Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Churchill in "Der Standard" plus interview with Dr Melanie Sully

Churchill in „Der Standard“

By Prof Dr Melanie Sully

For someone obsessed with their reputation and how the World would see them, Chuchill lives on in the media half a century after his death. The Austrian quality paper “Der Standard” (www.derstandard.at 17/18-1- 2015) dedicates its weekend Agenda edition with a front page and double page to this great but controversial British figure, including an analysis by their London correspondent and an interview with this writer in Vienna.

At the beginning of the 1960s there were two television programmes which commanded the attention of British viewers: one “The Valiant Years” a weekly documentary of the Second World War and the role of Churchill narrated with that indomitable voice of Richard Burton and the second “That was the Week that Was”, a ground breaking political anti-Establishment satire series introduced by the young David Frost. These two stood in juxtaposition to each other symbolising on the one hand Britain’s imperial past and victory and the other ridiculing its aristocracy and political elite. Churchill’s death coincided with the end of the former era and the beginning of a more cynical, questioning age.

Chuchill’s death and funeral will be commemorated this month in Britain by the BBC and Jeremy Paxman, a famous interviewer and commentator. Curiously then like this writer he as a teenager had been glued to the live broadcast of the state funeral and impressed by the pomp and passing of such a great man. Without social media or much in the way of communications (it was in itself a sensation to have a live broadcast), it was impossible to share experiences outside a narrow circle of friends.

A state funeral is a particularly special and rare occasion for a commoner in Britain and Churchill had been asked five years before by the Queen if he would like one. Typically he is reported to have replied, of course, guns, trumpets, soldiers, the lot. And that’s the send off Britain paid “its joint son” with the United States, for Churchill’s mother was an American. Richard Dimbleby, himself an iconic figure of infant television commented on the funeral procession; in his early fifties, he was to die himself later that year of cancer, an illness which he made public - which at that time required extraordinary courage.

Representatives of 110 nations attended the funeral service in St Pauls Cathedral (The Observer noted that China, Cambodia and Mongolia were not represented). Clement Attlee, former Labour Prime Minister who had defeated Churchill at the post-war election but who had worked with him in the war-time coalition insisted on acting as a pall-bearer against the advice of his doctors and in spite of age. He was well into his 80s and defiantly braved the cold January weather.

As the coffin was carried on a barge down the River Thames the cranes of the London dockers bowed in respect. This was a really moving gesture although we now learn from the new programme by Paxman that not all dockers were happy about this.

Chuchill’s great speeches do not come over in written text with the same impact as audio version for it was the intonation which made them memorable. So in his famous “we will fight them on the beaches”, he concludes “we will go on til the end”. The end for Winston Churchill came in January 1965. Of life and death he once said, it is a great journey, well worth making once.

melanie.sully@go-governance.com 17.1. 2015