Winston Churchill’s close friend and propaganda chief masqueraded as a 16-year-old schoolboy and hired other teenagers to cane him, a new memoir claims.
Brendan Bracken, a noted Conservative politician and Churchill’s wartime minister of information, was 54 years of age when he embarked on his fantasy to become ‘Mike’ the schoolboy.
Creating his own ‘summer school’ on the island of Scalpay, near Skye, Scotland, in the mid 1950’s, the politician claimed to have a premature ageing condition when he introduced himself as one of the students.
A memoir by David Campbell, 85, who at age 16 was hired as a ‘prefect’ to supervise a misbehaving ‘Mike’, has revealed the bizarre con, the Sunday Times reports.
After ‘Mike’ was caught smoking and drinking prefects were told to administer the cane.
Campbell recalls how he had been ‘surprised’ that he was required to chastise the elderly looking teenager, writing in his memoir, Minstrel Heart, that the ‘boy’ ‘never evinced any grudge’ after being hit.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874 to 1965, left) with Minister of Information Brendan Bracken (1901 to 1958), circa 1941
Bracken, who had founded the Financial Times, went to many lengths to authenticate his false identity, forging letters from ‘guardians’, ‘lawyers’ and an ‘uncle’.
Campbell writes: ‘He never, ever touched any of us in a sexual way, although there was clearly an element of masochism. It just seemed to be this strange fantasy we were all sucked into.’
The charade came tumbling down after several summers when Bracken, who was one of Britain’s most successful newspaper publishers with recognisably red hair, was immediately spotted and called out by a private tutor, Michael Green, who told Campbell ‘this has to stop’, The Sunday Times reports.
Campbell wrote: ‘Part of me was stunned, part [had] already begun to unpeel the cataract of credulity that had let myself, tutors, companions, cooks and housemaids in successive Scottish grand house ‘schools’ become part of the masquerade.’
Bracken – later becoming Lord Bracken – was not yet 22 when he swept 48-year-old Winston Churchill off his feet in 1923.
Brendan Bracken, a noted Conservative politician and Churchill’s wartime minister of information, was 54 years of age when he embarked on his fantasy to become ‘Mike’
He had already fabricated a tall story about his past, claiming to be an Australian orphan educated at an English public school, when in fact he was from Tipperary and the self-educated son of an Irish stonemason of republican sympathies.
In his early 20s, while serving first as a prep-school master who was famed for his flogging, then as a junior employee of a publishing firm, Bracken used to gatecrash smart parties in London and boldly introduce himself to well-known personalities. Some were sufficiently impressed to ask him to dinner.
One was the editor of the Observer, at whose table Bracken met Churchill. The politician was immediately smitten. ‘Who is this extraordinary young friend you’ve been hiding away?’ he asked the Observer editor, ‘I would like to see him again.’
Within days, Bracken found an excuse to visit Churchill at his London house in Sussex Square.
The only obstacle to their friendship was Churchill’s wife Clemmie, who could not understand why Winston liked Bracken. Because of her hostility, they ceased to meet in Sussex Square, but during 1923 Churchill moved into Chartwell, where Bracken became a constant visitor.
Bracken House, City of London, the former home of the Financial Times – named after the paper’s founder Brendan Bracken
Clemmie once said: ‘Mr Bracken arrived with the furniture and he never left.’
In 1929 Bracken became MP for North Paddington, later becoming one of a trio of Churchill’s henchmen in the Thirties and Forties.
Bracken was Churchill’s devoted fixer and, when war came, his parliamentary private secretary and then minister for information, a role to which this great fantasist and fixer was ideally suited.
Churchill appointed him First Lord of the Admiralty in 1945, then asked him to serve with him again in 1951, saying: ‘I want you beside me, my dear.’
A diary Bracken wrote as a young man hinted at goings-on involving Boy Scouts.
In the new memoir Campbell claims Bracken had shown no interest in the students sexually and that instead he appeared to enjoy ‘the manufacture of drama’.
Campbell, who became a BBC radio producer and story teller, claims he was never asked to keep quiet about the fake identity by Bracken – but that Bracken had paid him and his brother’s way through university and bought a house for Campbell’s mother in Edinburgh.
Bracken died aged 57 from throat cancer, a year after his fake schoolboy identity was found out.