Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years

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Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years


DVD cover art
Genre Drama
Written by Ferdinand Fairfax, William Humble
Directed by Ferdinand Fairfax
Starring Robert Hardy
Siân Phillips
Nigel Havers
Tim Pigott-Smith
Eric Porter
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 8
Executive producer(s) Mark Shivas
Producer(s) Richard Broke
Production company(s) Southern Television
Original network ITV
Original release 6 September (1981-09-06) – 25 October 1981 (1981-10-25)

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years is an eight-part 1981 drama serial based on Winston Churchill's years in enforced exile from political position during the 1920s and 1930s. It was made by Southern Television on a budget of £3¼ million and originally broadcast on ITV on Sunday nights at 10 pm. [1] It was written and directed by Ferdinand Fairfax, with historian Martin Gilbert as co-writer. Churchill was played by Robert Hardy, who earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor and went on to play him in several other productions.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

Southern Television ITV broadcasting licence holder

Southern Television was the ITV broadcasting licence holder for the south and south-east of England from 30 August 1958 to 31 December 1981. The company was launched as Southern Television Limited and the title Southern Television was consistently used on-air throughout its life. However, in 1966 during the application process for contracts running from 1968 the company renamed itself Southern Independent Television Limited, a title which was used until 1980, when the company reverted to its original corporate name. Southern Television ceased broadcasting on the morning of 1 January 1982 at 12.43am, after a review during the 1980 franchise round gave the contract to Television South.

ITV (TV network) TV network in the United Kingdom

ITV is a British free-to-air television network with its headquarters in London, it was launched in 1955 as Independent Television under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to BBC Television, that was established in 1932. ITV is also the oldest commercial network in the UK. Since the passing of the Broadcasting Act 1990, its legal name has been Channel 3, to distinguish it from the other analogue channels at the time, namely BBC 1, BBC 2 and Channel 4. In part, the number 3 was assigned because television sets would usually be tuned so that the regional ITV station would be on the third button, with the other stations being allocated to the number within their name.


Plot summary

The series focuses on the decade from 1929 to 1939 during which Winston Churchill was out of power and out of favour. During that time he attempted to make his colleagues and countrymen aware of Nazi Germany's threat to Britain. He comes up against much resistance from fellow politicians Stanley Baldwin, Samuel Hoare and the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain. He faces problems not only in politics but at home as well.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Stanley Baldwin Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, was a British Conservative Party statesman who dominated the government of the United Kingdom between the world wars, serving as Prime Minister on three occasions.

Samuel Hoare, 1st Viscount Templewood British Conservative politician

Samuel John Gurney Hoare, 1st Viscount Templewood,, more commonly known as Sir Samuel Hoare, was a senior British Conservative politician who served in various Cabinet posts in the Conservative and National governments of the 1920s and 1930s.


Episode Title Original air date
1"Down and Out"6 September 1981 (1981-09-06)
Churchill resigns as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the Conservative Party under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin loses the 1929 election. He travels to the United States in an attempt to make some money. He meets with William Randolph Hearst and Bernard Baruch. He loses his earnings, however, in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Meanwhile, back at home, the Prime Minister and Baldwin plan to introduce democracy to India.
2"Politics Are Foul"13 September 1981 (1981-09-13)
Baldwin sends for Churchill asking for his support in giving India dominion status, something Churchill is against. Churchill attacks Ramsay MacDonald in parliament and resigns from the shadow cabinet. The division in the conservative party leads Baldwin to make a political deal with MacDonald. A general election is called for a national government and Churchill is not offered office. While in New York, he suffers an accident.
3"In High Places"20 September 1981 (1981-09-20)
While in Germany, Churchill hopes to meet with Hitler. Samuel Hoare and Lord Derby become the centers of intrigue regarding a report from the cotton industry related to the India question. A witness seeks out Churchill. Brendan Bracken and Churchill have a falling-out.
4"A Menace in The House"27 September 1981 (1981-09-27)
Armed with papers as evidence of Hoare's tampering with the cotton industry's report to parliament, the investigation begins and ends. Churchill is incensed with the result and suffers for it in the house. In France, Churchill is approached by Ralph Wigram.
5"The Flying Peril"4 October 1981 (1981-10-04)
Churchill warns of Germany's re-arming and their air superiority over Britain. The MacDonald government falls. Churchill is again denied a cabinet position when the conservatives return to power. He also must contend with troubles at home.
6"His Own Funeral"11 October 1981 (1981-10-11)
King George dies and trouble looms with the new king's relationship with a divorced woman. Churchill loses popularity due to his support. Hitler occupies the Rhineland and Baldwin's cabinet continues to dawdle in any war preparations.
7"The Long Tide of Surrender"18 October 1981 (1981-10-18)
Baldwin retires and Neville Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister. With Sir Horace Wilson as an aide, appeasement and reduction of defense spending is his policy. Chamberlain flies to Munich to meet with Hitler on Czechoslovakia.
8"What Price Churchill"25 October 1981 (1981-10-25)
Hitler invades Czechoslovakia and then Poland. Chamberlain initially refuses to believe it is war but finally relents under pressure. He offers Churchill a place in the government.


