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Radio: The Spirit of ’97

2 minute read

In the heat of long Indian afternoons in 1897, between colonial adventures with the Queen’s Own Hussars, protean Winston Spencer Churchill, then only 23, dallied with a romantic daydream about love and politics. The result: Savrola, a bumpy, 70,000-word Ruritanian novel (TIME, April 16) which “traced the fortunes of a liberal leader who overthrew an arbitrary government only to be swallowed up by a socialist revolution.” Churchill submitted it, his first and only piece of fiction, “with considerable trepidation to the judgment or clemency of the public,” years later confessed: “I have consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it.”

Last week Savrola came to TV. NBC spent money freely (but only a mere $1,500 or so went to the author), cast Churchill’s actress-daughter Sarah in the lead, flew a producer to Sir Winston’s Riviera retreat for script conferences. Churchill disliked the script, complained: “Why don’t you do my book as I wrote it? What’s wrong with the spirit of ’97? It was a pretty good world—the British Empire was at its height. The women were beautiful and the horses fast.”

Churchill was right. On TV, his youthful work was a turgid, cliché-ridden mishmash of ballot-stuffing, tears, blood-letting (“Beg for mercy before I blow your face in”) and Graustarkian fluff (Lucile: “All’s fair in love and war.” Savrola: “And this?” Lucile: “This is both.”). Throughout, as she flitted behind the lace curtains and potted palms, past powdered footmen and blackamoors, Actress Churchill looked pretty, proper and bored.

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