Category Archives: Winston On the Run

The Writing Process by Freddie Machin


The first time John Walton and I met was at his old flat in Covent Garden. He auditioned me for one his first productions as a director, an adaptation of Mishima’s Yoroboshi. I didn’t get the part, but – and actors can take solace from this next bit – he kept me in mind for a future project. Yes, that overused and frequently hollow promise that underlines every rejection letter does sometimes actually come true.

Within a few months we were thrust together again at Gifford’s Circus, touring in their summer production of War and Peace. During the rehearsal process I had my first play produced in London. Chicken premiered at Southwark Playhouse, earning me the nickname ‘Shakespeare’ with our circus director. A moniker I tried endlessly to re-ignite with my peers in London but alas it was not to be. Not least because I wasn’t really a writer yet. My only experience of the writing process had been sitting in my bedroom, living on crisps and banging my head against a wall. That’s how I wrote Chicken.

But that’s not strictly true, the catalyst which converted me from actor to actor-writer came before that, on a collaborative writing project at Action Transport Theatre. Under the guidance of super-mentor and professional playwright Kevin Dyer, myself and three other emerging writers researched and wrote a play which we toured back to the young people who had inspired it.

I found this collaborative writing process completely different to that of writing Chicken. Much of our early work at Action Transport was done in a rehearsal room, either leading workshops with the young people we met or discussing our memories of our own childhoods and our ideas as a writing team. This led into a more traditional solo writing period but it was characterised initially by vocalising ideas rather than the silent solitude of my garret in London.

Working with John on Winston… was in some respects a combination of the two and another equally steep learning curve for me, chiefly because I had never researched my main character before. I had based characters on people close to me, people I had read about in the newspaper and people I had met but never someone that everybody in the world was already well acquainted with.

So the first thing we did was spend a week in a rehearsal room with My Early Life – Churchill’s autobiography covering the period – and enthusing over what was great about the book – the imperial cast list, the numerous trysts with death, our lead character’s insistence on silk underpants. A focus for our story quickly presented itself to us – bookended by an Oldham by-election failure and an Oldham general election success – was an impossible tale of escape and endurance in South Africa.

Every writer I have ever sought advice from has told me that the dialogue always comes last. The majority of your work, particularly in the early stages, will be spent structuring and re-structuring the piece and discovering who your character is. Once you have these two things down, the dialogue will write itself.

John often says that one of the reasons we worked so successfully together on this project was because he has that meticulous, scientist’s eye for construction and I have a natural bent for character and dialogue.

And true to form, the first thing I wanted to do was the fun bit – write the words. My initial interests in the script lay in the tone and getting Churchill’s voice right – an uncommon mixture of Victorian era imperial entitlement and naïve, youthful ambition.

Because that’s the bit you spent your life overhearing at bus stops, scratching down in notebooks and what lingers from a great production – that is what makes you want to be a writer and that is what will engage the audience when the piece is performed. But it’s also the bit that must be deferred.

So we painstakingly beat out a structure, moment by moment and gradually, inadvertently, through studying the facts of the real life story, a character began to emerge. Tiptoeing towards dialogue we experimented by giving him some of Churchill’s actual words to speak. We transposed as much of the young war correspondent’s dispatches into our script as possible and read it aloud.

It was a complete failure. Although Churchill is a great writer – his florid language and imagery so pleasurable and evocative for the reader – when spoken as dialogue, the text falls flat. Heavy, dense and far too wordy, it did not capture the essence of the man at all let alone the energetic spirit of youth captured in the story.

In relying too heavily on the facts of the story we had become too loyal, too reverent to the myth of Churchill. And so I was given the license to start create dialogue and being released from the bonds of verbatim text was hugely liberating.

John suggested we refer to him as Winston rather than Churchill to help alleviate us of the burden of history and in my sketches and early drafts I went one further – I called him Paul. Soon enough, whilst maintaining all of those essential character traits we had compiled and discarding his famous title, all the pomp began to dissipate. He became human for the first time – a young person, like you or I, facing his demons, contesting with his destiny and defining himself for the first time.

And that is the spirit with which we continued – drafting and redrafting, in cafés, in rehearsal rooms, at fringe festivals around the country, fine tuning this thing we had carved from science and art, structure and dialogue, the known and the unknown.

