Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Pamela - Part One

Bill went into Newcastle the other day to find the wires necessary to connect his laptop to our big screen TV.   His having spent £17 I figured we ought to try it out so we looked at the listings and selected a few that sounded interesting.  The first programme we watched was called Churchill’s Girl.  


It was about Pamela Harriman, about whom I’ve heard, but didn’t know much.  Maybe you’ll learn some things you didn’t know either.

She was the eldest of four children born to the 11th Baron Digby in Dorset.  They interviewed her younger brother, the present Lord Digby, for the show, also her only child, a son named after his famous grandfather, and a variety of biographers and university professor types.  Lord Digby (interviewed presumably in his stunning home) said she always was fairly bossy and kept him firmly in line.  She was also outspoken, full of confidence and rather determined.  Pamela Digby also despised the quiet country life of Dorset.  When war broke out in 1939, she headed to London for a job in the Foreign Office.  Wikipedia says she was a translator of French documents.  Speaking French well was a very important skill we later find out.

According to biographer Christopher Ogden, she was staying at the home of a family friend and had been in London less than two weeks when Randolph Churchill (son of the Winston) rang one evening looking for some company.  The householder wasn’t so inclined but passed the phone to Pamela.  When asked what she was like, she replied “Rather fat, but mummy says it’s baby fat.”  He took her out dancing at the Ritz all the same.  He was tall, blonde and very good looking, but also described by all as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.  

Randolph Churchill

He proposed marriage to her that very night; she was the fifth woman to whom he’d proposed to since the war began.  She accepted and they were married three weeks later, on 4 October, 1939.  She married in spite of being warned off, even by his friends.  Randolph was a drunk, a gambler and a womanizer.  As a husband, he would be impossible, but she took him on anyhow.  The Churchill name was worth having, in her opinion.  I can’t help but wonder why he was all the sudden so keen to find a wife; perhaps a duty to continue the family line before he was killed in the war?

She couldn’t have reckoned on having her father-in-law become Prime Minister, however.  The story goes that she got along well with Winston Churchill.  Well enough that he asked her to 10 Downing Street often and they sat talking of an evening.  She went to the bomb shelter with him, sat through air raids, listened to him tell his troubles.  Churchill battled with depression and she sat with him.  If nothing else, what she will have learned is that even the most powerful of men have their doubts and fears, their troubled thoughts; even the most important of men need comfort.  She and her father-in-law formed a special bond. 

Early in 1941, American aid for the war began, but it was not enough.  Enter American Averell Harriman, a multi-multi-millionaire, whose family owned several railroads, special envoy to Europe and 'special representative to the Prime Minister'.  He was 49, tall, dark, handsome – beautiful even.  

Averell Harriman

I don’t quite see it, but perhaps it was the look of the day.  Skeptical me says it was the reflected beauty of the bank balance.  She met him at a party at the Dorchester Hotel (where the Mitford sisters hung out when they were in town) when the sirens went off.  When everyone else headed for the basement for shelter, Pamela and Harriman headed for his bedroom – even her son said ‘They ended up under the same bed’.  Right.  

Never mind that she was married, so was he.  Her affair with Harriman suited her father-in-law, strangely enough.  She was able to bring President Roosevelt’s man into Churchill’s sphere of influence.  All his private views and ideas she repeated for her father-in-law’s benefit, so he’d 'know how to operate'. 

The programme didn’t clarify how the Churchill-Harriman affair ended, but when in December 1941 the US entered the war, high ranking officials were entertained at ‘The Churchill Club’.  Pamela’s job was go to home with the generals.  She collected men like charms on a bracelet:  Fred somebody, USAF Bomber Commander (tick), RAF Chief of Staff (tick), and then there was a lowly Captain.  He was just a millionaire (tick).  Churchill approved of his daughter-in-law’s activities; he used her influence to his advantage.  My overwhelming thought was that these were not nice people.

When Randolph came home on leave in the spring of 1942, he didn’t care for what he heard about his wife, not that he was any saint himself.  On the way to his posting in Egypt he gambled away three year’s salary.  He left the problem in Pamela’s keeping:  “Find a way to pay this off for me, even if it is just month by month.”  Charming.  They were soon divorced.

Edward R Murrow
The next main event for Pamela seemed to be stumbling onto Edward R. Murrow, an American who did nightly radio reports on the war:  "This is London"..."Good night and Good Luck".  The programme described Murrow as brooding, mysterious and intellectual.  She learned a great deal from him.  By the spring of 1945, she was divorced and they were engaged.  There was only one small hitch that he went home to take care of:  he was also married.  She got a telegraph over Christmas that year explaining that his wife had become pregnant, there was now a son named Casey and ‘Casey won’.    It has to be said that for all his glaring flaws, Murrow has perhaps the most decent character in the story told by this programme.  (To be continued...)

In another twist that causes me to wonder if all roads lead to Oklahoma, I found this story about a woman who believes she is the illegitimate daughter of Randolph Churchill.  Even more weirdly, she and I were born in the same year.

Dare I mention that I, too, cock my left eyebrow just like Randolph?

1 comment:

Terri said...

very, very curious...