Michael Dobbs, best-selling novelist and Conservative peer, told an audience at a literary festival that it may well have happened in a speech reported in The Daily Telegraph on 2 July. Alistair Lexden, historian of the Conservative Party, is wholly unconvinced, as he explained in the main letter published in the paper on 5 July.
SIR--People are constantly trying to find something new to say about Churchill, whose life has been studied in greater detail than any other, having been examined by several hundred biographers.
Normally, this quest for novelty takes the harmless form of clever remarks which are presented bogusly as quotations from the great man.
My fellow peer, Michael Dobbs, has now come up with the extraordinary claim that Churchill was “probably sexually abused” at his revolting prep school, St George’s, Ascot (report, 2 July). There is not shred of factual evidence to support this assertion in the voluminous Churchill papers in Cambridge or anywhere else.
The headmaster of the school was a sadist who beat boys ferociously, splattering the walls of his study with their blood.
Churchill himself later described his “cruel flogging” as exceeding “in severity anything that would be tolerated in any of the Reformatories of the Home Office” in their harshest days in the nineteenth century. “How I hated this school”, he added.
But accounts of its horrors do not include sex abuse. The writer, Maurice Baring, a near contemporary of Churchill, later wrote candidly about the place. He made no mention of sex abuse, while specifically acquitting the head of homosexuality.
It is now fashionable to speculate wildly about historical child sex abuse.
Novelists should curb their fevered imaginations when commenting on this subject.