Winston’s PR journey – a post from our wonderful media genie Jane Verity


Our journey with Fol Espoir started with a slightly awkward conversation with a fairly sceptical sounding John Walton. John had got in touch through a mutual friend who had recommended us, but I didn’t know this at the time, and thought it was an off spec enquiry.

What I realised as I was speaking to him, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with Fol Espoir since, is that whilst ‘PR’ is a dark art for so many of the people I work with – something they know needs to happen, but have no desire to get involved in – for John and Freddie it didn’t fall into the ‘scary’ category, but instead it was another part of the adventure, approached with just as much openness, creativity, honesty and intelligence as they approached the show.

I think John sounded sceptical that day because he was still weighing up his decision, trying to sound tough, and decide whether we were the best he’d spoken to.

But I also think that throughout the project there has been a real striving for excellence in John that has made me feel, well, not uneasy, but just like I had to prove myself, to live up to his expectations.

And that’s actually a really interesting point about client relationships. I’ve always assumed that the ideal is that you treat each other like friends – you have a giggle on the phone, you know about each other’s house sale / new car / favourite TV show – but working with Fol Espoir has really reminded me that some of the most productive relationships are not even.

What I felt, and what John made me feel, was a responsibility to do a good job. Not because he was being horrible or demanding, but because when you’re working with people who are really good at what they do – and really invested in what they do – you have an obligation not to let them down.

And there is a real duty of care with clients like Fol Espoir too. Their money, like many of our clients, comes from arts council funding – tax payers’ hard earned money that our government still, just about, believes is best spent in making theatre and then in persuading people to come and see it.

So all in all that’s a lot of pressure. It’s a question we always ask ourselves before accepting PR project work. Can we deliver on the clients’ expectations? If not, that’s a lot of heartache and a lot of blame to shoulder – particularly in a discipline where ultimately you’re never in control of the results. But that doesn’t matter – if you sign on the dotted line and say you’re going to make something happen and then you can’t, there’ll only be one person to blame in the client’s eyes.

But in this case I was happy to say that we could it. They had sensible expectations – the focus was on regional press rather than national, on bums on seats rather than glittering reviews, and the show had almost all of the ‘magic’ ingredients for great press coverage – a real life story about a well-known figure, not the story we all know, but something different – the young Winston Churchill, opening in Winston’s home town, a one-man show being performed by a young theatre company. And they had great production photographs already, from an Edinburgh run last year.

And we were right. Doing press for Winston on the Run has been easy. I don’t say that lightly, and I wouldn’t say it about anything else I’ve worked on this year. I did it with the help of one of our PR execs, Lisa, whose organisational skills worked a treat on a 30 date tour of one night shows. And it was easy because the strength of the story really captured journalists imaginations, and also because Freddie is such an eloquent interviewee. He made an excellent radio guest – and 10 BBC radio interviews later, he hadn’t missed a single beat, racing around to fit interviews into his day’s travel from one venue to the next, not just enthusing about the show, but engaging presenters in a debate.

I think it’s easy to sit in your office as a PR, setting people up with interviews, without really thinking about how much personal effort it takes to actually do them, and do them well. It was also easy because both John and Freddie were always there at the other end of an email, or a phone call, and because we were working together with one common goal.

We approached the task in a methodical way, identifying a list of target venues with John, and then prioritising key titles for each venue. We used the venues communications teams as a starting point – their local knowledge is always the key to projects like this – and then it was just a case of being thorough about contacting and following up with each contact, co-ordinating and recording interview requests, and being organised enough to put together a schedule that Freddie could keep up to, as well as fitting in around tech time and once the show was open, travel time.

