Sir Martin & Churchill

During the twenty years between 1968, when he was appointed to carry on writing the Churchill biography upon Randolph Churchill’s death, until 1988 when he completed the final six of eight volumes of Churchill’s life, Sir Martin devoted his working life to Winston Churchill, to getting the story right, to presenting his subject in the most accurate and true light. Having learned from Randolph to leave no stone unturned and to leave no archive unscrutinised, Sir Martin created a style of writing history and writing biography that is uniquely his own.

Courtesy of the Chartwell Bulletin: July 2015

In addition to completing the six volumes of Churchill’s life, Sir Martin also compiled and edited twelve volumes of documentary background to Churchill’s life story. THE CHURCHILL BIOGRAPHY. The indexes for the biography volumes can be searched from “Explore the Index” on their individual book pages.

Sir Martin also wrote a classic one-volume Churchill, A Life, and another sixteen Churchill-related books, available through Amazon. THE CHURCHILL COLLECTION

Inspiration for Churchill

I first became aware of this problem surrounding Churchill when I was writing for a school magazine. I distributed a questionnaire to all the masters in school.

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Sir Martin with photo of Churchill as Lieutenant- Colonel, 6th Royal Scot Fusiliers, 1916 (Oxford Mail March 1969) MG Photo


There were questions on several of the great men of the century, Mao, Stalin, Roosevelt – and Churchill. I dis­covered in the answers to this questionnaire that Churchill was very controversial. Opinion on Churchill was by no means uniform that the common view – Churchill the saviour of Britain – was correct. One master even said that Churchill was a murderer.

On the whole, Churchill was not written on at Oxford. He did not seem to come into the essays and discus­sions. He did not seem to be treated as a particularly important figure. As I became familiar with the British Foreign Office documents, and had some way to make an independent judgment, I found that the real story of Churchill did not appear, or was distorted, in the books that dealt with his career. This, together with the things I began to learn about Churchill, made me interested to go more deeply into his life.

Working with Randolph Churchill

In 1961 I was elected a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford, which became my academic home and research base for almost twenty years. A year after my election – in tandem with my Oxford position – Churchill’s son Randolph asked me to join his research team on the life of his father, which he had just begun to write. I began work the junior on a team of five. For the next six years I would live at Oxford, and teach and write at Merton College, but be prepared to travel across country to work in the Churchill archive whenever Randolph summoned me. Read More

Randolph Churchill, Stour, East Bergholt, February 1965
Randolph Churchill, Stour, East Bergholt, February 1965

My employment with Randolph Churchill began in October 1962, on my twenty-sixth birthday. Given Randolph’s reputation for drink and anger, my friends and I assumed that my engagement would be of short duration. I was still there, as part of his team of ‘young gentlemen’, or ‘ghosts’, four and a half years later.

Randolph made many enemies by his often violent conduct, but he could be kind, considerate and generous. On my first working day at Stour, which was also my twenty-sixth birthday, he somewhat shyly handed me a gift: a copy of his book Fifteen Famous English Homes, inscribed ‘Martin Gilbert from Randolph S. Churchill’.

A month later he gave me another of his books, The Rise and Fall of Sir Anthony Eden, inscribed ‘Martin from Randolph’. I had been accepted as part of his team. Read More

Writing Churchill’s Biography

In 1968 Randolph died and I was asked to take on his work. The government had recently abandoned the fifty-year rule for closed documents, and replaced it with thirty-year rule, so a mass of new material suddenly became available, and the original four volume plan was extended to eight volumes.

Sir Martin at his desk, under the watchful eye of Sir Jacob Epstein's maquette of Churchill. (26 March 1991, photo by Edward Hamilton West for the Guardian)
Sir Martin at his desk, under the watchful eye of the Oscar Nemon plaster of Churchill (26 March 1991, photo by Edward Hamilton West for The Guardian) – The Guardian

In addition, Randolph had taken as his methodological theme the nineteenth century concept of Walter Scott’s biographer (Lockhart), ‘he shall be his own biographer’.

