top of page
  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer

Pelham on Parole: Some Notes for Chapter 4…to a Baby in the Bathwater.


Chartwell, the residence of W.S. Churchill from 1922 is in the Weald of Kent, the county professed by many to be the Garden of England, and only 25 miles from The House of Commons. It is a red-bricked affair, something between a castle and a great country house. The gardens are beautiful, and the lake (giant pond) was excavated and enlarged by Churchill. The politician and future Prime Minister spent years developing the house and grounds, treating the place as his sanctuary, his little Eden, perhaps. Yes, he had a pied-a-terre in London, but for him ‘a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted’.

By 1945, Winston Churchill felt his income cold no longer cover the expense of Chartwell, and a group of his friends purchased the property on behalf of the National trust on the condition he could remain there for life at a rent of 350GBP a year. Despite his successful writing career, it seem the former Prime Minister was not making money the way today’s politicians do: take a look and see how Tony Blair has done since being Prime Minister – or even the Clintons, supposedly penniless (or dollarless) on leaving the Whitehouse but now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One must also take into account Mr. Churchill’s lavish lifestyle. He was never one to stint on luxuries, be it champagne, cigars, the best food, and travelling the globe. Fair enough to the man, I say.

As far as Pelham on Parole is concerned, I tried not to make Chartwell and Mr. Churchill’s residence too obvious until Hammer addresses the man from the bathtub, but for many readers the bathtub with brandy and cigar, along with the painter’s studio, may be more than enough to give it away. So be it.

Philippe Halsman Winston Church, Chartwell 1951

Montecristo cigars

I am not a cigar man, although I do enjoy the occasional – very occasional – Danneman Corona. I think it is the same with hats. I just look stupid with a big hat and even more stupid with a big cigar.

Mr. Winston Churchill was reported to keep a stock of between 3000 and 4000 cigars at Chartwell – something of an investment, you could say. And that goes along with a well-stocked cellar. He enjoyed Cuban cigars, following a visit to Havana in 1895. His favoured cigars were the famous Romeo y Julieta, and La Aroma de Cuba. (The latter no longer available). Mr. Churchill smoked between eight and ten cigars a day – and that is a lot – but he was known to let them go out and require re-lighting quite often. Much of his smoking may well have been cigar-chewing (a bit like Nero Wolfe’s police detective adversary, Inspector Cramer) so he devised a little thing called a ballybanda, which was a strip of brown paper with glue at one end to stop the end of the cigar from being too wet, frayed, and chewed up. Before smoking, he would poke the end of them with extra long matches to make sure they could draw well. Mr. Churchill’s gardener was a lucky fellow, one might say. Members of Mr. Churchill’s entourage and staff would gather the discarded last inch or two of finished cigars for the gardener to break up and shove into his pipe.

There are those, maybe among you, dear readers, who see smoking as disgusting and filthy. Fair enough. True enough, not just on health grounds, smoking cigars can be a messy business. Many a hostess where Mr. Churchill was a guest would complain about holes in their best Wilton or Axminster. Mr. Churchill’s clothes were peppered with ash burns, and his wife, Clemmie even went to the trouble of making a bib for him to wear in bed to preserve his silk pyjamas: now that’s what I call high living, if not good living.

Montecristo cigars, sometimes smoked by Mr. Churchill, were, and still are, hand-crafted (I like to think thigh-rolled) medium-bodied cigars from the Dominican Republic. Some connoisseurs consider them to be the best cigars in the world. Come the day when I can afford to smoke one, I will give you my opinion on that score.

Brandy Balloon

You may have read my short article on whisky glasses. I am just as pedantic when it comes to drinking brandy. Am I beginning to sound like a lush? If truth be told, I now limit myself to one bottle of wine a week and the occasional bottle of beer when out for lunch: a good boy now, eh? But there was a time when…and we shall leave it there.

The two reasons for the shape of the brandy or cognac glass: one is to allow the aroma, the sniff – hence ‘snifter’ glass – and the other reason is allowing the bowl of the glass to sit in the palm of the hand, to give it a swirl and keep it warm. Heaven forfend you ever drop an iceberg into brandy or cognac: drawing and quartering will not suffice for such an offence. I was also told, in my youth, that one should be able to lay a brandy glass on its side without spilling any; perhaps they were asking me not to help myself to too much of their finest Napoleon V.S.O.P.

Let me once again refer you to an excellent page: Does Glassware Really Matter?

Churchill’s secretaries

In Chapter 4, Pelham meets Milly. Pelham and Milly give us our ‘will they, won’t they’ throughout the Pelham Hardimann adventures, and I shall leave that there. If you wish to find out, you will have to read more Pelham Hardimann adventures – and I feel that is fair.

