, of course, ladies.  However, even if there was way too much gossip and not enough serious stuff, this was a really lovely, positive portrayal of someone whose father said he was useless, whom a lot of puritanical courtiers and journalists said would make a rotten king, and who actually did a superb job, left the British monarchy in a very strong position ahead of what would turn out to be a difficult time for monarchies, and was genuinely popular amongst people of all backgrounds.  Good old Teddy!

We were told that Downton Abbey typified people’s images of the time of Edward VII.  Given that we tend to use “Edwardian” to mean 1901-1914 rather than 1901-1910, I suppose the fact that the first series of Downton Abbey was set during the reign of George V can be overlooked!  Did it typify people’s images of the period?  Well, I suppose it did if you were only thinking about stately homes.  The Edwardian era’s actually seen as a very positive time for everyone – strangely so, given that a lot of people were struggling at the time.  There’s even a song about it in Mary Poppins!  The positive image is partly because, compared to the horrors of the Great War, what came before has to seen like a golden era.  And it’s partly because the Victorian era, even by the 1890s, is seen as a very puritanical era, and people get really fed up of puritanical eras.  Charles II, another slightly naughty king, is remembered fondly because he came after the nightmare of the Cromwellian era.  But a lot of it’s because of Edward/Bertie.  He really is seen as a very positive figure.

I would like to have heard more about his peacemaking/diplomatic skills, which were of crucial importance to … well, to the whole world, really, given what lay ahead.  And about how his social circle included people far removed from traditional aristocratic circles.  But, hey, the stuff about champagne baths, watching Can Can dancers, leaving his bottom waistcoat open because it strained over his tum tum, and, of course, his mistresses, was all quite entertaining.  It was also good to hear the praise for Queen Alexandra, who had a lot to put up with it and did a wonderful job as Princess of Wales and then as Queen – although I’m not sure we needed to hear quite so much about her clothes and jewellery.

But, in between the gossip, we heard all about Edward’s interest in technology – he was on the receiving end of the first wireless message sent across the Atlantic, a greeting from another much-loved Teddy, President Roosevelt – and, most of all, his understanding of the need for the Royal Family to be visible, and how he was the one who established a lot of the pageantry that we still enjoy today.  And how, when he died, there was genuine grief across the nation and beyond, from people of all backgrounds.   He got it right.  And, considering how many people thought he’d get it all wrong, that’s particularly impressive.  As I said, good old Teddy!

 

 

 

 

 

Make-up: A Glamorous History (final episode) – BBC 2

Standard

I do love a good American Dream story!  Max Factor, born Maksymilian Faktorowicz in a small town outside Lodz, started work at the age of 8 because his family were so poor, sailed steerage to Ellis Island to escape the pogroms, moved to LA because he was so taken by “the movies”, and pretty much created the modern make-up industry.  Amazing.  Meanwhile, his half-brother became a Chicago gangster who worked closely with Al Capone!  The programme didn’t actually mention the gangster brother, but I thought I would!

I do not love 1920s fashion.  It seems to have been designed for women who were no more than a size 6, and had no tummy, backside, waist, hips or bust.  On top of that, it involved miniscule handbags.  What a larger-sized female who couldn’t leave the house without carrying everything but the kitchen sink with her, i.e. someone like me, was supposed to do, I have no idea.  Just look uncool, I suppose 😢!  But, hey, at least women of any size could choose what sort of make-up they wore, and the 1920s/1930s was the era in which it became affordable for everyone.

It’s important for everyone to be able to choose a look which works for them.  The current Coronation Street storyline, in which Nina was badly beaten up because of her choice of clothes, make-up and hairstyle, based on the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster in Bacup in 2007, is reminding us how prejudiced people can be just based on someone else’s look.  We’ve still got a long way to go, but the inter-war years were the period in which we at least really started to move towards each person choosing what worked for them.

But to get back to the point …

…. this was another fascinating episode, as we saw the make-up/cosmetics industry roll on into the days of mass marketing, getting people in white coats to convince you that it was all good for you, and setting up all those counters which still tend to be the first thing you see when you walk into a department store. On the one hand, women were rebelling, choosing their own looks, and having their hair cut short – despite schools suspending girls who turned up with short hair, employers sacking women with short hair, and clergymen preaching against the evils of having your crowning glory cut off.  On the other hand, there was all this advertising making you feel that you didn’t look right.

And, of course, there was the obsession with the cinema!  A lot of this was about film star looks.  And a lot of it was about the actual science of make-up, and how people were influenced by the idea that this was all good for you.  But I think the main theme was that, after the Great War, women were increasingly rebelling against the control of society and the patriarchy, and how changing hairstyles, styles of clothing and trends in make-up all showed that.

Like the previous two episodes, it said so much about the society of the day, and how trends involving hair and clothes and make-up were a part of that.  This really has been a great series, and I’m only sorry that there’ve only been three episodes of it.  Well done, Lisa Eldridge and BBC 2!   Good stuff 🙂 .