I replaced this by the more twentieth – century concept of letting the voices of family, friends, colleagues, critics, and opponents, and their diverse arguments, also be heard.

Churchill’s wife was a particularly acute critic; her method of setting down her points in writing, for him to see at the breakfast table (he always breakfasted alone) was a boon to the historian. Read More

Sir Martin’s Churchill blogs

Churchill’s 1921 visit to Jerusalem

Churchill: Forty Years On

Churchill, the “Great Gentleman”

“My own journey began in 1962”

“a balanced appraisal”

“The Biographer in Waiting”

“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job”

Sir Martin on Churchill and Leadership

“a lasting union”

Churchill reacts to the Anschluss, German annexation of Austria March 1938

Winston S Churchill Speech: New Zealand Division, 4 February 1943, Tripoli

“We have to think of the future and not of the past”

“moving forward into broad, sunlit uplands”

Churchill’s London, Spinning Top of Memories, Of Ungrand Places and Moments in Time

When Churchill Went to War with America

Randolph Churchill MBE on the 50th anniversary of his death

Churchill Fellows Weekend, 24-25 March

Churchill’s “Vote of Confidence”

“We’re all in the same boat now.”

Now They Listen to Churchill

“Churchill and Zionism”

Winston Churchill, The Wilderness Years

“Let us take the rough with the smooth”

“for the preservation of democratic principles”

“Last Testament” From Esther Gilbert


Winston Churchill and the foundation of Israel


“The Beast of Bergholt”

Randolph Churchill

Why Study Churchill?

Churchill and Power

Churchill and Enigma

Tribute from the Churchill Centre

Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill

Sir Martin & Churchill Films

Martin Gilbert discusses the life and times of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the subject of his book Churchill: A Life.

Gilbert, who served for twenty-five years as Sir Winston Churchill’s official biographer, discussed the public and private lives of Britain’s two-term Prime Minister. He told many stories about Churchill’s family life and political experiences. He also explained how he researched his subject.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years 

Alan Brown’s UKTV History programme on ‘Churchill … in the wilderness’, with contributions by Sir Martin Gilbert, Piers Brendon, Geoffrey Best and Maria Misra.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years – Episode 8, What Price Churchill?

TV mini series devised by Martin Gilbert and Richard Broke starring Robert Hardy, Sian Phillips and Nigel Havers

 Sir Martin Gilbert-The Will of the People-author interview

 Sir Martin interview on “The Will of the People: Churchill and Parliamentary Democracy”.


Charlie Rose Interview with Sir Martin Gilbert, Friday 05/19/1995

Historian Martin Gilbert elaborates on his work as the official biographer of Winston Churchill and shares stories of Churchill’s life :


Churchill at Fulton: The Enduring Importance of the “Iron Curtain” Speech – Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert delivered this lecture on Sir Winston Churchill at Hillsdale College on October 22, 2004. Churchill at Fulton the Enduring Importance of the Iron Curtain speech

Churchill’s Statesmanship, 1935-1945 – Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert delivered this speech at Hillsdale’s campus on September 10, 2001 as part of a CCA seminar titled “One of Freedom’s Finest Hours: Statesmanship and Soldiership in World War II.

What Did Democracy Mean to Churchill? – Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill, speaks at Hillsdale College on September 7, 2006 as part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series.

What Did the United States Mean to Winston Churchill? – Sir Martin Gilbert

Sir Martin speaks at Hillsdale College on September 22, 2005 as part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series.

Leading Authorities

Martin Gilbert – Churchill A Life – Part 1

Interview Sir Martin Gilbert and Connie Martinson

Martin Gilbert – Churchill and America

Sir Martin Gilbert talked about his book Churchill and America.In this book, Martin Gilbert explained Winston Churchill’s enduring personal and political connection to the U.S., beginning with his birth in Brooklyn to an American mother, and continuing throughout his life. Churchill’s last words to the Cabinet before retirement were, “Never be separated from the Americans.”


Sir Martin’s Churchill Book Talks

See More: Churchill and America | Churchill and the Jews |

Buy Sir Martin’s : Churchill Collection

Explore the Index: find people, places and events Click Here

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