Yes, Mr. Churchill’s secretaries worked twenty-hour days, up ladders, on the march along corridors, at his bedside, and with an ear to his bathroom door as he played battleships and blew bubbles. I take a little license here and have Milly sitting high on a stool at the end of the tub – the giant baby covered in bubbles and foam. We can’t take these things too far, can we? Yes, Mr. Churchill was demanding and often a bully, but at times could revert to blubbering sentimentality.

Some secretaries would spend the morning or afternoon a few rungs up a ladder while Mr. Churchill dictated, laying bricks for a new cottage he was building.

Perhaps the best book to read on this matter is Cita Stelzer’s Working with Winston: The Unsung Woman Behind Britain’s Greatest Statesman.

Doreen Pugh, Mr. Churchill’s secretary for a decade from 1955 put employment by him as simply a progression: Fear – respect – adoration.

Churchill and painting

Mr. W. S. Churchill’s painting is mentioned in Chapter 4, but I shall go into the matter in more depth – for the final chapter, where we see more than the studio.


Many readers will know of Picasso’s 1937 painting: Guernica. The 25.6 ft long and 11ft tall painting was a stunning reaction to the horror of the German bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. It is a reminder of the horror and tragedy of war, for sure, but also a warning as to what aerial bombing could do – devastation.

On Monday 26th April 1937, at 4:30 in the afternoon, the German Condor Legion, commanded by Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, bombed Guernica for two hours, and was seen by many as a testing ground for the war machine of the German National Socialists. The bombing killed many civilians, mainly women and children.

The painting, representing torn newsprint, is in shades of grey, blue-grey, with matt paint – little gloss, no colour, portraying the starkness and brutality of war. Picasso lived in Paris during German occupation in the second world war and was allegedly asked by a German officer ‘Did you do that?’ Picasso’s supposed response was ‘No, you did.’

Ramsay MacDonald

Macdonald was the first British Labour prime minister, but his decision in 1931 to lead a coalition government was considered a betrayal by many in the party he had done much to create.

Scotsman, born in Lossiemouth 1866, Ramsay MacDonald joined the Democratic Federation (later called Social Democratic federation SDF) in Bristol 1885 before heading for London. In 1894 he applied for membership of Kier Hardie’s Independent Labour Party. He became chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1911. An advocate of Scottish Home Rule, MacDonald wrote in 1921 ‘The Anglification of Scotland has been proceeding apace to the damage of its education, its music, its literature, its genius, and the generation that is growing up under this influence is uprooted from its past.’

In 1923 the Conservatives lost their majority in the election, before losing a vote of no confidence in 1924. King George Vcalled on MacDonald to form a Labour government with tacit support of Asquith’s Liberals. MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister.

In the May 1929 election, Labour won 288 seats to the Conservatives’ 260 with Lloyd gerorge’s Liberals holding the balance of power with 59 seats. Baldwin resigned and MacDonald formed a minority government. MacDonald had no effective policy and response to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and failed to stimulate the economy with deficit spending – as advised by future Blackshirt Oswald Mosley. Mosley resigned from the Labour Party in 1931 to form his own political party The New Party. Mosley then joined the fascists. (Strange how socialists become fascists – Mussolini for one). The National Government of 1931 (1931-1935) gave MacDonald a huge mandate but he had few followers from the National Labour men in Parliament. By 1934, his health was declining, his parliamentary speeches becoming incoherent. He agreed to a timetable to stand down in 1935, resigning in June and handing the reigns to Baldwin.

Common criticism of MacDonald comes about because of his pacifism (making him popular in the 1920s) and his refusal to stand up to German national Socialists. In 1936, MacDonald was reported to be pleased about German re-militarization of Rhineland, believing it was teaching the French a lesson, and that the Versailles treaty was disappearing. But he must, I feel, be commended for his housing policies, slum clearances, wage rises for miners, and his attempt to raise the school leaving age.

By 1939, Ramsay MacDonald would be viewed by many as one of the guilty men who appeased the German National Socialists and failed to prepare Britain for war. In his autobiography, As it Happened, Clement Attlee described MacDonald’s decision to abandon the Labour Party in 1931 as the greatest betrayal in the political history of the country. Views have changed among historians, and many believe him to have been the precursor of the likes of Blair and Clinton. (Hmmm!) It is easy for us to forget how many politicians in Britain and the USA failed to see the horrors of German National Socialism, perhaps blinded what they saw as an economic miracle.


During the 1931 financial and political crisis, he contributed to the formation of a coalition government, led by the former Labour Prime Minister, James Ramsay MacDonald. As Lord President of the Council, Baldwin at first sought to promote international disarmament, warning of the difficulty of defence against air attack: “the bomber will always get through”. However, as the threat from Nazi Germany became obvious, he accepted the need to arm again and introduced new defence programmes each year from 1934 to 1937, against Labour and Liberal opposition.