Great British Railway Journeys (series 12) – BBC 2

Standard

 I wasn’t sure how this was going to pan out, but Michael Portillo and BBC 2 have done an excellent job of adapting to Covid restrictions; and they managed to make Slough, Pinner, Hatch End and various other places which, with all due respect, don’t scream “glamour”, sound very interesting!   Windsor, Winchester and Oxford added some rather more traditional interest, along with Downton Abbey (OK, Highclere Castle), and we even got to see Michael riding on Thomas the Tank Engine along the “Watercress Line” heritage railway in Hampshire.

The theme was the 1930s, and we heard about a wide range of subjects relating to that decade, although we did also cross into the 1920s and 1940s.  We got the Abdication, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the establishment of the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville, the opening of a Mars factory 🙂 in Slough, Heath Robinson’s cartoons and the model village at Bekonscot, to name but a few.  And, of course, we got Thomas the Tank Engine!  The second week’s going to cover the Kindertransport, Sutton Hoo, the (in)famous Summerhill School and 1930s art in the first episode alone, so they really are packing a lot into each half hour slot.

The pandemic wasn’t really mentioned, but we did see Michael wearing his (garishly-coloured) mask on the trains, and he only spoke to one person at a time – no big groups, no joining in with dancing or other activities.  And he’s unlikely to be filming abroad any time soon.  But it didn’t spoil any of the programmes.  This is what we’re all having to do at the moment – adapt as best we can, and try to find interesting things to see and do within the restrictions.  It’s lovely to see another series of this, and it’s wonderful that they’ve been able to film it despite everything that’s been going on.

Make-up: A Glamorous History (second episode) – BBC 2

Standard

  I am so impressed with this series!   I thought it was just going to be, well, lipstick, powder and paint, but the episode on the Georgians was great and so too was this episode on the Victorians.  I couldn’t help thinking how some of the Victorian ideas on appearance were still influencing children’s books written in the mid-20th century, which I was reading as a kid in the early 1980s.  As Lisa Eldridge pointed out, Victorian ideas on being able to judge someone’s personality based on how they looked verged on the bonkers – but, in Enid Blyton adventure and mystery books, you always know that anyone with a thick neck or “eyes set too closely together” will turn out to be a baddie!   And, at the Chalet School, wearing more than the slightest hint of make-up is a sign that you are a Very Bad Girl, and yet you’re supposed to look attractive at all times.  As Lisa said, that works OK if you’re naturally stunning, but it really doesn’t for the rest of us!  I do not have the nerve to go anywhere without make-up on.

All sorts of other things also made their way into this – from the Contagious Diseases Act, to people having issues with red hair because of Scottish and Irish nationalism, to soldiers being expected to have huge moustaches because it was thought that Indian men with lots of facial hair looked uber-virile and that British men should try to get the same look.

It started with fairly standard stuff about Victorians not being keen on the idea of make-up because it was associated with being on the stage, and also because the later Victorians were obsessed with the idea that cleanliness was next to godliness and thought that a clean face meant a bare face.  But it went beyond that, to talk about how it was felt that, if you covered your face with make-up, you might be trying to hide something … like the fact that your face was ravaged by syphilis, and from there it got on to the Contagious Diseases Act, and how women were so frightened of being dragged in for those horrific speculum examinations that they were afraid to wear make-up in case it led to their being mistaken for prostitutes.   Very interesting point.  And it also talked about the general attitudes towards women, and how a lot of make-up looked as if you were putting yourself out there rather than fading into the background.

There was also some talk about phrenology, which always makes me think of Mr Rochester doing his “feeling your bumps” thing, and the general idea of being able to judge people by their appearance.  It didn’t go into eugenics in too much detail, but it did touch on the idea.  And it also mentioned the idea of TB being seen as making people look attractive – bright eyes, rosy cheeks, etc – and compared it to the heroin chic idea of the 1990s.  It was just fascinating how the programme developed.

There was also some talk about hair.  There are still some rules about facial hair in the Armed Services, aren’t there?  Anyway, we heard about how, after the Crimean War, soldiers were banned from shaving above their top lips, and this was in force until 1916 … and how this was because Indian men with luxuriant beards and moustaches were thought to look very manly.  I have to say that I am not a fan of men having either beards or moustaches, although I know that some people wear them for religious reasons, but each to their own!

And then the issue of red hair.  I thought that prejudice against people with red hair was to do with religion, because Judas was supposed to have had red hair, and the Spanish Inquisition associated red hair with being Jewish, but the programme made the point that it was also associated with Scotland and Ireland – and presumably, by extension, with ideas of Irish and Scottish nationalism.  If Nicola Sturgeon was watching, she was probably quite chuffed to hear that!   Interesting idea.  I don’t really know why, but everyone has this image of Jacobites as having bright red hair.  You can even buy Jacobite tam o’shanters with a load of false red hair attached, which is utterly ridiculous: the Old Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie both wore white powdered wigs, and had brownish hair!    Scotland and Ireland do both have far higher percentages of people with red hair than England does, though.

