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The Churchill Secret KBO by Jonathan Smith
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The Churchill Secret KBO

by Jonathan Smith

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In 1951, at the age of 75 and already in poor health, Winston Churchill resumed the office of Prime Minister. His Foreign Secretary, generally acknowledged as the Great Man's successor, was Anthony Eden. Though more than twenty years younger than Churchill, Eden's health was similarly fragile as a consequence of slipshod surgery to correct a gall bladder ailment that had actually served to make the problem worse.

By the summer of 1953, Eden's health had plummeted further, to the extent that the leading American surgeon, Dr Richard Cattell, considered to be the leading expert in the world, was commissioned to operate. Cattell's eminence was of such a degree that he could name his own terms for such an undertaking, and he decided that he would only conduct the operation back in his own hospital in Boston. Eden had, therefore, been despatched to America and was preparing to go under the knife.

In the meantime, Churchill planned to spend a restful summer, marshalling his declining physical resources in readiness for his appearance at the Conservative party Conference at Margate in the autumn. Earlier in the year Sir Edmund hillary and Sherpa Tensing had conquered Mount Everest on the day before the Queen's coronation, and England had regained The Ashes for the first time in twenty years, leaving the nation feeling broadly positive.

In view of this prevailing sense of national elation, most of the Conservative party faithful, including Eden himself, expected that Churchill would use his speech at Margate to announcement his retirement as Prime Minister, making way for Eden to take over with enough time to put his stamp on the office before the next general election. Those plans were thrown out of kilter on 23 June when, at a dinner in 10 Downing Street thrown for the Italian ambassador, Churchill suffered a stroke while concluding his speech. Fortunately the guests didn't notice the extent of his ordeal, and the inner circle were able tactfully to clear the room and convey Churchill to his bedroom. Having settled him for the night, his personal physician, Charles, Lord Moran, President of the Royal College of Physicians, was summoned to examine him the following morning.

This sets the context for the rest of the novel which focuses on the various relationships between Churchill and Lady Clementine (his long suffering wife), John Colville (his Principal Private Secretary), Lord Moran, and the desperately ambitious yet physically faltering Anthony Eden. Jonathan Smith makes the various exchanges seem immensely plausible, particularly those between Churchill and Millie Appleyard, the nurse commissioned to attend to his every need (and the only wholly fictional character in the novel).

Intriguing and engrossing, the story captivates the reader with a fascinating insight into the inner sanctum of Number 10, where all the major players have their own agenda. Perhaps the most amazing aspect is the insight into Churchill's relationship with the Press, as represented by Lord Beaverbrook, Viscount Camrose and Viscount Bracken who between them owned the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, The Economist, The Banker, The Financial News and The London Evening Standard. Things were organised very differently in those days, long before the advent of the internet and a time when even the paparazzi had their own code of conduct!

Smith also succeeds in making Churchill an empathetic character. Capable of occasionally brutish behaviour, Smith also casts him as a delicate and sensitive man, moved by the power of oetry and the gentleness of a nurse's care. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jun 10, 2015 |
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