As regional and national media become more and more stretched in terms of their journalists’ time and ability to travel, the tide turns more towards the need to provide ready-made content. So in many cases writers were asking for email question and answers rather than phone interviews, and The Guardian Professionals Network asked for an 800 word blog. Obviously, this changing landscape gives a great opportunity for those who have the time and skill to write, but it does change the balance of how much time on projects is spent writing, as opposed to pitching. In lots of ways that’s great – it gives the control back to us – as well as a sense of being a ‘maker’ rather than a middle man – but it does tend to be more time consuming. In this case though, Freddie and John were great – and were happy to give the time to write great content – and one of the results can be seen here:

People often ask ‘what works best’ in terms of the mix between print media, online and broadcast – but the only proper answer to that question is that what you really want is a bit of everything. I think here we got a nice balance between radio, traditional print and online – although perhaps it would have been nice to have seen more really good, engaged arts bloggers in the regions the show toured to – I’m sure they’re out there – but we just didn’t quite find the time to focus our energies in that direction, and I think it was agreed that the audience for this particular show were perhaps more interested in traditional than ‘new’ media.

I think this tour has been a learning process – both for us and for Fol Espoir, and there are certainly things that we could have done differently (like starting work two months earlier), but I think I can hold my head up and say that we lived up to John’s expectations. Just about.

– Jane works with arts, leisure and business tourism clients as an account manager for Bonner & Hindley Communications. She was press officer for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and is Press and PR Manager for Red Ladder Theatre.   

Looking back by Freddie Machin

It is late November, and three weeks after I hung up my wig and frock coat for the final time I’m back on the road again. The weather is still mild but Christmas is firmly within our sights and I’m on my way to give a presentation about how the tour went. I almost never thought this moment would come. So much time and focus went into preparing for the eight weeks of touring with Winston that I hadn’t even contemplated what would come after.

The evaluation process with Fol Espoir and the preparation for the presentation I am giving today has given me the opportunity to reflect on it however. In conversation with friends and colleagues I tend to play it down. I frame my experience within the narrative that I think people expect to hear from someone who has just returned from a two-month tour. I say “it was exhausting” but I never really felt exhausted at the time, I say “it was a hard slog” but I don’t think it really was, I sometimes even say “never again” which is not quite the same as actually feeling that it was a once in a lifetime experience.

What was particularly difficult – and be honest” John keeps pushing the stage manager Matt and I to dish the dirt. But in all honesty there is none, apart from a cracked windscreen and the power being blown mid-performance – both on the same night incidentally – Winston passed off without a hitch.

One of the frequent questions I was asked during the tour was “don’t you get tired of saying the same lines every night?” Although it is true that I have found long tours of other people’s work hard in the past this one was entirely different. Saying the words that I researched, drafted and re-drafted every night was a pleasure. I believed in the story of this incredible character and I was very proud of the rigorous work John and I had done to craft it into a piece of theatre. Consequently performing it every night was a privilege, sharing our take on an already rollicking yarn with a new group of people was a joy.

And the audiences were invariably supportive and enthusiastic. Sharing their own tales of, and connections to Winston over the years. One woman told us that her great-grandfather had been a prisoner of war with Winston in South Africa. Churchill had apparently made an agreement with the guards that if they let him walk around the grounds of the camp he promised he wouldn’t escape. A foolish mistake on the Boers’ part from what we know now but in retaliation the remaining troops were duly punished. Her relative never liked Churchill from that day on she told us.

In Margate we heard the story of a woman’s grandfather who was head chef in the most expensive restaurant in town and had served Winston when he paid a visit on official business after the First World War. We even performed to a village hall where a genuine Victoria Cross was hanging on the wall. The much coveted prize that Winston so desired for his efforts was literally within reach! Upon closer inspection it was in fact given to a soldier for bravery during the Boer War and the text beneath suggested that the soldier was on the Dunottar Castle – the very ship which took Churchill and Colonel Buller to the Cape in 1899.

I discovered the history of the medal itself at the Lancashire Fusiliers museum in Bury after being encouraged to go by a father and son who had just seen the show for dad’s birthday. Created in 1856 the VC remains the highest order for valour a British soldier can be awarded. The medals themselves are made from a finite source – the bronze knobs from a set of Chinese cannon taken from the Russians at Sebastopol during the Napoleonic wars.

Matt and I were becoming oral historians, threading this ever accumulating story up and down the country, compiling what we learnt on the road and sharing it with a new audience every night.

And not only Churchill made it into our Winston on the Run almanac, we shortlisted our favourite Travelodge experiences and completed our highly publicised top ten list. Three cheers for Crewe and the Dean Clough Mill Halifax in the top two spots. In fact some of my fondest memories of the tour were spent waiting in the countless take-aways Matt and I frequented around the UK. Watching Father Ted on the little TV on the counter awaiting prawn crackers and chow mein to sate our hunger after the show. The satisfaction of another venue successfully under our belts.

