Mrs Churchill

Often too busy to visit his Woodford constituency, Churchill would send his wife in his place. Now, director Chris Jaeger is bringing the play Mrs Churchill – My Life With Winston to South Woodford this November

Winston Churchill is one of the most famous Englishmen that has ever lived. Several years ago, he was voted first in a top 100 Englishmen poll. He is often portrayed as a bulldog because of his tenacity as a politician and his toughness on the international stage.

He was an MP for 62 years but there were many other sides to him. He was a talented painter, he wrote many books, winning a Nobel Prize for literature; and, of course, nobody could forget his biting humour (eg. Nancy Astor: “If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.” Winston: “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.”)

They say that behind every great man, there is a great woman. Was this true in Churchill’s case? What of Clementine, his wife of 56 years? Did he bully her like he did so many other people? Was he as grumpy and irascible at home as he often was in the House of Commons? Given his strength and conviction, did Clem have any influence on him at all? Or was she ‘the little lady at home’? The clue lies in another of Winston’s quotes. He said: “My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.”

Despite his bullish and aggressive reputation, when Clem first met him, he was a tongue-tied, stammering young man with few social graces. Yes, he was already a war hero. Yes, he was already an established politician. But these were men-dominated areas and he’d had little contact with women. Clem was very unimpressed with him and they did not meet again for four years. It was better the second time, and despite Winston treading on her feet several times while dancing, they talked and talked and found they had much in common. Within six months, they were married.

In truth, Clem was really the only person who could control him. It didn’t happen very often, but when she put her foot down, he rarely went against her. A prime example was the D-Day landings. Winston wanted to be in the lead boat, but the navy was very unhappy about that and talked to Clem. She told him he wasn’t going… and that was that.

In the play, not for the first time, Winston is too busy to attend his local Woodford constituency and is sending Clementine. She says: “Tomorrow, I shall thank the good people of Woodford for their loyalty and their kindness. You have taken us both to your hearts and I’m delighted we’ve been able to serve you for 30 years and more.”

But what of her children, her life and her grief at his death? All these questions will be answered, and many more, in Liz Grand’s superb, moving, funny, sensitive and informative portrayal of Clementine Churchill. This was one of the great love affairs of all time.

Mrs Churchill – My Life with Winston will be performed at Redbridge Drama Centre in South Woodford on 17 November (7.30pm; tickets: £16.50). Visit wnstd.com/mrsc