TV and Radio

TV review: Things have improved only for some women

Doris Castlerosse and Winston Churchill on a beach near Chateau de L'Horizon mid-1930s
Billy Foley

Churchill's Secret Affair, Channel 4, Sunday at 8pm

So why, you might ask, does it matter that Winston Churchill had an affair with a glamorous socialite in the years leading up to the war?

It matters to historians because the affair has been hidden for 80 years and it might give some additional insight into the character of one of the great statesmen of the 20th century.

To the rest of us it's immaterial.

Many will view the wartime prime minister as one of his country's greatest ever leaders, regardless of his personal life. The man who identified the dangers of Nazism and Hitler long before the rest of his countrymen and who helped his people hold fast against the tyranny of fascism.

The leader who forged the 'special relationship' with the US and warned, correctly, about the "iron curtain" falling across eastern Europe after the war ended.

Others will point to the disasters of Gallipoli, his condescending attitude to Ireland, dodgy views on race and his poor record in office outside of wartime.

Nonetheless, Churchill's Secret Affair was a brilliant study of a different time.

Much of the film centred on his mistress for a short time, Doris Castlerosse.

A great aunt of model Cara Delevingne, she was a woman who lived on her wits and her looks.

A radical, in the sense that she decided she did not want to spend her life in the domestic straitjacket of the 1930s, she spread her wings through the social scene.

Her biographer described her approach somewhat harshly; she was "not a prostitute, but a mistress of extreme class".

She lived an extremely comfortable life on the money provided to her by her wealthy lovers.

"There is no such thing as an impotent man..." she is said to have remarked, "only an incompetent woman."

Churchill entered her company after she had been dating his son Randolph.

She progressed to the father on a holiday in the south of France in the mid-1930s, where a group stayed in a chateau owned by one of their circle.

The opulence of the chateau is demonstrated by it current owner - the King of Saudi Arabia.

The affair was brief and ended before Churchill returned to Downing Street but they occasionally kept in touch. Churchill helped her return from New York to London during the war when she was down on her luck.

Ultimately Castlerosse couldn't transition to a woman who financed her own way in the world and with her looks fading and wealthy men no longer around, she fell heavily into debt and took her own life in the Dorchester Hotel in December 1942.

It was a insightful but sad tale of a woman trapped by the circumstances of the time.

***

Amazing Hotels, BBC 2, Tuesday at 8pm

Difficult conditions for women were also on display in Amazing Hotels when Giles and Monica visited and worked at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar in Oman.

The hotels is run by 260 staff but only 70 of them are local and of that just six are women.

Muslim practices in the Middle Eastern oil-rich nation mean that women should not be alone with a man outside of their family and that a husband is head of the household by law.

One of Giles's instructors said he was very happy to work with Omani women, but took a different view when Giles asked if he would be happy for his daughter to work at the hotel.

Even in Doris Castelrosse's heyday, more than 80 years ago, women weren't discriminated against like this.

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