Like John’s excellent tour road map on our website we threaded a journey – a six and a half thousand mile journey, connecting people and places, sharing stories and laughter and a thousand Churchillian quotations: “If you’re going through hell, keep going” “History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it

And we did what he said – we kept going, through it all and we made history. 6,500 miles, 43 nights, 30-odd venues, a dozen Travelodges and eleven cigars worth of brandy-swilling, death-defying, restless, relentless, persistent Churchillian history.

We might even do it again sometime.

Booking the tour

House Theatre asked John to write about how the Winston tour came together. Answers below!


In December 2011 the actor/writer Freddie Machin and I decided to create a show about the early adventures of Winston Churchill. At the time, we had no star actor, no experience of touring and we were virtually unknown. Nearly two years later, the show has just finished a two-month national tour. I’ve often been asked how we did it, and the answer is quite straightforward: we bugged our friends and contacts for advice, made the show as brilliant as we could, put in a huge number of hours chasing venue programmers, and invested in the best marketing images we could afford. We were also careful in our choice of subject – a thin Churchill with a full head of hair was a good way to get people’s attention.

From the beginning, our target was to take the show on tour. Programmers have an unenviable amount of choice, and I quickly realised that solid salesmanship skills would be required to get their interest. The first thing was to set up shop and get our work seen, and the obvious choice was the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s an exhausting, expensive and exhilarating experience which certainly isn’t right for everyone. For us, though, it would give us access to a huge number of industry buyers. If we could get them to sample our show, we were in with a chance.

Our minds focused by the huge financial risk of an Edinburgh run, a major priority was to make sure our show was ready. We previewed in Brighton, Buxton, Liverpool and Jersey, constantly working and re-working the text. At the same time, we built a database of contacts we could send invitations to. We had two targets: small-to-mid-scale touring venues, and rural touring networks. For the rural venues, we bought a list of contacts from the National Rural Touring Forum. For the conventional venues we begged friends to share their own lists, combed through the tour schedules of similar shows, and looked through our own lists of industry contacts for leads. Eventually we had a database of totalling hundreds of venues. About a third we felt were most likely to take our show. These became the main focus of our attention.

As programmers make their Edinburgh schedules far in advance, we sent invitations months before the festival began. We didn’t have much, but we knew that Winston Churchill was a great hook, and we prioritised the publicity image, making it as eye-catching as possible. Our previews also gave us a steady trickle of favourable reviews and even an award – Best Actor for Freddie at the Buxton Fringe. Combined with recommendations from a few of our industry contacts who saw the show early on, our product was becoming more enticing. At the festival, we were rewarded with a steady stream of programmers.

Post-fringe, it was time to book the tour. Initially we focused on venues that had actually seen the show, and this bagged us great dates. We then began on the programmers who hadn’t seen the show. Images, reviews and marketing blurbs were posted and emailed, phone calls were made, and interest was definitely ignited. Persistence was key; the list of people to email and call seemed never-ending. Highlighting the bookings we had was incredibly helpful; not only did these serve as the best possible recommendations for the show, but it also meant programmers could talk to people they knew and trusted about our work. Patience was also paramount. Some venues book a year in advance, some only a few months; some gave you an immediate answer, others took months. Rural schemes were perhaps the most tricky. They’re a huge market, but their booking process is admirably, if sometimes frustratingly, de-centralised. Given that you’re often asked to block off a slew of potential tour dates, the process can take a frighteningly long time.

Price-wise, we had to balance our desire to tour extensively with our need to balance the books. Each show would cost about £750 to put on, and that was where we set our fee. However, we also gave venues the option of a cheaper guarantee against a box office split – a sort of introductory special offer. This shifted a lot of risk onto ourselves, but still gave us a guaranteed income.

Over the course of a year, the tour grew from a few dates to nearly forty. A generous Arts Council grant covered our financial shortfall, and in September, Winston went on the road. As it comes to an end, I’m immensely proud of what we achieved, both artistically and in developing our company’s reputation and relationships. Most of the venues we toured to have already asked us what we’re working on next. For the moment, my only answer is ‘a long holiday’!

