Thursday - 23 October 2014

Winston in wax and shellac

31 May 2006Written by ATG Reporter

Madame Tussauds added Winston Churchill to their waxwork tableaux for the first time in 1908, but had produced another half dozen portraits before his death in 1965. The last of them was put up for sale by Dominic Winter on May 18.

The vendor was Ashton Taylor Smith, who happens to live in Westerham, near Churchill's home at Chartwell.

Mr Taylor Smith had connections with the theatre and costume worlds, and when he got to hear about a Tussauds clear-out he resolved to acquire Churchill's head. He used his specialist knowledge to kit out the figure in appropriate apparel - or as the Swindon cataloguer carefully put it, dressed Churchill in "authentic clothes of a Prime Minister of the period".

The saleroom did not get quite the sort of pre-sale media coverage that they had hoped for, but on the day the figure more than lived up to expectations in selling at £16,500 (plus 17.5% buyer's premium) to a Churchill collector who was in the room.

Moments earlier the same collector had paid £3000 to secure a seemingly unique set of three privately produced 78s, a trio of gramophone records of speeches made by Churchill to officers and men of 615 Squadron at Biggin Hill in 1951.

He was there in his capacity as Honorary Air Commodore and his speech to the lower ranks was a prepared one and known, in part at least, from published archives. However, the talk he gave after luncheon in the officers' mess was a much more relaxed affair, and apparently ad lib.

Churchill's mood swings between sombre reflection and humour - whilst touching on a variety of aviation subjects - from a narrow escape in a 1919 air accident near Croydon, to his views on Lord Trenchard's advocacy of long-range bombing.

At this point, wary of making ill-advised remarks, Churchill tells whoever was doing the recording, "I don't want all this published you know", but having received an assurance that nothing would go beyond the room, continues to expound his views on the subject: "Where would we have been in the Battle of Britain if we had had, say, 20 per cent more long-range bombers and had obtained that at the cost of 50 per cent pure fighters".

Incidentally, Dominic Winter (who had sold the recordings in 2000 at £3700) warned potential bidders that the contents of the speech are still subject to copyright and must not be published in any form without necessary permission.

By Ian McKay

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