Josh Ireland’s Churchill & Son turns the volatile relationship between Winston and Randolph into a compelling tragedy, but one which casts valuable new light on the outsized human dimensions of both men. Do not be discouraged by the first two chapters concerning Winston’s relationship with his own father, where the ground is already well-trodden and Ireland’s narrative somewhat breathless. Once Randolph arrives on the scene the book takes flight and stays aloft. Ireland’s research is far-reaching, his writing wonderfully light and the story excellently told.
Lord Londonderry told Winston, when Randolph was twenty-one, “He is so like you and yet so unlike you”: a fair appraisal. Josh Ireland reveals skilfully the dynamics of the family, including the role of Randolph’s wives, but the theme of the book is the way Winston invested his dynastic hopes in his son and Randolph’s response. Their relationship resembled in its intensity the bond between devoted but fighting lovers more than the conventional affinity of father and son. Randolph outlived his father by only three years, dying in 1968 aged fifty-seven, whereas Winston had lived to be ninety-one. Ireland’s meticulous account of their strong and troubled relationship offers insight into both the famous father and the flawed son. It makes compulsive, sad reading.
Ministers today have professional special advisers. Randolph, although never officially employed thus, was forever sending his father intelligence and suggestions. He “understood the Churchill climate”, was completely loyal and, unlike other advisers, did not resort to flattery. Ireland does not observe, but could have done, that a maverick in the Downing Street court is useful. A hot-head in the room can allow a PM to appear more centrist. A vehement voice can smoke out opposing truculence and create room for decisions. Wherever Randolph lurched he created a force field of aggression, which, good or bad, made things happen.