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Sir John Rupert "Jock" Colville CB, CVO (28 January 1915 - November 1987), was a British civil servant. He is best known for his diaries, which provide an intimate view of number 10 Downing Street during the wartime Prime Ministership of Winston Churchill.

Contents

Background and education

Colville was the son of the Hon. George Charles Colville, younger son of Charles Colville, 1st Viscount Colville of Culross. His mother was Lady Cynthia, daughter of Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe.[1] However, as he stated in the introduction to his published diaries, as a younger son of a younger son, he did not personally inherit family wealth. He served as a Page of Honour between 1927 and 1931. He was educated at West Downs, Winchester (he arrived there in 1923, as did his first cousin Terence O'Neill), Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Public Life

Colville was Assistant Private Secretary to three Prime Ministers:

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Diaries

Colville kept a diary from 1939 - 1957, parts of which have been published (The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939 - 1955). The original diaries are held at the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge University and, with the exception of the final volume, are open to the public.[2]

Churchill was, as appears from the diaries, fond of Colville, and he was also close to the rest of the Churchill family. When Churchill was ill with pneumonia, it was Colville who was summoned from his brief stint of active service in the RAF to accompany Clementine Churchill on an aeroplane to Egypt to visit him, although it was clear on their arrival that Churchill's life was not in danger. Typical of the badinage between Churchill and his private secretary is the exchange when Churchill asks Colville how old he is, immediately before Colville's departure for RAF service in 1941. On being told, Churchill pointed out that, at 26, Napoleon was commanding the armies of Italy. Colville replied that the Younger Pitt was Prime Minister at the age of 24. The diaries provide, however, more important insights as well. They record many conversations between Churchill and his political and military colleagues, as well as his private thoughts. They illustrate the contrast between the "atmosphere of rush" about Churchill, as compared with the shorter hours and reduced energy levels associated with his predecessor Chamberlain, whom Colville had also served. They show how, even when beset by disasters in the early days of his premiership, Churchill was still able to raise the spirits of those around him with his sense of purpose, and his sense of humour. They reveal that much of Churchill's correspondence (although none of his speeches) was drafted by Colville and others in their imitations of Churchill's distinctive style, albeit subject to his approval. The diaries also cover Churchill's peacetime premiership and his regularly deferred retirement, and note that, when Churchill did finally retire, Colville found him sitting on his bed at 10 Downing Street saying (of his successor, Eden) "I don't think Anthony can do it!".

Career as pilot

Colville served in World War II as a pilot in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), 1941-44.

Later public career

He served as Private Secretary to the then Princess Elizabeth, 1947-49 and was Joint Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, 1951-55.

He was an Executive Director of Hill Samuel Ltd, 1955-80. Colville was instrumental in raising funding for the establishment of Churchill College as a national memorial to Sir Winston Churchill and was made an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1971. He was joint honorary secretary of the Other Club for many years. Colville was a Trustee of both Sir Winston and Lady Churchill's estates. At various times in his life he was Company Director of the Provident Life Association, the London Committee, the Ottoman Bank, and Eucalyptus Pulp Mills Ltd.

Bibliography

Colville wrote or contributed to a number of books including:

  • Fools' Pleasure, 1935
  • Action This Day-Working with Churchill, 1968
  • Man of Valour: Field Marshal Lord Gort V.C., 1972
  • Footprints in Time, 1976
  • The New Elizabethans, 1977
  • The Portrait of a General, 1980
  • The Churchillians, 1981
  • Strange Inheritance, 1983
  • Those Lambtons!, 1988 (released posthumously)

Family

In 1948 Colville married Lady Margaret Egerton, with whom he had two sons and one daughter. They lived in Hampshire.

Honours

Colville was knighted in 1974, having previously been awarded the CB in 1955, and the CVO in 1949. He died in November 1987, aged 72.

Legacy

The Jock Colville Hall at Churchill College, Cambridge, which is adjoined to the Churchill Archives Centre, is named in his honour.

Court offices
Preceded by
Michael Adeane
Page of Honour
1927–1931
Succeeded by
Viscount Errington

Notes

  1. ^ thepeerage.com Sir John Rupert Colville
  2. ^ The Papers of Sir John Colville. "Diaries: 10 Sep 1939–1957," CLVL 1/1-10. Held at the Churchill Archives Centre.

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