Winston Churchill’s grave in Ann Treneman’s Finding the Plot: 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die

  • April 04, 2016 10:00
  • Sam Jones

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

Politician

30 November 1874–24 January 1965

St Martin’s Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire OX20 1RS

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The thing that hits you first about Sir Winston Churchill’s grave is the size. As a man he was large; as a historical figure, a giant, and surely the man who personified the fight against Hitler. And yet his grave is not grand or particularly imposing: a raised slab, only slightly over-sized, that is shared

with his wife Clementine, surrounded by identically sized graves of his family in the quiet churchyard of St Martin’s in the village of Bladon in Oxfordshire. He could have been buried in the grounds of nearby Blenheim Palace, his family home. He could have been buried at Westminster Abbey. Or, for that matter, anywhere he wanted.

But he chose Bladon. Anyone can come see him here – and they do. Wear and tear by the constant visitors means the stone has had to be replaced twice. When I came, on a bitterly cold day, there was a small basket of white roses, sent for Clementine. ‘On this 1st April, your birthday,’ said the card, signed ‘Mary’. As a grave, this is one where history looms large, and indeed threatens to overwhelm, but the thing that surprises is this small human touch – a bouquet sent, mostly likely by their daughter, Lady Soames, so many years on (Clementine died in 1977).

He was buried on 30 January 1965. He had lain in state in the ancient stone magnificence of Westminster Hall, endless queues passing by. He had been carried through the streets by gun carriage to a monumental funeral at St Paul’s. Big Ben was silenced. The guns at the Tower boomed. Afterwards, the coffin, transferred to a barge, sailed up the Thames and as he passed the London docks, all the cranes dipped towards him, bowing to the old warrior. Then he went by train to Hanborough railway station and, finally, by hearse to Bladon.

The church has produced a little booklet about the death and funeral, much of which was gleaned from letters at the time from Mrs Bishop of Beehive Cottage, which adjoins the churchyard, to her sister. Again, it was a joy to find something so personal.

On 24 January, Mrs Bishop wrote:

We have just heard that the old warrior has given up at last. What a fight he has made! Mr H. from Church Cottage ran over in tears to tell me. He is now tolling the bell – every twenty seconds or so. I expect the same is happening all over England. It is very touching on this lovely morning.

On 30 January, she recounted: ‘It is a glorious morning, bitterly cold but no wind and the sun is coming out. I have icicles 8 to 10 inches long in the garden. The village is navy blue! Never have I seen so many police, men and women (900) compressed into such a small place.’ People started to queue, she said, in the morning. By the time the (private) funeral was over and they could start to file past, it was four and a half hours from end to graveside. ‘The police have put flood lights over the grave so that the queue can carry on after dark … which they did until midnight.’

On Sunday 31 January: ‘The queues restarted at 7 a.m. and continued all day ’til long after dark. The police estimate the numbers at 70,000 during the weekend.’

More than a month later, on 10 February, she adds: ‘There is a constant stream of visitors all the time. Lorry and van drivers pull up in the main road and pop up for a moment, business men and travellers, many old folk, school parties and even one or two groups of “mods and rockers” have been in, very quiet and orderly.’

The booklet stops soon after but the visitors who come to see the grave with the word CHURCHILL on the side never have. During the funeral, a poem was read by Richard Dimbleby, his voice breaking. It is included in the booklet and I recount it here for I think it goes some way to explaining why so many of us want to visit him still:

Drop English earth on him beneath

Do our sons, and their sons bequeath his glories

And our pride and grief

At Bladon

For Lionheart that lies below

That feared not toil nor tears nor foe.

Let the oak stand tho tempests blow

At Bladon.

So Churchill sleeps, yet surely wakes

Old Warrior where the morning breaks

On sunlit uplands.

But the heart aches

At Bladon.

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With ninety-nine other ‘dead interesting’ burial sites, Ann Treneman’s Finding the Plot is published 5 April and is available in paperback (£10.99) and eBook (£6.99).

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Beyond Same-sex Marriage

  • March 22, 2016 14:00
  • Lynne Featherstone

As we approach the two year anniversary of same-sex marriage in the UK, Lynne Featherstone – author of Equal Ever After – reflects on the incredible progress achieved so far, and what remains to be done.

We are coming up to the second anniversary of the day that marriage became equal – 29 March 2016.

Over 15,000 same-sex couples have been married since the law was passed.

