Richard Toye

 

On his book Winston Churchill: A Life in the News

Cover Interview of April 28, 2021

The wide angle

Although it is a book about one person it is also about the development of the media over a period of nine decades. It is very intriguing to consider how the press operates now and how it came to be that way. Although it is rather crude to think in terms of whether the media was better or worse in those days, I found myself doing so during the research. In some respects, politicians tended to get much more of a free pass, especially when it came to their private lives and finances. But it’s wrong to imagine that journalists of the period were simply a pushover. The press was very polarised, and politicians could be viciously attacked.

Although Churchill was often much too sensitive about criticism, it is true that he frequently received harsh treatment. It is a very subjective thing, but my impression is that if one thing was better about journalism in those days, it was the quality of the writing. It is possible to read articles that were incredibly misleading and unfair and yet still to admire the way that they were expressed. I can’t say I feel that way about many writers these days, though one does, of course, have to be very careful about suggesting that Churchill’s era is a lost golden age.

I have written books about Churchill before, but it seemed to me that this theme of the media I Churchill’s life was one that no scholar had previously covered in all its angles. The research on the subject was greatly aided by the collection of news cuttings held at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge. These include items from papers which were important at the time but are now obscure or hard to access. Digitised newspapers were of course invaluable as well.