– See more at:

Ten things you probably didn’t know about Winston Churchill

Image         Winston Churchill Aged 4

1. Winston celebrated his 21st birthday being shot at by anti-Spanish guerrillas in Cuba. 

2. His father Randolph was a superstar of Victorian politics who believed Winston would amount to nothing and become ‘a social wastrel’. He promptly died before he could be proved wrong.

3. Winston served under his nemesis Kitchener in the Sudan. While there he was part of one of the last ever cavalry charges in British military history.

4. In 1899 Winston was captured by the Boers and incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp. He escaped and made his way across hundreds of miles of Savanna to rejoin the British lines.

5. Winston’s mother Jennie Jerome was a famous American socialite and reported invented of the Manhattan cocktail. 

6. In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He earned more in his life from writing than anything else.

7. Winston was a sickly child and convinced he would die young (and therefore needed to make his name quickly). In fact he lived to ninety! 

8. Winston had a lisp and originally was a terrible public speaker.

9. In 1908 Winston introduced the Trade Boards Bill setting up the first minimum wages in Britain.

10. In 1909, Winston set up Labour Exchanges to help unemployed people find work. He helped draft the first unemployment pension legislation, the National Insurance Act of 1911. Churchill also assisted in passing the ‘People’s Budget’, which included the introduction of new taxes on the wealthy to allow for the creation of new social welfare programmes.  

Fol Espoir featured in The Guardian

Artistic Director John Walton was invited to contribute a post to the Guardian Professionals Blog. The theme was the research process and post-show discussion for the show Winston On the Run. Full text below, or check it out at:

Post-show theatre discussions: presenting your ‘DVD extras’ menu

Performance post shows are usually dull and dominated by the same old questions – so how can you create one that’s fun?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If I told you that Winston Churchill had once been a svelte, dashing young cavalry officer with a ruff of red hair, a penchant for dangerous adventures and a lisp, would you believe me? For my generation at least, it’s difficult to imagine him as anyone other than a demigod of history textbooks, chomping on a cigar and making zero contribution to the nation’s hairbrush industry.

When I teamed up with the writer and actor Freddie Machin, we knew that Churchill’s little-known early adventures were ripe for theatrical adaptation. But how do you start researching someone about whom enough material already exists to fill several libraries? And how do you condense that material into an evening of lively entertainment?

The first thing we realised is that no human being could ever read everything written by or about Churchill – we were going to have to set limits. The second thing we needed to decide was what story we wanted to tell. Again, setting limits became key. Unimpressed by the meandering treatment of Churchill’s boyhood and military career in the 1972 filmYoung Winston, we decided to focus on the episode of his life that ultimately led to his first parliamentary victory – his daring escape from the South African Boers.

At this point, our aim was to write a Flashman-style parody of colonial aspirations and hot-headed youth. The research was pointing us in an entirely different direction, though. We were becoming entranced by the sheer complexity of Churchill’s personality: from an early age he was inspiring, courageous, persistent and witty; yet also arrogant, impulsive, erratic and riddled with insecurity. We realised that these qualities were also the reasons for his future successes and failures. Here was an episode through which his entire life could be distilled, and it was too fascinating an opportunity to pass up.

The format that we eventually came up with was a 65-minute show followed by an integral post-show presentation. The “post show” gets really bad press, and we’ve been at plenty of bad ones ourselves. Too often they are dull, poorly executed and dominated by the same old questions, like “how do you learn your lines?”

Often the performers don’t even want to be there, and I’ll never forget an RSC actor telling us all off for not laughing enough in a lamentably unfunny first half. Freddie and I were sure that with a bit of imagination we could come up with something that was fun, structured, visually rich and that would allow the audience to lead the conversation.

What we ended up creating was our own DVD “extras” menu that we project onto the stage. Audience members can choose from topics like “The Greasy Spoon” – about the working relationship Freddie and I developed, rooted in our local cafe; to topics like “Behind the Legend”, which explores original archive material; or “True or False”, a quiz based on Churchill’s early life. Each topic comes with photos, discussion from Freddie, and an opportunity for the audience to share thoughts or ask questions.