Same-sex marriage (which hopefully over the next few years will just be called ‘marriage’) is my totally happy place in politics. I was the architect and originator of the same-sex marriage law. No one knows the real story of how it came about, except me.

My story started right at the end of the journey to same-sex marriage; I stand on the shoulders of giants. My book Equal Ever After tell of how I made it happen and is dedicated to all the brave men and women who fought against the discrimination of centuries, suffering insult and injury and sometimes death. I simply had the privilege to go the last mile.

It is quite an extraordinary story – full of revelations, thrills and spills. Bet you didn’t know that I had managed to get both same-sex marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships through all governmental hoops – but David Cameron threw out straight civil partnerships. Just before I made the first public announcement that the government was going to proceed with same-sex marriage, he gave me an ultimatum: he would stop same-sex marriage from going ahead if I didn’t agree to drop straight civil partnerships! I can’t write what I thought about that – it is unprintable.

Since the publication of Equal Ever After, I have been doing readings and talks all over the country and it is a complete joy. It’s such a happy piece of legislation and I am so totally grateful to have had the opportunity to change the world a little bit for the better – the very reason I went into politics in the first place.

Lovely things have happened since the passing of the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Act 2013. I won three awards, which was amazing, but the best thing by a mile is when a young person comes up to me after I have been giving a speech somewhere on some topic – and says ‘thank you for what you did – you changed my life’. To be honest, politics doesn’t get better than this.

The London School of Economics and Social Law named their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Moot after me. A moot is an issue that is ‘subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty’. So the LSE-Featherstone Moot takes a difficult issue in this area and debates it. They held their first SOGI moot on 4/5 March and the brightest students from all over the country came to compete and be judged by eminent judges and advocates. The ‘moot’ issue was one very similar to the Asher Bakery row.

It will be an annual event now, and I am super honoured to have been asked to lend it my name.

However, as lovely as all this is, it is too tempting to see what is definitely a landmark piece of equality legislation as a full-stop. There is still so much to do.

A sad reminder of this was the meeting of Anglican primates convened by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in February this year. It was meant to be a real push to move the global churches’ position on homosexuality beyond that issue. That would enable more time to be spent on other matters of great import, such as climate change and religious violence.

The proposition from Justin Welby was that, given the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the various parts of the Anglican Communion, the communion should change to allow that difference more expression. It failed. It not only failed, but the actual outcome went the wrong way. Six African churches were insisting on sanctions against the US Episcopal, which had consecrated a gay priest. The hardliners won.

This summer, the July session of the synod will spend two days in private, discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. We can but hope…

We must keep up the pressure.

During the course of my journey, I more often than not encountered the unforgiving face of religions, couched in hideously unloving and homophobic language. I hope one day all those religions that condemn homosexuality will see the light, so that the whole world can live equal ever after.

Save 20% on Equal Ever After in Hardback and eBook when you order via our website.

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March releases from Biteback Publishing

  • March 07, 2016 14:00
  • Sam Jones

5,000 Great One-Liners

By Grant Tucker

‘A good friend is worth pursuing. But why would a good friend be running away?’

Grant Tucker’s collection of cracking jokes is a celebration of the immortal art form that is the one-liner. Capable of inducing side-splitting laughter and tragic sighs in equal measure, this book collects 5,000 of the funniest one-liners ever told into one definitive volume. My personal favourite so far: ‘An autobiography without punctuation is a life sentence.’

 

 

Harold Wilson: The Unprincipled Prime Minister?

Edited by Kevin Hickson and Andrew Crines

2016 marks the centenary of Harold Wilson’s birth, and the fiftieth anniversary of his landslide general election victory in 1966. With contributions from leading experts in the fields of political study, and from Wilson’s own contemporaries, this remarkable new study offers a timely and wide-ranging reappraisal of one of the longest-serving premiers of the twentieth century.

 

 

 

How to Win a Marginal Seat: My Year Fighting For My Political Life

By Gavin Barwell

During the 2015 general election, the contest in Gavin Barwell’s constituency of Croydon Central was by any measure one of the most intensive constituency campaigns this country has ever seen. By the end of it, Gavin had clung on by the skin of his teeth, and had a story well worth telling. This book is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how campaigning is conducted at the coalface of British politics.

 

 

 

Taking It On the Chin: Memoirs of a Parliamentary Bruiser

By Tom Pendry

Surely one of the most colourful characters ever to have graced the Palace of Westminster, Tom Pendry has been a boxer, a bruiser and a scholar, whose political career as an agent, candidate, Labour MP and peer has spanned over sixty years. Full of revealing anecdotes and candid descriptions of colleagues, his memoirs throw new light on successive governments and great, epoch-making events, and are a mixture of light and shade, irreverent wit and deeply serious intent.

