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UK radio series to highlight Churchill's unknown skills

March 14, 2011 - London

Winston Churchill was not only one of England's longest serving prime ministers', but also had many other attributes and skills.

Widely regarded as a great wartime leader, Churchill was also an expert bricklayer, a pet lover with a particular soft spot for pigs and parrots, and owned a string of racehorses.

According to The Daily Express, England's image of him may be that of a British bulldog flashing his famous victory sign, but he was also a soldier, writer, farmer, orator, painter, racehorse breeder, scriptwriter, parrot owner and bricklayer.

Today, a new radio series, Churchill's Other Lives, begins, in which historian Sir David Cannadine looks at Churchill not as a statesman but as a Renaissance man.

"In contrast to today's 24/7 politicians who have neither the time nor the talent to cultivate their hinterlands, Churchill did so all his life with extraordinary energy, imagination and versatility," said Sir David.

He added: "I do not think that many of us appreciate the full dimensions of his personality and his genius."

And the extraordinary range of that personality and genius is perhaps best illustrated by his skill at the humble art of bricklaying.

Churchill was a qualified member of the Amalgamated Union of Bricklayers and at Chartwell, his home in Kent, he laid a superb red brick wall around the vegetable garden with a trowel in one hand and a cigar in the other. He also built a swimming pool and a goldfish pond.

Bricklaying was only one of his many interests and the first signs of that rich and varied life were not as a builder but at Harrow school.

There his achievements were not academic - when it came to brains he would later describe himself as a "late developer" - but rather as a swimmer for the school and at the age of 17 as the British Public Schools' fencing champion.

Then when he left school he went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst but his first job was not as one might have expected as a soldier but as a newspaper reporter for the Daily Graphic in Cuba where a minor rebelliongainst the Spanish colonists was being waged.

It was there that he acquired his taste for cigars and afternoon naps. And he continued as a journalist when he returned to soldiering and was posted to the North West Frontier of India (where he took up polo and became the leading scorer for the 4th Hussars).

At 22 he turned his dispatches from India into his first book, The Story Of The Malakand Field Force, and after he had participated in one of the last cavalry charges in British history during the Boer War, which he had been sent to cover as a journalist, he wrote a second book of dispatches.

At 25 he was not only a national hero for his daring exploits during that war and had won his first parliamentary seat but he had also written five books - as many, he later quipped, as Moses.

For the rest of his life he continued to write articles on everything from Are There Men On The Moon? to a lurid account of being run over and seriously injured on a visit to New York's Fifth Avenue.

He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 for his book A History of the English Speaking Peoples.

He also wrote a screenplay for the cinema depicting the major events in the reign of King George V for his Silver Jubilee in 1935, which was sadly never made.

By the time of his death his total literary output had added up to 55 volumes. However, what is even less well known about the great statesman is his love of animals.

He not only bought a farm adjoining Chartwell - which he loved although he made no profit from it - but his letters, many of them to his wife Clementine, often contained, in addition to the more weighty matters of state, the arrivals, births and deaths of various animals and pets including dogs, cats, goats, cows, black swans and even a parrot.

In his later years Churchill took up horse breeding and horse racing (his racing colours were pink with chocolate sleeves and a chocolate cap) and when he became Prime Minister for the second time, in the early Fifties, he shared his passion with the new Queen Elizabeth II and it helped forge a strong bond between the two.

Churchill also excelled as a painter. He took it up in 1915 after leaving the Admiralty following the disastrous landing at Gallipoli.

One of his teachers, Sir John Lavery, said:"Had he chosen painting instead of statesmanship I believe he would have been a great master of the brush."

He hunted, shot and loved gambling. He was a connoisseur of fine brandy, a father of five children and had a Catholic collection of friends, including Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, T E Lawrence and the Greek ship owner Aristotle Onassis.


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