What we’ve discovered is that a post-show talk can add immensely to both the audience and performer’s experience of a production. Audience members love getting a look behind normally closed rehearsal room doors. In return, they have shared some amazing memories. One audience member’s father had worked as Churchill’s private secretary and had spent summers playing in the grounds of Chartwell; another could still recall Churchill’s visit to their local village.

We’ve even been invited to visit places like Ditchley Park, where Churchill had close connections, and the conversations have often continued into the theatre’s bar long afterwards. For us, it’s been a exciting way to make connections with our audience, which is, in the end, what storytelling is all about.

Hidden in Plain Sight by Freddie Machin

Dean Clough Mill


Arriving at Halifax in the car, one foggy day in September, we were faced with an imposing set of Victorian built Mills, set cheek by jowl beside a spaghetti junction of 60s roadways and flyovers and the ancient Yorkshire countryside – a fascinating and beautiful picture of what was once the industrial north.

The Mills were in fact our destination – Dean Clough, a converted wool Mill in the centre of Halifax, where we would be staying for the night before our show at the Square Chapel Arts Centre.

Now entirely re-developed, the site houses a complex of shops, restaurants, art galleries, our Travelodge for the night, and a cookery school; whilst still managing to maintain the grandeur of the original buildings.

Obsessed with composition and intent on entering the burgeoning scene of street photography I have recently bought a new camera. Street photography attempts to capture those fleeting, illuminating flashes of interaction between people that happen all around us, all the time, in the blink of an eye. I would argue that the right snap at the right moment could tell as much story, as much biography as any painstaking recreation.

With some time to spare as we pulled up and always in pursuit of another elusive vignette, I asked Matt (Llewellyn-Smith – stage manager extraordinaire) to help distract a group of men whilst I took their picture.

On the journey from Grantham that morning we had heard a radio programme about a woman with one prosthetic arm, which she had managed to keep hidden from almost everyone she met for many years. On one occasion, it wasn’t until the run of a show she was dancing in had ended that her fellow chorus members discovered that she only had one arm.

We decided to adopt some of her distraction techniques. Matt and I chatted as we drew level with the group, paused in the correct place and both pointed rather awkwardly at something off in the distance as I surreptitiously snapped.

Then one of them called over to us – “what are you looking for?” “oh, erm…” Assuming we’d been caught in the act we stumbled over our words and managed to mutter “somewhere to eat?”

Matt led the conversation as I took a few more shots from waist height. As it turned out, my three middle-aged subjects were jovial and welcoming and the five of us quickly fell into conversation.

We spoke about the Mill itself, about what we were up to and about how they decided who got to sit on the only deck chair they had between them. We mentioned that we had played Stamford the night before when one of the crew disappeared, momentarily returning with a dusty copy of ‘Villages of Rutland’. “It’s the smallest county in Britain for half the year – except when the tide is in on the Isle of Wight” they laughed. I asked them for a photo, and to my surprise, they agreed.

The group directed us in the opposite direction, towards ‘E’ Mill (the different Mills are distinguished by a different letter), the main building off to the left of us, where David Hockney had once painted a wall and sold it for £25,000. But despite the Hockneys and the original blueprints and photographs of this incredible building, the work we were told specifically to look out for was one made of Lego.

Matt and I left the workers to their tea, paid the parking and laughed as we pored over my photographs. In my opinion the best shots are definitely those taken covertly. Unposed photographs capture the live energy of intention and action, by comparison those that are posed look rigid and staid and surely serve only posterity.

An hour or so later I was working my way around the photography gallery inside ‘E’ Mill when two of the three workmen from earlier appeared from an internal staircase, hulking a step ladder. “Have you seen it?” they asked. But I didn’t know what I was looking for, I wasn’t even sure that they weren’t having us on earlier.

But sure enough, around the corner, standing at least a metre and a half in height and around five in depth stood a massive Lego reconstruction of the entire Mill.

Not quite the whole thing”, they corrected me. The ‘A’ Mill Loading Bay, where we had met earlier and the oldest building on the site (built in 1841) had not yet been constructed. My friends’ hands hovered in the air at the end of the structure, indicating where it will be when they’ve finished it. And they will – Jeff pointed to a window half way along the Lego building “that’s where they are now – in that pokey little office, working on it.”

