LIVING WITH CHURCHILL WAS never dull. As I wrote and researched Churchill 1940-1945: Under Friendly Fire I was constantly taken aback, even after 40 years of studying the man, by the scale of his amazing humanity, his vigour and enthusiasm. He was larger than life but abundantly comprehensible. He was fun for a biographer to be with – he even invaded my dreams.
The book I've just written is a narrative of Churchill's time as war leader in which I analyse the opposition that he faced from those from whom support might have been expected: his own party, the generals, the Free French, the Americans, even his wife.
Some of these elements of dissent have been analysed individually. What emerged as I brought them together and researched them further was how they coalesced to allow him only the briefest period of unrestricted power.
The reality is very different from the picture that Churchill himself painted in his history of the war: one nation united in a heroic struggle.
I was surprised to find just how tenuous was his grasp of power. His weakness was airbrushed out of the record, but privately he was well aware of it: "I am like a bomber pilot. I go out night after night, and I know that one night I will not return."
In fact it was only after the First Battle of El Alamein in November 1942 that he was secure.
And by the time of the Teheran Conference at the end of 1943 he was a relatively negligible figure in the alliance. The intervening period of just a year is the brief parabola on which the legend rests.
By the end of the war even his own party was attacking him again. Those who had been weak over Munich felt bold enough to attack him, of all people, for being weak about Yalta.
The reality of America, too, was very different from the cousinly solidarity of the sanitised record. Roosevelt was ambivalent. He allowed Churchill to believe that he would find a way into the war, but again and again he hung back. Lend-lease was not, as Churchill would write, "the most unsordid act in the history of any nation".
It was designed to further American foreign and trade policy, and Britain paid a commercial rate of interest on the loan, only making the last payment in December 2007. Churchill was horrified by America's avarice.
When a ship was sent to collect British gold bullion as collateral, he said it was "like a sheriff collecting the last assets of helpless debtor". It was very far from the magnanimity that was so much part of Churchill's character.
He could rise above that, but he was crushed by America's failure to join with him in opposing Russian expansionism as the war ended. I was saddened to find just how much he was burdened by a sense of deep foreboding about the prospect of a further war, even more terrible than that which was ending. For the rest of his life he was often attended by a sense of failure.
The cameo that moved me most was a picture of Churchill in old age, at table.
He despairingly complained that all his life had been a failure. "I have worked hard all my life, but what have I achieved? Nothing." The tragedy is that he was so reduced. The triumph is what he achieved in the face of such opposition.
• Churchill 1940-1945: Under Friendly Fire by Walter Reid is published by Birlinn, priced 25
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