"You know I can stop you." - An original press photograph of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill with his private secretaries on the steps of the Number 10, Downing Street garden in on 29 September 1941, on the occasion of the departure of Jock Colville to join the RAF, the image unusual thus, including both a 10 Downing Street banner and the facsimile signatures of all figures pictured
London: Sunday Telegraph, 1941. Photograph. This is a Second World War press photograph featuring Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill with his private secretaries, chief clerk, and aide-de-camp on the steps of the Number 10, Downing Street garden on 29 September 1941. Featured from left to right in the photograph are John Colville (private secretary), Leslie Rowan (private secretary), Winston Churchill (prime minister), John Peck (private secretary), John Martin (principal private secretary), Edith Watson (private secretary), Tommy Thompson (aide-de-camp), Anthony Bevir (private secretary), and Charles Barker (chief clerk).
It was the last day at 10 Downing Street for “Jock” Colville, who had received Churchill’s blessing to join the Royal Air Force (and who returned to service at 10 Downing Street in 1943). Colville later recalled “the Private Secretaries, Barker and Tommy assembled at No. 10 and were photographed with the P.M. in the garden. ‘Well,’ said the P.M., ‘let me have three copies and put them down to Mr. Colville; they are being done in his honour.” (Colville, The Fringes of Power, p.445)
The gelatin silver print on photo paper measures 9.625 x 5.75 inches (24.45 x 14.61 cm). The upper 1.625 inches is a white margin featuring the Prime Minister’s seal and “10, Downing Street, Whitehall,” address. The lower foreground at the foot of the photo features the signatures of all nine figures, the signatures clearly in the negative and part of the image as printed. The verso features the faint ink stamp of “SUNDAY TELEGRAPH”. Regrettably, the date portion of the stamp is no longer legible, but the word “USED” is. The verso also features a clipped newspaper caption of the photograph as published reading “TOWARDS the end of his last term as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill told his long-time friend and confidant John Colville: ‘One day you must write about all these things we have seen together.’ As…” The verso also features what appear to be Sunday Telegraph crop and print notations. Part of this same image – without the upper margin ministerial banner or the signatures in the lower foreground – is reproduced in Andrew Roberts’s excellent biography, Churchill: Walking With Destiny. While we have previously handled copies of this image, it is unusual thus, uncropped and featuring both the banner and the signatures of those featured.
Condition is very good, the paper clean and complete with crisp edges, the image clear, though with some superficial scuffing and soiling apparent under raking light, and faint fingerprints also visible thus along the right edge.
Sir John Rupert “Jock” Colville (1915-1987) worked for Churchill during both of his premierships. His departure from 10 Downing Street to join the RAF was an ardent ambition that Churchill both respected and was reluctant to support. On 8 July 1941, Churchill confronted Colville: “I hear you are plotting to abandon me,” he said. “You know I can stop you. I can’t make you stay with me against your will but I can put you somewhere else.” (Colville, The Fringes of Power, p.411) In the end, Churchill, who had eagerly sought battle himself as a young man, assented. Happily, Colville survived and in 1943 returned to 10 Downing Street.
Colville began publishing his reminiscences and observations about Churchill in the 1960s. The newspaper clipping caption on the verso seems plausibly connected to such publication, for which the Sunday Telegraph would have accessed and used this image from its archives.
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism fundamentally changed the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives, including 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. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #006112