Robert Hardy British actor

Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy was an English actor who had a long career in theatre, film and television. He began his career as a classical actor and later earned widespread recognition for roles such as Siegfried Farnon in the BBC television series All Creatures Great and Small, Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter film series and Winston Churchill in several productions, beginning with the Southern Television series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years. He was nominated for the BAFTA for Best Actor for All Creatures Great and Small in 1980 and Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years in 1982. Aside from acting, Hardy was an acknowledged expert on the medieval English longbow and wrote two books on the subject.

Siân Phillips Welsh actress

Dame Jane Elizabeth Ailwên Phillips,, known professionally as Siân Phillips, is a Welsh actress.

Nigel Havers British actor

Nigel Allan Havers is an English actor. He played Lord Andrew Lindsay in the 1981 British film Chariots of Fire, earning a BAFTA nomination for the role and Tom Latimer in the British TV comedy series Don't Wait Up. He portrayed the role of Lewis Archer in Coronation Street intermittently between 2009 and 2019.


Writing for The New York Times , Walter Goodman noted Hardy "gives a remarkable impersonation of Churchill", but wrote "Unfortunately, the impersonation does not quite rise to full characterization; at moments the mannerisms bury the human being beneath them." He summarized: "... drama-heightening liberties are the indispensable grease to this kind of vehicle; eight hours of speeches about the national peril and the shortage of aircraft could prove wearing even to Churchill buffs. Events and personalities are strained and strained again through the historian, the dramatist, the director, the actors. If the result works as well as it does here, if it does not distort events out of recognizable shape, if it brings the dead to a semblance of life, that is an accomplishment." [2]

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.

Walter Goodman (1927–2002) was a 20th-century American writer and editor for The New York Times, best known for his 1968 expose book The Committee about the House Committee on Un-American Activities,

People magazine panned the series premiere as "an aimless and excruciatingly dull premiere of an eight-part miniseries... the production remains mired in a dramatic desert." [3]

<i>People</i> (magazine) American celebrity and human interest magazine published by Time Inc.

People is an American weekly magazine of celebrity and human-interest stories, published by Meredith Corporation. With a readership of 46.6 million adults, People has the largest audience of any American magazine. People had $997 million in advertising revenue in 2011, the highest advertising revenue of any American magazine. In 2006, it had a circulation of 3.75 million and revenue expected to top $1.5 billion. It was named "Magazine of the Year" by Advertising Age in October 2005, for excellence in editorial, circulation, and advertising. People ranked number 6 on Advertising Age's annual "A-list" and number 3 on Adweek's "Brand Blazers" list in October 2006.

However, in 2016 Mark Lawson was far more favourable in The Guardian , ranking Hardy's portrayal as the second most memorable television representation of Churchill, beaten only by Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm . Lawson wrote: "With an acting style that tends towards the large, loud and posh, Hardy was destined to be one of those actors who seems to have spent almost as much of his life being Churchill as the man himself did. Among Hardy's armful of portrayals, this TV drama musically explores the politician's unusual rhetorical range from whisper to shout." [4]

Mark Gerard Lawson is an English journalist, broadcaster and author. Specialising in culture and the arts, he is best known for presenting the flagship BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row between 1998 and 2014. He is also a Guardian columnist, and presents Mark Lawson Talks To... on BBC Four.

<i>The Guardian</i> British national daily newspaper

The Guardian is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as The Manchester Guardian, and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers The Observer and The Guardian Weekly, the Guardian is part of the Guardian Media Group, owned by the Scott Trust. The trust was created in 1936 to "secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity and to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian free from commercial or political interference". The trust was converted into a limited company in 2008, with a constitution written so as to maintain for The Guardian the same protections as were built into the structure of the Scott Trust by its creators. Profits are reinvested in journalism rather than distributed to owners or shareholders.

Albert Finney British actor

Albert Finney was an English actor who worked in film, television and theatre. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked in the theatre before attaining prominence on screen in the early 1960s, debuting with The Entertainer (1960), directed by Tony Richardson, who had previously directed him in the theatre. He maintained a successful career in theatre, film and television.


Hardy's performance as Churchill won a BAFTA nomination in 1982. Eric Porter as Neville Chamberlain also received praise. The series was nominated for a total of 8 BAFTA awards, namely:


Hardy also portrayed Churchill in The Sittaford Mystery , Bomber Harris and War and Remembrance . At the 50th anniversary celebrations of the end of World War II in 1995, he quoted a number of Churchill's wartime speeches in character.

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  1. 'Pick of the week's television', The Times (London, 4 Sept. 1981), xii.
  2. Goodman, Walter (January 15, 1983). "Churchill: The Wilderness Years". The New York Times . Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  3. "Churchill: The Wilderness Years". People . January 17, 1983. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  4. Lawson, Mark (26 February 2016). "Close but no cigar: TV's Winston Churchills – ranked". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 May 2018.