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TitleSteven Fielding-The Churchill Myths
LanguageEnglish
File Size32.2 MB
Total Pages225
Table of Contents
                            Cover
The Churchill Myths
Copyright
Contents
List of Figures
Introduction
	The Meaning of Myths
	History and the Churchill Myths
	Brexit and the Churchill Myths
	The Principles of the Book
1 Brexit May 1940
	Digital Pasts
	Men of Destiny
	Brexit May 1940
	Mythic Churchill
	England’s Populism: 1940
	England’s Populism: Brexit
2 The Churchill Syndrome
	The Battle for Churchill’s Reputation
	Bulldog
	The Special Relationship
	Between Europe and the Open Sea
	Attack from the Right-Flank
	Puffing on an Invisible Cigar
	Boom or Bust?
	The Changing Face of British Nostalgia
3 Persistence and Change in Churchill’s Mythic Memory
	Precedents and Parallels
	Celebrating the National Icon
	A Transatlantic Churchill
	The Long Road to Young Winston
	Baiting the Myth
	The Great Man
	The Reassertion of a Deeper Myth
	A Confusion of Churchills
Epilogue
Endnotes
	Introduction
	Chapter 1
	Chapter 2
	Chapter 3
	Epilogue
Index
                        
Document Text Contents
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3
Persistence and Change in Churchill’s

Mythic Memory

The focus of this chapter is on the Churchill of popular myth—the divine
Churchill and the damned Churchill, and those Churchills in between.
Central to the question of mythic Churchill are the forms of his remem-
brance. Memory of the historical past is expressed in diverse ways,
generated through different ‘sites of memory’, which includes ‘film,
television and radio, photography and the visual arts, journalism and
propaganda, architecture, museums, music and literature’.¹ According
to one of the leading figures in the field, Marita Sturken, such memory
‘both defines a culture and is the means by which its divisions and
conflicting agendas are revealed’, indicating ‘collective desires, needs
and self-definitions’ about the past which in its very forms simultan-
eously illuminates the present. As events become ever more distant, past
and present are reconfigured. Sturken went so far as to describe the
Vietnam War—the instance with which she was concerned—as ‘no
longer a definite event so much as it is a collective and mobile script in
which we continue to scrawl, erase, rewrite our conflicting and changing
views of ourselves’.² The same can be said of Winston Churchill, a figure
who remains active in bringing the past into the present.

The big and small screen have played a decisive role in the making of
mythic Churchill. This is not only due to the size of the TV and cinema
audience, but also to the powerful ways in which the moving image
impacts on social consciousness. Richard Attenborough, who directed
the 1972 film Young Winston, spoke of how ‘very daunting’ he felt his
role to have been, referring to its ‘massive responsibility’ because ‘People
who have no knowledge of Churchill’s early life, now their knowledge is
in that movie: it isn’t from biography or major articles . . . it is from that

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movie.’³ Film and TV are uniquely persuasive, even as they play fast and
loose with the historical record. Academic research indicates that audi-
ences already primed with the facts are still likely to believe the most
blatantly erroneous screen renderings of real historical events.⁴ This does
not mean audiences are the passive victims of brainwashing: all fictions are
open to contrasting interpretations, and people bring their own experience
to bear when making sense of them.⁵ But if an individual screen drama
does not usually overturn an audience’s fundamental beliefs, it can at least
reinforce prior opinions if these are in sympathy with the story.⁶

At the conclusion of the BBC’s coverage of Churchill’s funeral, the
venerable broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, who had with great solemnity
described the event for millions of viewers, read out a poem by teacher
and amateur poet Avril Anderson, which ended: ‘So Churchill sleeps; yet
surely wakes, Old Warrior, where the morning breaks On sunlit
uplands—but the heart aches’.⁷ The previous chapters have established
how Churchill remains awake in the imagination of many politicians and
historians. No other British political figure commands such lively post-
mortem attention. This the anthropologist Katherine Verdery evoca-
tively calls ‘dead-body politics’. It is both a British and an international
phenomenon.⁸ These dead characters, and Churchill more than most,
can become even more important in their nations’ lives than when they
were alive. Their stories smother other kinds of explanation, distorting
perceptions of the relations between past and present. The make-believe
persona dominates the horizon, defining the nation by embodying it and
claiming to speak for it.

Some figures, Churchill included, do even more than that. There is a
current of contemporary political theory which now regards the modern
nation state as a ‘site of sacred experience’.⁹ Central to this approach is
the willingness of citizens to sacrifice themselves for the nation in times
of conflict, believing in a meaning beyond their own existence. In the
case of Churchill this collective meaning is most fully embodied by
the idea of the nation.¹⁰ The state provides individuals with a sense of
the transcendent by creating symbols which express the nation as an
eternal phenomenon. In this, threshold experiences—civil war or, in
Britain’s case, the war for national survival—give shape to the desire
for certainty.¹¹ Thanks to his purported role in May 1940, Churchill

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