He became Prime Minister of the national government in June 1935 and in the autumn he won a general election, promising to continue to improve national defences. When seeking to avoid war with Mussolini’s Italy over Abyssinia, in order to focus effort against Hitler’s Germany, his Cabinet was embarrassed by an early disclosure of a compromise settlement (the Hore-Laval pact). In retrospect, the national government’s policy of combining armed deterrence with efforts to bind Hitler and Mussolini into a general European settlement seemed not enough. After the Second World War broke out in 1939, Baldwin became a leading target for those – especially Winston Churchill – who thought more could have been done to speed up rearmament and prevent war.

Baldwin’s most notable position was his support of parliamentary democracy during times when revolution and dictatorship were common European experiences. In the 1920s he sought to prevent class conflict and mix the Labour movement into the party system and, in the 1930s, he became an international figure in the defence of democratic and Christian values. From 1938 to 1939 he led a major appeal to provide financial assistance for Jewish refugees from Nazi brutality. His post -1939 reputation as a guilty man who failed to resist Hitler or to rearm persists as a popular myth but has been overtaken by modern historical scholarship.


Chamberlain was British prime minister between 1937 and 1940, and is closely associated with the policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany.

Arthur Neville Chamberlain was born on 18 March 1869 in Birmingham into a political family. His father, Joseph, was an influential politician of the late 19th century and Neville's older half-brother Austen held many Conservative cabinet positions in the early 20th century and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

As with many in Britain who had lived through the Great War, Chamberlain was determined to avoid another war. His policy of appeasement towards Germany culminated in the Munich Agreement in which Britain and France accepted that the Czech region of the Sudetenland should be ceded to Germany. Chamberlain left Munich believing that by appeasing Hitler he had assured 'peace for our time'. However, in March 1939 Germany annexed the rest of the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, with Slovakia becoming a puppet state of Germany. Five months later in September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Chamberlain responded with a British declaration of war on Germany. It is worth noting here (as we consider the present role of the media and internet platforms) that Winston Churchill was barred from criticizing appeasement by the BBC, and newspapers editors refused to print anything challenging this policy of appeasement after the 1938 Munich Agreement.

Does Chamberlain still get a bad press? In my student days – many years ago – sure, he was the villain of the ‘peace’, but views may be changing. We must remember that for many in 1938, the Great War was part of living memory. Chamberlain also had the spectre of Marxism casting a shadow across Europe. He knew that Stalin would be needed as an ally against Germany, begging the question, how do we get Stalin out of Europe once we have got rid of Hitler?

As for the living memory and fear of the horrors of war, there is a question worth asking, especially of Americans who drone on about it. The American civil war left between 620,000 and 750,000 dead. What if someone came along twenty years later and said: hey, let’s do this again.

The War of Jenkin’s Ear

Allow Pelham Hardimann his error here as we follow a dependable comic trope, a technique used brilliantly by one of my favourites: Anthony John Hancock – he of Hancock’s Half-Hour. One of the greatest comedy lines ever from the episode Twelve Angry Men: Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain? Brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge at Runnymede and close the boozers at half past ten! Is all this to be forgotten? Ray Galton and Alan Simpson at their best, eh?

Yes, this comic technique is still used today: it works. We hear more of Magna Carta, Magyar Martyr, Mona Lisa, and Mirna Loy in Pelham and the Plan on the Clapham Omnibus where this comic technique is wrung dry – perhaps.

The War of Jenkins' Ear, an armed conflict between Britain and Spain, arose from longstanding Anglo-Spanish antagonism fostered by illicit British trading activities in the Spanish Caribbean and the determined, often brutal, attempts by Spain's colonial guarda costa vessels to suppress such ventures.

What led to the war: bound for London from Jamaica with a cargo of sugar, Capt. Robert Jenkins’ ship was plundered and his ear severed by the commander of a Spanish coast guard vessel near Havana on 9 April 1731.

Jenkins never appeared personally to present the missing ear during Parliamentary debates but his ‘suffering’ was highly dramatized and contributed to the momentum of the political campaign urging an immediate offensive against Spain. This appealed to national sentiment and commercial interests alike. Public and parliamentary indignation swelled, and Walpole was forced to declare war 19 October 1739.

The war – mainly a succession of forays, skirmishes, and forms of piracy, was eventually overshadowed by a greater conflict: The War of the Austrian Succession, 1740–1748 in which Britain, by means of mercenary forces, supported Austria against France (who had joined Spain) and her German allies.

So, why does Hardimann mention The War of Jenkins’ Ear? Well, it may just be a memorable and funny name for a war.

6 views0 comments


bottom of page