All this from talking about make-up!   This series really is good.  It’s a shame that there’s only one episode left.

 

Make-up: A Glamorous History – BBC 2

Standard

  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this programme, presented by make-up artist Lisa Eldridge, but it turned out to be pretty interesting, as she discussed how upper-class High Georgian ladies piled their hair so high that they had to sit on the floor of their carriages rather than their seats, and were so obsessed with painting their faces with white lead that at least one woman died of lead poisoning as a result.  The men got in on the act too, with the craze for “macaroni” dress – tall, powdered wigs, diamante buckles on shoes, et al.

Meanwhile, Georgian lads’ mags printed league tables ranking famous women according to their beauty, grace and elegance, with Georgiana Cavendish nee Spencer, the famous Duchess of Devonshire, always coming out on top.  Georgiana actually employed a personal hairdresser, who was paid more than her lady’s maid, housekeeper, butler or coachmen.  And such was the general interest in all these goings-on that shop windows were full of prints of pictures of the rich and famous, and people even rented hotel rooms so that they could hang out of the windows to watch their faves go by.  And we think that obsession with celebs is a 21st century thing!

But, according to Lisa, the shock of the French Revolution caused such a reaction against excessive make-up that it wasn’t until the days of glam rock and the New Romantics that people went so OTT again. I can honestly say that I’d never really thought of it quite like that before, but I can see where she was coming from!   I was going to mention Adam Ant, but dandy highwaymen and Prince Charming are more Regency than High Georgian 🙂 .

However overboard the whole make-up and hair thing went in Britain, it was far worse in France, where hundreds of courtiers would actually go and watch Marie Antoinette performing her toilette, because it was such a long and elaborate job.  It’s fairly hard to argue that that in itself had much to do with the French Revolution, but, OK, it was all part of the culture of excess.

The general idea of the programme was that make-up says a lot about the era, and that, in this instance, the upper-classes used make-up to show off their wealth and power – an ordinary person would never have been able to afford those sorts of cosmetics, nor would they have had the time to apply them.  The programme was as much about hairstyles as make-up, but, OK, the two things go together.  I could have done without the attempts to make everything “relevant” to today – I’m sure we can all think about the Georgians without needing to think about the Kardashians – but it really was quite interesting.

Churchill – Channel 5

Standard

  Whilst I could have done with a bit less Freudian psycho-analysis (we were told every two minutes during the first episode that Churchill had been desperate for his father’s approval, wanted to emulate his father, and was always “trapped in the moment of his father’s death”), the first two episodes of this have been very entertaining.  I love Churchill as a historian, especially when he’s writing about the first Duke of Marlborough, but his own life was pretty interesting as well: the first episode took us from Blenheim Palace to the North West Frontier, to Oldham, to South Africa, to Westminster.  Shame it didn’t mention the fact that one of the people who helped him hide from the Boers was an Oldham coal miner: I like that story 🙂 .

The interpretation of his life was quite strange – apart from the obsession with his father, the presenters’ idea was that he thought politicians had to be celebs.  I’m not entirely convinced about that, but, yes, he probably did go off both to the Boer War and the Great War more with the aim of winning attention and popularity than anything else … rather drastic decisions!   And it worked.  You’d think that the wealthy aristocrat, turning up at the Front with a load of luggage including his own bath, and having been all over the papers after he was pushed under the bus and made the scapegoat for Gallipoli (for which he was partly to blame, but so were plenty of others), would have been resented by the ordinary soldiers, but it sounded as if they all thought he was great.

It’s unfortunate that his own father didn’t – we were shown extracts of letters in which Randolph Churchill said that young Winston would probably turn out to be a “social wastrel and a failure”.  And his mother was more interested in her social life and affairs than in her children.  So rather a sad start in life, despite the immense privilege.  None of this was anything that most viewers wouldn’t already have known, but it was interesting.

So too was hearing about his Army service in India, and then the crazy escapade in South Africa in which he escaped from a Boer POW camp armed only with a bar of chocolate – you really couldn’t make it up!    Then came his first forays into politics, but then the Gallipoli disaster, his rejoining the Army, and then his successful return to politics against all the odds.

I really did enjoy both episodes, and am looking forward to the rest of the series.  I thought they might wokify it and make irrelevant criticisms, but they didn’t – they did make the point that some of his views on imperialism and race might not be acceptable now, but they also made it clear that the articles he wrote whilst in South Africa were very well-received, so he was only reflecting the views of the time.  Instead, they focused on what a character he was – he really was one of a kind!  Enjoying this, and looking forward to more 🙂 .