 

 

Coalition: The Inside Story of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government

By David Laws

Coalition is the definitive insider account of the historic Conservative–Lib Dem coalition from its birth in 2010 through to its demise in May 2015. This revealing account will be one of the most important political books of the year, shedding new light on perhaps the most fascinating political partnership since the Second World War. It will also provide an essential historical record of the issues and challenges facing all political parties.

 

 

Project Fear: How an Unlikely Alliance Left a Kingdom United but a Country Divided (second edition)

By Joe Pike

Joe Pike’s bestselling account of the Scottish referendum and its aftermath was one of the most highly acclaimed political books of 2015. This second edition – published to coincide with the anniversary of Scottish independence  – is updated with brand new material, interviews and figures.

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Biteback Publishing to publish four new volumes of Alastair Campbell's diaries

  • March 07, 2016 10:00
  • Vicky Gilder

Iain Dale, MD of Biteback Publishing, has acquired world rights to four new volumes of diaries from Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former chief press secretary and director of communications and strategy, and the author of several books, including the number one Sunday Times bestsellers The Blair Years and, more recently, Winners And How They Succeed. World rights were acquired from Ed Victor at Ed Victor Ltd.

The first volume will begin in 2003, where the previous instalment, The Burden of Power, ended, with Campbell’s departure from Downing Street, with subsequent books covering the intervening years until 2015. Despite having left government, Campbell’s level of involvement barely abated: he continued to advise Blair (and later Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband) and played a key role in every election campaign since. It opens as Lord Hutton prepares to publish his report, sparking a huge crisis for the BBC. But any joy in No. 10 is dwarfed by continuing difficulties in Iraq. Meanwhile the Blair–Brown relationship is fracturing almost beyond repair and Campbell is tasked by both with devising a plan that will enable the two men to come together to fight a united election campaign.

Away from politics, the diaries will talk frankly about Campbell’s continued struggles with mental health issues, as well as his work in sport and his return to journalism as he tries to find a new purpose in life.

Iain Dale said: ‘When I heard from Ed Victor that we had agreed terms, I literally punched the air. I’ve read every word of the previous four volumes and, in my opinion, Alastair’s diaries represent the most valuable political historical documents of the last twenty years. There’s no spin, no editing out the awkward bits, just raw politics told in an entertaining and engaging manner. You get a unique perspective from someone who, even after he had left No. 10, was still right at the centre of things. Whether you’re an enemy or a fan of New Labour, if you read these diaries you won’t see Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or the events he covers in the same light ever again. I’ve been trying to entice Alastair to Biteback for some time and I could not be more delighted that we’ve been able to do a deal. It represents a huge long-term commitment from Biteback and I know my colleagues and I are going to enjoy the journey.’

Alastair Campbell said: ‘I am very pleased to be working with Iain Dale – not a bad guy for a Tory – and Biteback on publishing my post-2003 diaries. The first book with Biteback – Volume 5: Never Really Left – will be published in the autumn, and although it begins the day after I left Downing Street, it becomes clear that I never fully left and was centrally involved with Tony Blair up to the election of 2005, where this volume will end. It also, therefore, covers the publication of and fallout from the Hutton Inquiry, and the deal I helped put together to get Tony and Gordon Brown co-operating during the campaign, as well as my attempts – and failures – to adapt to a new kind of life, branching out into different areas, alongside the realisation of continuing mental health issues that required proper attention. I hope the four volumes Iain and Biteback intend to publish in the coming years, added to the four volumes already published by Random House, will be a vivid and essential record of an important period in modern political history.’

The first volume will be published in autumn 2016, with subsequent books over the next three years. The books will be supported by a major publicity campaign.

For more information please contact victoria.gilder@bitebackpublishing.com or call 020 7091 1260

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Mark Rylance wins Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of ABEL!

  • February 29, 2016 10:00
  • Sam Jones

Congratulations to Mark Rylance who won the Best Supporting Actor Award for his portrayal of Colonel Rudolf ‪Abel‬ in Steven Spielberg's ‪‎Bridge of Spies‬. You can read the true story of the Soviet spy the US traded for Gary Powers in Vin Arthey's ABEL, and don't forget there's 3 for 2 on all Dialogue Espionage Classics!

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