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.