Randolph Churchill at Chartwell

Randolph Churchill, ©National Portrait Gallery Randolph Churchill ©National Portrait Gallery
A photograph of a young Randolph Churchill

Randolph Frederick Edward Spencer-Churchill (1911-1968) was the second of the Churchills’ five children and their only son.

Randolph Churchill, born on 28 May 1911, was a lively and forward child, though the headmaster of his preparatory school reported that he was also ‘very combative’. His father was determined that their relationship should not be disappointingly distant, as his had been with his own father, and consequently tended to be over-indulgent, while Clementine saw early on that Randolph needed a father’s firm hand.

He left Christ Church, Oxford in 1930 without taking a degree, to undertake a paid lecture tour of the United States. His father had had political ambitions for him and introduced Randolph as a precocious teenager to several of his eminent political associates and friends, such as David Lloyd George and F.E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead), and encouraged him to join in the dinner table conversations. 

Public speaking came easily to him and in 1929 he spoke in support of his father at a general election. In the 1935 election he stood unsuccessfully as an Independent Conservative candidate at Wavertree in Liverpool, against the wishes of his father, who feared - rightly as it proved - that he would split the Conservative vote and let in Labour. In 1940 he was elected unopposed for Preston.

During the Second World War he was posted to North Africa, serving as a General Staff (Intelligence) officer at HQ Middle East Forces in Cairo. In 1942 he joined the newly-formed Special Air Service (SAS) and took part in a raid across the desert to Benghazi in Libya.

Early in 1944 he was parachuted into German-occupied Yugoslavia to join Fitzroy Maclean’s military and diplomatic mission to Tito’s Communist partisans. With a fellow officer, the novelist Evelyn Waugh, he was subsequently sent by Maclean to establish a military mission in Croatia.

Slim, blond, and good-looking in his youth, Randolph’s appearance in middle aged was not improved by his indulgence in alcohol. It was said that conversation with him could be exciting and enjoyable, but one was uneasily aware of potential explosions. Some have observed that the shadow of a famous father can often damage a competitive son.

Randolph, twice married and father of two, his son Winston and daughter Arabella, died at his home, Stour, East Bergholt, Suffolk, on 6 June 1968.