Update: Churchill’s Secret Affair

Channel 4’s documentary Churchill’s Secret Affair broadcast last night differs in several important details from the account published in the Daily Mail last week. See previous post. Several experts contribute to the documentary. From our perspective the most important are UK academics Warren Dockter (University of Aberystwyth) and Richard Toye (University of Exeter), both of whom have written books on Churchill, and Judith Mackrell who has written on Doris Castlerosse (The Unfinished Palazzo). Also contributing are Catherine Delevigne, Doris’s niece, and historian Hugo Vickers.

The story begins with Dockter’s discovery of a 1985 tape in the Churchill College archive at Cambridge in which John “Jock” Colville, one of Churchill’s secretaries, mentions that, while Churchill was not particularly active sexually, he did have one brief affair with Doris Castlerosse. Dockter’s joint researches with Prof Toye track this to a 1933 visit by the  Churchill family (including wife and at least some children) to a villa in the South of France. This was called Château de l’Horizon and was owned not by Lord Beaverbrook, as is suggested by the Mail, but by an American actress by the name of Maxine Elliott. Doris,  who by then had already married and divorced Valentine Castlerosse, was also a guest. The next detail isn’t entirely clear but is important to our readers. Doris had an affair with Randolph Churchill before, not after Winston’s. C4 dates this only to the “early 1930s” so it may have been before or during the 1933 visit. Evelyn Waugh contributes to the story in his later report (Letters, p. 552) where he writes of the contretemps between Randolph and Valentine in a London restaurant that would probaby have occurred during this affair. Alas, Waugh’s contribution does not get mentioned in the documentary, and Randolph’s affair takes up only about 1 minute of the film.

Doris’s affair with Winston was more extensive than was suggested in the Mail story. Winston returned to the château by himself on four separate occasions beginning the following summer (1934). It was on the first of these that the affair began (not at the Hotel Ritz). It was also on these vists that Winston painted three portraits of Doris, one of which he gave her. He only painted one portrait of his wife Clementine, who it is also suggested on Colville’s evidence, may have herself had an affair with an art dealer Terence Philip while she was on a cruise without Winston in 1934. After Doris moves back to London in 1937 (apparently having been residing full time in the South of France) meetings are occasionally arranged in her Berkeley Square residence. According to Catherine Delevigne (based on information from her mother and her father, Dudley Delevigne, Doris’s brother) on these occasions the staff were temporarily dismissed so there was no one present except Doris and Winston. After Winston returned to the government and became more involved in events leading up to the war, the affair ended.

The story concludes with Doris’s decampment to Venice and then New York in 1939 where she never found anyone willing to pay her way and from whence she is rescued by Winston’s discrete intervention in 1942 facilitating her return to London. Lacking no more support in London than she had in New York, however, Doris died after overdosing on sleeping pills a few months after her return. The one-hour documentary is available for streaming on Channel 4’s internet service 40D. A UK internet connection is required. It seems likely, given the high quality and content of the film, that it will appear on US television in due course.

Meanwhile, more information has become available about the play Happy Warriors in which Waugh’s WWII mission to Yugoslavia with Randolph Churchill is dramatized:

A new play, ‘Happy Warriors’, written by 91-year old James Hugh Macdonald, makes its worldwide premiere Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate from 28th March – 22nd April. WT Stage, the producers, wanted to buck the trend of young writers giving a veteran his chance to have his script come to life on stage!

Happy Warriors is set in a war zone and based on a true story. … Along with Randolph [Churchill] and Evelyn [Waugh], who are billeted in a small deserted farmhouse, is Zora Panic, a young, belligerent, university-educated partisan. Zora is far from thrilled when told by her guerrilla commander she must learn to be less arrogant ahead of joining her comrades in the battle against the German army. In addition, she was told that her employment in the menial position of cook/housekeeper to the two Englishmen must be endured. Zora takes out her indignation, frustration and anger on the two men. What could possibly go right?


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