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Churchill’s work habits

LAURENCE REES: Let’s talk about Churchill’s rather eccentric work habits.

DAVID REYNOLDS: Churchill works round the clock. I mean, his preferred time for a lot of dictation is after dinner, you know, he has a good dinner, he gets well fed, well lubricated and then he’s tanked up for the evening and he marches up and down and dictates telegrams to run the war all over the world. He loves it, and, of course, his generals hate it; that’s the time when they call it his midnight follies, you know, he gets up to all sorts of mischief. But he had an enormous appetite for work and it’s clear that that appetite was really rekindled by the experience of being war leader. This is a man who rises to the occasion and he loves it in 1940-1941, whereas the other alternatives as leaders would shrink from it. Later on in the war I think it really wears Churchill out and he can’t change his work habits, so the work habits become, in fact, counterproductive in terms of his performance, and almost everybody around him, even very loyal people like Edward Bridges, the Cabinet Secretary, say that this man is just working too much, it’s not efficient, and the war is not being run well as a result. But in 1940-41 Churchill is really at his peak and he’s firing on all cylinders.

LAURENCE REES: In that later period Clement Attlee writes a note, doesn’t he, which is saying essentially that Churchill is drunk at these meetings and he’s rambling and isn’t really following things?

DAVID REYNOLDS: Attlee is an amazing character. He’s the Labour leader, he’s Deputy Prime Minister and he always behaves very properly in Cabinet. He never challenges Churchill in an overt way that would undermine Churchill’s face, but Attlee is an absolutely relentless critic where he feels Churchill’s done things wrong. He’s critical in 1942 about the emphasis on strategic bombing and in 1945 he writes him this very direct note about his behaviour in Cabinet, and in each case he does it on his own typewriter. It’s all bad typing because he won’t give it to a secretary to write because it’s critical of the Prime Minister. He’s very punctilious about these things, Attlee, but he is not afraid of Churchill and he’s one of the few really direct critics of Churchill within the Cabinet, a man who will criticise when he feels it’s needed.