Jeff proceeded to walk me round the Lego exhibit pointing out which lights were in the wrong place and which gutters were missing. They had to admit though, that apart from a few misplaced wheelie bins it was very accurate.

Having chatted over all matters of the Dean Clough Mill as we stood, it was clear that having worked here for a combined period of over 50 years, they were extremely proud of the site and their time-honoured place within it.

On the way back to the café, Jeff pointed out a postcard in the gift shop depicting the ‘A’ Mill Loading Bay – their spot – and then very persistently challenged one of the passing curating staff about the whereabouts of what turned out to be a portrait of Jeff.

Evidently Jeff was no stranger to portraiture. A previous artist exhibiting in the gallery had taken Jeff as his subject and it was a source of great disappointment to us both that it now resides with the artist and not here at the Mill for all to see.

Jeff said that he gets a lot of photographers taking pictures of him, “because you don’t see many people in overalls anymore” he said. He is no longer one of a whole gang of workers maintaining this building but one of three. Just like the Mill itself, Jeff has become an artefact, a memory of a time gone by.

But he is incredibly proud to still be a working cog in this redeveloped wheel; this new era for Dean Clough, and the requests of artists to capture and record him flatter and excite him.

And so he should be, by putting a subject in a frame and hanging it on the wall, the artist shows the subject admiration, acknowledgement and respect. They are focussing the looker’s attention on this image alone and saying ‘look here, you might not have seen it in this way before, you might have overlooked this.’ Jeff got such a kick from the Lego and his portrait and the photograph of ‘A’ Mill that maybe posed and re-constructed artworks do have their place. Maybe I’ll ask next time, before I shoot.

Winston, the Victorian Missionary

By Freddie Machin

We opened the autumn tour of Winston on the Run at the Chipping Norton Theatre, a stone’s throw from Winston’s birthplace and the seat of the dukedom he never inherited, Blenheim Palace. Merely by dint of dates and programming the show opened to an Oxfordshire audience, many of whom, we discovered during the post-show presentation knew a great deal already about Winston. I am delighted to say that we have in fact been invited for tea at Ditchley, Churchill’s hideout half a century after he hid out down our mineshaft, during the Second World War.

The theatre at Chipping Norton was built in 1878 as a Salvation Army citadel. ‘These stones were laid by one hundred of those who through great persecution boldly and conscientiously served their God’ reads the foundation stone inside the auditorium. It is a beautiful space with a very intimate feel despite the depth of the raised stage. The theatre is much the envy of the theatrical community and has become one of the highlights of the touring circuit. Catherine and William Booth, founders of the Salvation Army are buried not far from where I live in London, their mission when they began in 1865 was to bring salvation to the poor, destitute and hungry by meeting both their physical and spiritual needs.

These stones were laid by one hundred of those who through great persecution boldly and conscientiously served their God

These stones were laid by one hundred of those who through great persecution boldly and conscientiously served their God

This was not an uncommon assignment during the Victorian era, 1878 is the same year as my football team, Everton, was established. Begun as a Catholic team to give the local boys somewhere to focus their energies, St. Domingo FC began playing on what is now Anfield – the home of Everton’s closest rivals (just a few hundred yards today). Shelter, the housing charity still operating today, was also founded in the 19th century, contributing to a whole culture of philanthropy, alms giving and helping those in need.

This evangelism spread along with British imperial ambitions, colonialism aiming to elevate and ennoble what were presumed to be sinful and barbaric societies. Colonial administrators and Christian missionaries around the world were preaching about an ordered and sophisticated society, to nations lacking the development seen in Britain under Christianity.

In Winston on the Run, we suggest that the war in South Africa might indeed be the catalyst that makes Churchill question how right and good British implementation of that mission actually was. Winston’s attitude was that winning the war would ultimately be for the good of the defeated as well as the victors. But what the Empire found itself up against in South Africa was a capable and fierce adversary determined to protect its own identity and independence, whatever the cost.

British forces found the Boer communities so resilient that they resorted to rounding up the women and children and detaining them in camps in an attempt to break their spirits and the back of the war. These were not the first camps of their kind, but helped to set a precedent that would have an even graver outcome half a century later.

