Woodford, England: AP Wirephoto, 1959. Photograph. This vintage press photograph captures Churchill on 20 April 1959 in one of the very few public speeches of his final years, speaking to his Woodford constituents to announce what would be the final time he stood for Parliament.
The gelatin silver print measures 10 x 8.2 inches (25.4 x 20.82 cm). Condition is good plus. The image remains respectably clean and bright, despite a vertical crease that runs at a slight angle bisecting Churchill’s right elbow and right leg. A lengthy printed caption at the foot of the image is titled “NO TIME FOR REPLACEMENT” and reads “Sir Winston Churchill places his watch back in his vest pocket at Woodford, England, when he addressed his constituents Monday night. The 84-year-old statesman told his audience he would serve in the House of Commons as long as his breath holds out. He has been a member of Parliament for 59 years (AP Wirephoto) (pr31259lon)1959”. The verso of the photograph features some pencil notation “Sir Winston Churchill England – 4-59” as well as a partially obscured red ink stamp “RETURN TO CHRONICLE FILES”.
The “April 22” date at the beginning of the caption is likely a received date; the date of the image was unequivocally Monday, 20 April 1959. “On 20 April… Churchill was driven to Woodford to speak in his constituency. ‘It is a long time since I have made a speech in public,’ he began. Speaking slowly and in a voice at times barely audible…” Nonetheless, Churchill spoke for twenty-two minutes, telling his constituents at the end that he was ready once again to offer himself as their candidate. “This announcement was received ‘with tumultuous applause.” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, p.1291)
The photo’s title inevitably references the rather on the nose watch imagery. Churchill’s time had, in fact, already passed. Four years before this photograph was taken, on 5 April 1955, Churchill had resigned his second and final premiership at the age of 80. The once “Young Man In A Hurry” had enjoyed an improbably long and eventful run. Churchill was first elected to Parliament in 1900 while Queen Victoria was still on the throne. His markedly young and meteoric rise was compelled partly by his vaunting ambition and partly by premonitions of his own mortality, his father being among the many relatives who had died conspicuously young. Churchill, by contrast, enjoyed remarkable longevity, cheating both corporeal and political death an improbable number of times.
Six months after this image was captured, Churchill won his last election with a substantial, 14,000 vote majority. Churchill had represented the same constituency for three and a half decades. In the 1924 General Election, Churchill stood successfully for Epping. In 1945, Epping was subdivided and Churchill stood for the new (and politically more tenable) Woodford Division. Churchill's re-election by Woodford in February 1950 was decisive; his vote tally was double that of his challenger. Woodford subsequently re-elected Churchill in 1955 and 1959 and he served Woodford as M.P. until October 1964 – not quite as long as his breath held out, but very close to it.
During the last decade of his long life, Churchill passed "into a living national memorial" of the time he had lived and the Nation, Empire, and free world he had served. The day after Churchill died, on 25 January 1965, the Queen sent a message to Parliament announcing: "Confident in the support of Parliament for the due acknowledgement of our debt of gratitude and in thanksgiving for the life and example of a national hero" and concluded "I have directed that Sir Winston's body shall lie in State in Westminster Hall and that thereafter the funeral service shall be held in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.” Churchill's state funeral was attended by the Queen herself, other members of the royal family, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and representatives of 112 countries. It was the first time in a century that a British monarch attended a commoner’s funeral. Item #006236