Yes, I know, most of the time I am fairly level-headed. I might be right or I might be wrong but I do try to remain fairly balanced but every so often I go off on one - either for good or ill! Happily, this time it is all for good with an absolute rave review for one of the very best history books I have ever read. I refer to Six Minutes in May by Nicholas Shakespeare to which I made reference in my last Sunday Rumble. I still haven't quite finished it yet but I simply cannot contain my enthusiasm and as Christmas approaches I urge you all to treat yourselves, particularly if you are British and if you are elderly! However, even if you are neither of those things but you have a fascination with those bloody "events, dear boy, events" at an unbelievably crucial moment in history, May 1940 to be exact, then this will grip you.
The 'six minutes' referred to in the title, of course, was the deeply peculiar and very English meeting in which Churchill, against all the odds, became prime minister. However, Mr. Shakespeare carefully keeps that to the very end of his book but he uses the earlier chapters, in effect, to set the scene - and I use that expression deliberately because it has the characteristics of a play. It covers in some detail the totally stupid, tragic, incompetent and hideously embarrassing military and naval operations undertaken in Norway mainly at the enthusiastic behest of Winston Churchill who replayed, in effect, his catastrophe in Gallipoli in WWI, a perfect example of events playing out 'first as tragedy then as farce'!
However, Mr. Shakespeare does not confine himself totally to "war, war, war" but provides a truly brilliant evocation of "les temps perdu" by introducing us to the high (and low!) political and social life of Britain in the '30s and early '40s. In one section of his book he describes in some detail the two day debate that took place in parliament following the Norway debacle which, to virtually everyone's surprise resulted in the political demise of Neville Chamberlain, and even more totally gob-smacking, the eventual elevation of Churchill to be wartime leader of the country.
In that particular May, I was, er, 'celebrating' my first birthday so all this passed well over my head but, of course, many of the participants figured heavily in the politics of post war Britain, people like Harold MacMillan, John Profumo, Clem Atlee and so on and on. For me, reading it now is like living history. I have just reached Part V which will detail the famously private meeting at No.10 which amazingly plucked Churchill from the mud, blood and freezing sea waters of Norway and rewarded him with the top job. You couldn't make it up!