It turned out not to be the just and righteous walkover that Great Britain was accustomed to (and was expecting). In fact, it would be an embarrassment; our first war fought in Khaki instead of the red coats of the Zulu wars just a few years before and a blot on the apparently flawless history of Britain.

Warfare was changing and the British Empire’s unquestioned primacy had received a knock to its confidence and credibility. Queen Victoria had reigned over an incredible fifth of the earth’s surface and almost a quarter of the world’s population owed her allegiance during the 1800s but the turn of the century would usher in a new epoch. Born in 1874, Winston was resolutely a Victorian but following Victoria’s death in 1901 would come a new Edwardian period, characterised less by peace and goodwill but by war.


Dashing discoveries.

By John Walton

A bookstore hidden down a curving Edinburgh backstreet, its rough wooden shelves crammed with history, classical passion and beautiful early editions; an antiquarian owner practically covered with his own thin layer of dust. I was holding a worn book with yellowing pages, a navy hardback cover, and a look of having been once loved.

Back on tour with Potted Potter, the photo of a young man I had glimpsed in the Cabinet War Rooms was constantly on my mind. Who was he? What was he doing in a cavalry officer’s uniform? And why wasn’t he fat, middle-aged and balding? I needed to find out more. I was not only curious, I sniffed a story.

The book in my hands was ‘My Early Life’, Churchill’s description of his youthful days from first memories to nascent parliamentary success. Limping home from my gruelling schedule (two incredibly high-energy shows a day, every day, for a month – don’t let anyone tell you acting is an easy life) I plunged into a hot bath and began reading; immediately I was hooked. As a child I had adored the adventure stories of Dan Dare, Biggles, The Hardy Boys and Willard Price. Here was someone living that life for real, ricocheting around the world in a blur of action, high society and hilarity. One moment he was fleeing from his governess, next he was rioting in a music-hall; finally, he escaped from the South African Boers and became an international celebrity. Audacious tales were strewn with huge personalities: Winston’s father Randolph, a maverick politician who ultimately destroyed his own career; his mother Jennie, a glamorous New York socialite and unparalleled beauty; Mrs Everest, Winston’s nanny and closest friend. Alongside these principals was a roster of fascinating and often hilarious supporting characters: Prime Ministers, Princes, workers, clergymen, Dickensian teachers and my favourite, Colonel Brabazon: an hilarious, lisping epitome of a gloriously brave but utterly ridiculous Victorian cavalry officer.

"Colonel Brabazon: an hilarious, lisping epitome of a gloriously brave but utterly ridiculous Victorian cavalry officer."

“Colonel Brabazon: an hilarious, lisping epitome of a gloriously brave but utterly ridiculous Victorian cavalry officer.”

Reading ‘My Early Life’ was like discovering a different world, one so often suppressed by our country’s collective embarrassment over the colonial era. In the young Winston you could see the tenacity, bravery and leadership that would echo and reverberate into the future; at this point though his destiny was anything but certain. There was tender honesty, the tragically unreciprocated adoration Winston had for his father, the young man’s constant money problems and the impetuousness that would often be his own undoing. Written by Churchill decades later, the entire book also had a fascinating tint: the dying rays of what Churchill himself called a ‘vanished age’. The aristocracy’s grip on power was diminishing, the labour movement growing, and by the book’s end mechanised guns were swiftly bringing an end to the gentlemanly pursuit of war. Yet this was still a time where British officers played party games on the way to battle and fretted about smuggling champagne to the front lines.

As I suspected, the book was ripe for adaptation. Moreover, it’s central character was an intoxicating storyteller pumped full of bravery, arrogance, wit and sheer bloody-mindedness. I knew immediately that there could be only one actor on-stage. At the time, I imagined that might be myself. I re-read the book, this time making notes at the top of every page, eventually constructing an intricate timeline of his early life. Then I sat down at my sitting room table and took a notepad, ready to begin writing. Nothing. Nothing came out at all. I sat for a bit longer. Still nothing. I had assumed that writing a play would be easy: string together the bits of the story you want to tell and fill the gaps in-between. How wrong I was. I had absolutely no idea where to begin, and quickly, the rest of the world took over. A translating project took over my creative juices, and for the next two years, the project would be relegated to a constant niggle in the back of my head. Until, that is, I stumbled across Freddie Machin…