TICKETING MR. CHURCHILL: The Price of an Automotive Romance
by Barry Singer
Winston Churchill loved motor cars. Though he was an avowed horseman and former cavalry officer, Churchill immediately acquired a chic French-made Mors motor car (produced by automotive pioneers Louis and Emile Mors) after entering Parliament in 1900. In 1903, he replaced this Mors with a Mercedes, while also licensing and outfitting his own chauffeur.
An early member of the Royal Automobile Club (where he enjoyed swimming in the pool at the club’s lavish Pall Mall clubhouse), Churchill, in September 1911, purchased a new red Napier “Landaulette” for £580. Landaulettes were a carriage body style that Churchill favored in most of his early cars, in which the rear seats had their own convertible roof. Landaulettes were almost always chauffeur-driven.
It should come as no surprise, however, that someone who came to fly airplanes with Churchill’s avidity would utlimately choose to take the wheel of his own car. On August 13, 1923, he wrote to Clementine from their London house at 2 Sussex Square: “I took Fowler [the chauffeur] with me on Saturday in the little car, and drove all the way [into London from Chartwell] . . . I sent him back by train to get the big car in order. This morning I drove the car back myself alone. It is exactly 50 miles, and we did it in an hour and 55 minutes. I can drive the car quite easily now, which will be a great help in our arrangements. It goes very nicely at 35 miles p.h. & will do 40 easily.”
The “big car” was a Rolls-Royce Cabriolet that Churchill had just bought for £2,250 with his first advance payment from Charles Scribner for the World War I memoir that he was writing: The World Crisis.
In putting together my book, Churchill Style, I placed this neat photograph of Churchill “at the wheel” on page 107. I’d uncovered it in the Getty photo archive, where it was uncaptioned, save for a speculative 1925 date. Just lately, however, I located a vintage original wire service print of this very image, with a detailed caption on the back. What it reveals re-renders the photo (and Churchill’s facial expression) completely.
Headlined, “Mr. Churchill Goes Motoring and Takes the Wrong Turn,” the caption reads: “Colonel Ashley will be interested to read that it was Mr. Winston Churchill who was selected recently as the first M.P. to be “made aware.” In his dual capacity of Chancellor of the Exchequer and owner-driver, he was driving his car to the Treasury when he was pulled up in Whitehall by a policeman on traffic duty, who took his name and address for the purpose of reporting the incident. From the direction of Westminster Bridge, he had turned directly into Whitehall, thus ignoring the rules of “merry-go-round” which Colonel Ashley has devised to demonstrate to M.P.’s the existence of a Minister of Transport. Mr. Winston Churchill is shown in his car.”
In other words, what we have here is a picture of Winston Churchill getting a traffic ticket in front of No.10 Downing Street while Chancellor of the Exchequer.