The Churchill Archives engendered many highs. The material is prodigious and troublingly addictive. A letter or newsprint fragment or a crumpled draft can pay dividends. In addition to family papers are those of other figures whose histories overlap. Sarah’s diaries glitter with friendships, memories and family dynamics. The rewards are great and before long your giddy researches require you to perch on some virtual window seat lit by Pharos.
Father and daughter were alike. Sarah masterminds images: International Star, Chatterton the Poet, Sixties Bohemian, Diehard Blueblood. Winston wields his red leather Gladstone and portrays the Family Man with Diana and Randolph beside him. He’s Impresario, Renoir, would-be Aviator, the brains behind any operation: directing his minions (and a few gangsters) as they scupper ‘HMS Hermione’ (his own dearest) when she’s broken command and gone full steam out to sea. Her military brains extends little beyond the swift left hook (when provoked) but she majors in the human touch, knows what won’t go down well politically; even advising on Mummie’s bombproof mink exterior. She escapes to join Vic Oliver in America: strategy before danger, faith in your star. Damn the consequences. Her father scales a wall before an army crawl; sidling past guards then he’s free to roam; hope, luck and instinct guiding him. Loyal to the core, Sarah and Winston play by Gentlemen’s Rules. They keep secrets, forgive and laugh. Each relies on fourth dimensional time management and unwinds in great style and excess.
Yet this book is about her. Everyone else is a guest star appearing in cameo roles whether it’s Stalin and Roosevelt (with Sarah limning a modern gentler civilization) or John G. Winant (here she’s the ‘Great Atossa’ like her ancestral namesake).
For the majority of her lifetime the pains she took to protect her family’s reputation resulted in her priceless automaton clock being wound up tight. The negative publicity was unfortunate and while it stemmed, at times, from her actions, it’s a sad reckoning. Some attributed the Wayward label to her early on. She wasn’t afraid to subvert expectations. She was lonely for long stretches with like-minded souls thin on the ground. Then came Vic who was exciting to be around. One reporter saw them cosying up in a cafe after Vic had driven many miles to see her. They were in love and only later did the relationship run its course. By then Winston was a great fan of Vic and gave him many paintings. I wish the photos of Vic with members of the Churchill family would come to light.
Whilst her relationship with her mother saw ups and downs, truckloads of letters give testimony to the lifetime of exchanges apart from a late 1930s hiatus. Obvious was the need to sound out ideas. I cried seeing the last letters Clementine wrote. The two shared interests and laughed at the same things. The young starlet trod many a board and accompanying her father overseas in wartime was a role few got to understudy. Eventually she showed she had the fire and ‘Serious Charge’ should not have been her last film.
Other archives yielded rich returns. Sarah’s poems, like her, are awe-inspiring and mysterious. I de-coded a few. ‘Dr Beauchamp’s’ literary criticism (her husband’s) is hilarious to read. They really laughed. Together they were hot.
Nobody’s words illustrate the feelings Sarah had towards her parents, siblings and lovers better than Sarah’s. She found happiness but it was fleeting. She was loved dearly. She was a fighter to the end and those of her friends whom I was lucky enough to interview, like Julia Lockwood, Curtis Hooper, Nicky Dantine, Fenella Fielding, David Burke, and Annie Ross, were touched and heartened by knowing her.
- Miranda Brooke
Miranda Brooke is an author and historian from London. Wayward Daughter: Sarah Churchill and Her World is published by Amberley Books.
Find out more about Sarah's papers in our archive catalogue.
The views expressed are the views of the writer alone, and are not endorsed or otherwise by Churchill College in any way whatsoever.
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