Gary Oldman’s Oscar nomination for his brilliant depiction of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour prompts us to check out how the corpulent war leader would spend his time when he was not striking fear into the Third Reich.
Winston Churchill would regularly round off a very comprehensive dinner with a cheese platter.
AND THERE was one London fromagerie he regarded above all others: “A gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whit?eld”, Churchill once said. Fortunately for the gentlemen (and women) of today’s London, Paxton & Whit?eld is still in business located on Jermyn Street. We have it on good authority that his cheese of choice was a Swiss Gruyère. Along with countries he obviously liked his cheeses to be neutral.
For a man with a copious appetite for alcohol Winston adored soup. He’d eat a bowl of cold thin non-creamy consommé before bed, Fortnum & Masons once supplied a turtle soup for his consumption.
Champagne was Churchill’s greatest strength, as he put it: “In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it; he once quipped. The king of sparkling wines that Churchill preferred was a very speci?c one – Pol Roger – purchased at the famous St. James’s wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd.
Winston fell in love with Havana cigars when he was a journalist in Cuba. Robert Lewis again in St James’s Street supplied him with his 5-6 cigars a day to smoke or suck. Nowadays, that shop is James J. Fox – and those very same orders can still be seen written in a big ledger. It’s reckoned that Churchill smoked in the region of 200,000 cigars in his lifetime. James J. Fox has Churchill’s chair in their small cigar museum.
Churchill’s chair at James J. Fox
Not renowned as one of the world’s greatest athletes, Churchill could have walked the 100 yards between Berry Brothers to Robert Lewis and then, should he have need of a haircut, Truefitt and Hill are opposite. They claim to be the oldest barbershop in the world and count many of the rich and famous among their clients, inside their premises they too have a chair used by, among others, Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery of Alamein.
Churchill’s chair at Truefitt and Hill
Among other Churchill haunts, a short stroll from his barbers is Browns Hotel on Albemarle Street, which was frequented by Winston so often it’s rumoured they built a bomb shelter him, and the bar here still does a Churchill Martini. During the Second World War, in Room 36, the Dutch government in exile declared war on Japan, whether Churchill was present we do not know.
We do, however, know his club – The National Liberal Club in Whitehall Place. Half-a-mile from Browns, he would almost certainly have taken a cab. Tales in the trade related to him leaving the back seat covered in cigar ash and being abrupt with the cabbie.
In the entrance lobby is a restored portrait of the young Winston Churchill in 1915, as First Lord of the Admiralty, as Churchill was a member of the club for 18 years. The painting was consigned to the basement when Churchill defected to the Tories.
There is a well-known story told of the National Liberal Club, that the Conservative politician (some say it was Churchill, it certainly sounds like him) F. E. Smith would stop off there every day on his way to Parliament, to use the club’s lavatories. One day the hall porter apprehended Smith and asked him if he was actually a member of the club, to which Smith replied “Good God! You mean it’s a club as well?”.
If you want a suit as good as Churchill’s pop along to Savile Row tailors Henry Poole, but don’t say that you are trying to emulate the great man, it transpires that Churchill once swerved a £197 invoice because he didn’t much fancy paying it. Henry Poole is still there today, as probably is his unpaid bill.