Richard Toye


On his book Winston Churchill: A Life in the News

Cover Interview of April 28, 2021

In a nutshell

The book is about Winston Churchill’s relationship with the media and the news. Churchill was active in politics from the age of Queen Victoria to that of Elizabeth II, a period which included two world wars, in both of which Churchill played a leading role. During his lifetime, the mass popular press came into its own, but then came under challenge from new media—newsreels, radio, and eventually TV.

The book tackles Churchill’s relationship with the news in three dimensions, first, his own journalism. Second, his efforts to influence or control what was said about him. Third, his evolving media image.

The book starts with the very earliest mentions media mentions of Churchill, the child of Lord Randolph Churchill, who was a renowned and mercurial Conservative politician. It continues until his death and funeral in 1965. During this period, the press was evolving and becoming ever more intrusive. During Churchill’s retirement he made plenty of trips abroad, and the paparazzi would follow him everywhere, trying for example to get shots of him painting, a favourite hobby of his.

The book also deals with the symbolism that surrounded Churchill and the way that he was portrayed. Now, if we think of an object we associate with him, we might think of a cigar. Earlier in his career, though, cartoonists typically drew him wearing a tiny hat. Churchill claimed this was due to an incident during an election campaign in which he picked up the wrong headgear when going outside. Certainly, he knew the value of having identifiable quirks and a colourful image that would ensure he got a lot of coverage.

I would say that the book is best read from start to finish but each chapter is self-contained and therefore hopefully useful in its own right to readers who are interested in particular phases of Churchill’s career.