One of the great things about living and working in Cambridge is the way one unexpectedly runs into all kinds of interesting people. Yesterday, for example, I was invited to lunch in Churchill College, and an elderly but sprightly lady plonked herself down opposite me in the dining hall. It turned out she was Winston Churchill’s daughter, Mary Soames. She’s writing her memoirs and is here to look up family papers in the College’s Churchill Archive. We talked for a time about her parents, and about the public perception of them as distant and abstracted. She says their letters to one another about the children do not confirm this image. Nor, it seems, do her own memories. But this may have been because she was the only child not to be sent away to boarding school. She also found letters in which Winston and Clementine agonise about their son, Randolph.
As well they might: everyone I know who had anything to do with Randolph regarded him as a monster. There’s a famous story about Evelyn Waugh in this context. It seems that Randolph developed a tumour and was operated on to remove it. Waugh was sitting in White’s (a right-wing men’s club in London) when someone came in with the news that Randolph was going to be OK because the tumour had been found to be benign. “Ah”, said Waugh, “the wonders of medical science — to have found the only piece of Randolph that was not malignant — and remove it!”