Winston Churchill’s propaganda chief disguised himself as a schoolboy and had teenage prefects caning him
Winston Churchill’s close friend and propaganda chief disguised himself 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 old when he embarked on his fantasy of becoming “Mike” the schoolboy.
In the mid-1950s, the politician created his own “summer school” on the Isle of Scalpay, near Skye, Scotland, and claimed he had a premature aging disease when he introduced himself as one of the students.
A memoir of David Campbell, 85, who was hired at age 16 as a “prefect” to oversee a misbehaving “Mike,” has revealed the bizarre scam, the Sunday Times reports.
After ‘Mike’ was caught smoking and drinking, prefects were told to administer the cane.
Campbell recalls how he had been “amazed” at having to punish the elderly-looking teenager, writing in his memoir, Minstrel Heart, that the “boy” “never held a grudge” after being beaten.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874 to 1965, left) with Information Minister Brendan Bracken (1901 to 1958), circa 1941
Bracken, the founder of the Financial Times, went to great lengths to authenticate his false identity by forging letters from “guardians,” “lawyers” and an “uncle.”
Campbell writes: ‘He never touched us sexually, although there was clearly an element of masochism. It just seemed like a strange fantasy that we were all being sucked into.’
The charade came to a head after several summers when Bracken, one of Britain’s most successful newspaper publishers with a recognizable red hair, was immediately noticed and called out by a private tutor, Michael Green, who told Campbell to stop this. Sunday Times reports.
Campbell wrote: ‘Part of me was stunned, part’ [had] already started to unravel the cataract of gullibility that had made myself, teachers, comrades, cooks and maids in successive Scottish ‘grand house’ schools ‘part of the masquerade.’
Bracken – who would later become Lord Bracken – was not yet 22 when he knocked over 48-year-old Winston Churchill in 1923.
Brendan Bracken, a noted Conservative politician and Churchill’s wartime minister of information, was 54 years old when he began his fantasy of becoming ‘Mike’
He had already made up a tall tale of his past, claiming to be an Australian orphan educated at an English public school, when in fact he was from Tipperary and the self-taught son of an Irish stonemason with Republican sympathies.
In his early twenties, Bracken worked first as a prep schoolmaster famed for his flogging, then as a junior associate of a publishing house, often throwing smart parties in London and boldly introducing himself to well-known personalities. Some were impressed enough to ask him out for dinner.
One was the editor of The Observer, at whose table Bracken met Churchill. The politician was immediately beaten. “Who is this extraordinary young friend you have hidden away?” he asked the Observer editor, “I’d like to see him again.”
Within days, Bracken found an excuse to visit Churchill at his London home in Sussex Square.
The only obstacle to their friendship was Clemmie, Churchill’s wife, who couldn’t understand why Winston loved Bracken. Because of her animosity, they no longer met in Sussex Square, but in 1923 Churchill moved to Chartwell, where Bracken became a constant visitor.
Bracken House, City of London, the former home of the Financial Times – named after the newspaper’s founder, Brendan Bracken
Clemmie once said, “Mr. Bracken came with the furniture and never left.”
In 1929 Bracken became MP for North Paddington, later becoming one of a trio of Churchill’s henchmen in the 1930s and 1940s.
Bracken was Churchill’s devoted fixer and, when war broke out, his Parliamentary Private Secretary and then Minister of Information, a role for which the 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 by my side, my love.”
A diary Bracken wrote when a young man alluded to the ins and outs of Boy Scouts.
In the new memoir, Campbell claims that Bracken had shown no sexual interest in the students and that he seemed instead to enjoy “crafting drama.”
Campbell, who became a BBC radio producer and storyteller, claims that he was never asked to remain silent about Bracken’s false identity, but that Bracken paid him and his brother his way through college and bought a house for Campbell’s mother in Edinburgh.
Bracken died of throat cancer at age 57, a year after his false schoolboy identity was discovered.