London: Copyright Keystone Press Agency, published by The Daily Telegraph, 1945. Photograph. This original press photo captures Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill flashing his V sign for the crowd before an improvised microphone stand on 2 July 1945 while campaigning for the 1945 General Election, which his Conservatives would lose to Labour, ousting Churchill from his wartime premiership on 26 July 1945. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 8 x 6 inches (20.3 x 15.2 cm). Condition is very good. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scratches with some light edge wear, pin holes to the four corners, and original crop markings. This press photo once belonged the working archive of The Daily Telegraph. The verso bears the copyright stamp of “Keystone Press Agency Ltd.”, a published stamp of The Daily Telegraph dated “3 JUL 1945”, a published stamp of the Sunday Telegraph dated 20 NOV 1983”, handwritten printing notations, and an original typed caption reading “MR. CHURCHILL’S CAR ALMOST HELD UP BY ENTHUSIASTIC CROWDS WHO GREETED HIM LAST EVENING DURING THE FIRST OF HIS ELECTION TOURS OF THE LONDON AREA. THE PRIME MINISTER ACKNOWLEDGING THE CHEERS AT MARYLEBONE BY GIVING THE V SIGN.”
The General Election of July 1945 was Britain’s first since 1935. Churchill began campaigning on 26 May, just eighteen days after Britain celebrated VE Day. This photograph was taken on 2 July, as Churchill embarked on a tour of London. Despite the verso caption’s reference to the “enthusiastic crowds” there were apparently a number of vocal opponents during this tour where “the crowds were rowdy and there was some stone-throwing”. (Gilbert & Arnn, Documents Vol XXI, p 1810) Though Churchill had led the nation to victory, the Conservative Party’s ability to lead a postwar recovery was viewed with growing skepticism.
The following day Churchill delivered his final campaign address before a crowd of over 20,000 at a stadium in Walthamstow at which a vehemently hostile faction was present. His 28-minute speech was interrupted throughout by catcalls and booing, as well as by cheers and applause. The environment was stormy enough that Churchill remarked upon the crowd’s participation many times throughout his speech. At the end of his speech he directly called out the opposition, “Where I think the booing party are making such a mistake is dragging all this stuff across the practical tasks we have to fulfil [sic]… They are going to be defeated at this election in a most decisive manner. Their exhibition here shows very clearly the sort of ideas they have of free speech.” (Collected Speeches, Vol VII, p 7203) The opposite outcome would shortly come to pass.
Churchill had warred with his own Conservative Party throughout the 1930s. Now, despite his personal popularity, his Conservative Party would cost him the premiership. On 26 July 1945, despite having done so much to win the war, Churchill faced frustration of his postwar plans when his wartime government fell to Labour’s landslide General Election victory over the Conservatives. He would be relegated to Leader of the Opposition for more than six years until the October 1951 General Election, when Churchill’s Conservatives outpaced Labour, returning Churchill to 10 Downing Street for his second and final premiership.
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism grew as a practice, fundamentally changing the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives of physical copies of all photographs published or deemed useful for potential future use, their versos typically marked with ink stamps and notes providing provenance and captions. Photo departments would often take brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs themselves to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005251