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The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955 Paperback – 1 Sep 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (1 Sept. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842126261
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842126264
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 4.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 822,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Colville's diary is engaging, evocative and hard to put down.' (GOOD BOOK GUIDE )

About the Author

Sir John Colville was born in 1915 and educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won a Senior Scholarship and first class honours in history. He passed his Diplomatic Service exam at an unusually early age. He was a particularly close friend of and associate of Churchill, whose trustee and executor he became, and was closely involved in the creation of Churchill College, Cambridge.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MarkK TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 2 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
John Colville was a man blessed with good fortune. Born to a well-connected upper-class family, he excelled in school and capped his academic career with a first in history at Trinity College Cambridge. Fascinated by current events, he passed the Foreign Office entrance exam on the first try and was posted to the Middle East before returning home just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. A little more than a month after the start of hostilities, he was seconded to 10 Downing Street as an assistant private secretary, an assignment that gave him a privileged vantage point from which to witness events.

Colville's decision to keep a diary predated his posting, reflecting his desire to capture his impressions about the war that he experienced. His transfer to the office of the Prime Minister, however, transformed it into a priceless firsthand account of British politics during the war. It is the first part of the diary, covering Colville's observations from September 1939 until his transfer to the RAF in October 1941, that is the highlight of the book, yet the later sections covering his return to Downing Street in 1943-5 and again in Churchill's postwar ministry are also enjoyable for their insights. Winston Churchill is naturally at the heart of these diaries, and though Colville edited his diaries for publication he let stand many of his comments from that time no matter how inaccurate and embarrassing they must have seemed later. This only enhances their value, allowing the reader to see Colville's evolving attitude towards him, which begins with concerns for Churchill's "ineffective, and indeed harmful" (p.108) efforts as First Lord before coming to respect and admire him as Prime Minister.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Herdson on 2 April 2010
Format: Paperback
Colville's diary is a brilliant insider's record of life at the heart of the British government during World War Two. Seconded from the Foreign Office in October 1939, he remained attached to Number Ten for six years until after Attlee had become Prime Minister, albeit with a lengthy break while he served with the RAF.

Initially loyal to his first PM, Chamberlain, and sceptical about Churchill's qualities, he is soon won over by the latter's energy and vision. That warmth, friendship and loyalty is returned by Churchill and Colville comes close to being a member of his extended family, regularly staying weekends at Chequers or Chartwell and socialising with various members of the Churchill family.

It's this aspect - the detailed social record - as much as the political and military happenings which make the diaries so worthwhile. Colville is an excellent diarist, capturing moments and people of a world long gone: it gives a sense of a final flourishing of aristocratic gentlemen-amateurs (in that they did what they did because of ability and vocation rather than salary), before the greyer careerist professionals of today became all-pervasive.

The bulk of the book covers 1939-45. Colville subsequently returned to Number Ten during Churchill's 1951-5 administration but this and the intervening period are rightly relegated to a few chapters.

I've awarded four stars rather than five because despite the quality of the writing there's a big hole in the book, namely Colville's active service from October 1941 to December 1943 and again during the period around D-Day. Interesting though these periods are, it means that the record from the centre is necessarily incomplete.

Colville's diaries should be enjoyable and informative reading for anyone interested in the life of Churchill or the military and social history of WWII.
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By Michael Bilton on 16 Oct. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Truly brilliant, well worth every penny - recommend it to anyone, if only they had the time to make the purchase.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on 4 May 2010
Format: Paperback
An excellent read. Fascinating insight into the names behind the headlines 1941 to 1955. Written with clarity and humour.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gilbert Michaud on 14 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
a great book covering the war years from john r colville churchill personal secretary .
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