Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace and into a family tradition of military glory and political power. But although rich in titles and history Winston’s parents struggled to maintain their extravagant lifestyle. Moreover, preoccupied with their political and social engagements, his parents had little time for their son and at age 8 he was sent to boarding school. Later he was accepted into prestigious Harrow school despite not answering a single question in the Latin exam.
Young Winston wrote to his parents begging them to visit him. However in the five years that he was at Harrow Lord Randolph visited his son only once. Convinced that Winston had little academic ability he decided his son had better go into the Army. His father’s low expectations seemed vindicated when Winston finally passed the exams to enter Sandhurst but failed to get high enough in the lists to be accepted into the infantry. Instead he had to settle for the inferior option – the cavalry. Nevertheless Churchill excelled at Sandhurst. But, following his father’s premature death, he was convinced that he would also die young. So he wanted to succeed quickly. Wartime heroics were an obvious solution. Churchill pulled strings and got leave to go to Cuba during the war of independence where he filed dispatches as a military observer and reporter. His journalism attracted attention and he subsequently wrote popular books following army postings to the Sudan, Egypt and India.
When the opportunity arose to run for the seat of Oldham Churchill, now 25, felt he was ready to start a political career. He lost. The family name was not enough. Fame and glory still eluded him. Then as war loomed against the Boers in South Africa, Churchill saw a new opportunity to put himself back in the public eye as a war correspondent. He was on an armoured train when it was ambushed. Churchill was captured and taken to a prison camp in Pretoria as a POW. It was his lowest point.
But he hatched an escape plan, travelled through 450 km of enemy territory and made it to safety. At a time when the war was going badly any scrap of good news was welcomed – and trumpeted in the newspapers. Thus, when he addressed a huge crowd in Durban following his escape, he did so as a hero. On his return to the UK Churchill was able to translate his new media fame into votes and, at age 26, he won the seat of Oldham. His political career was underway.
Turning Point: Churchill includes location shooting in South Africa and the UK, evocative dramatizations and extensive archive material as well as interviews with leading experts Prof Andrew Roberts (Author of “Churchill: Walking with Destiny”), Celia Sandys (granddaughter of Churchill) and Prof Ashley Jackson (King’s College, London).
SANDYS: “Being a prisoner of war was for him the worst thing that could have happened…he was trying to get the attention of the world. How can he make his name in prison?”