What are “The Winston Hours”?

Where did the name of my blog come from? If you think it’s a reference to Winston Churchill, you’re absolutely correct.

I came across the phrase while reading a book on President Franklin D. Roosevelt (which I can no longer find…I know it’s on my bookshelf, I just can’t figure out which book I found it in.) I thought the story was entertaining and the phrase just hit my ear so nicely.

The phrase was coined by someone in the Roosevelt White House. I’ve read that it was first uttered by Eleanor Roosevelt but I’ve also read that a member of the White House staff came up with it. So while I can’t say who created this phrase, I can confidently say that it was used to describe Churchill’s erratic schedule and FDR’s attempts to keep the same schedule when the men were together.

Churchill liked to stay up late, making it so he’d wake up late the following morning. According to Eleanor, Churchill’s daily schedule while at the White House looked something like this:

  • Have breakfast delivered at 9 AM
  • Wake up and actually eat breakfast around 11 AM
  • Work with Roosevelt, or by himself, until after lunch
  • Take a two-hour nap, waking up around 5 PM
  • Eat dinner
  • Get to the “real work” after dinner, staying up until 2 or 3 AM

Roosevelt tried to keep a similar schedule but this was nothing like his usual day-to-day. Roosevelt was an avid bird watcher and liked to wake up at “ungodly hours” to do so (Eleanor wrote that he never invited Churchill to bird watch with him, probably because he knew Churchill wouldn’t like getting up at that hour.) After Churchill left, Roosevelt would spend days recovering from “keeping the Winston hours.” Apparently, he’d sleep 10 hours a night for three days trying to get back on his normal schedule.

Eleanor repeatedly hinted that this schedule wasn’t good for him and he needed his rest but Roosevelt wouldn’t listen. Aside from being leaders of the two most powerful members of the Allied powers, they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company (see point 8 in the telegram below).

rooseveltandchurchill

Telegram from Roosevelt to Churchill, January 1942. Image via FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

So “the Winston hours” refers to Churchill’s unconventional work schedule and President Roosevelt’s struggle to accommodate the Prime Minister. I’m unsure if Churchill kept a similar schedule at home or if the 5 hour time difference between London and DC had something to do with it. Either way, I loved the phrase and decided to start this blog because I desperately needed A) something that would allow me to use my education and B) something to name “the Winston hours.”

Oh, and I know what you’re thinking. It was Winston Churchill. Surely they were enjoying a few drinks during these late nights. And you’re absolutely right. Churchill enjoyed dry martinis (although he was not a fan of Roosevelt’s dry martinis), Johnnie Walker Red, champagne, or a good brandy. But it was the strange hours that were taxing on Roosevelt, not the drinking. He was a drinker in his own right, preferring the aforementioned martini and various dark rum cocktails.


Sources 

All images via the Franklin D. Roosevelt President Library and Museum
Churchill at the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt
How to Drink Like Winston Churchill by Warren Dockter
In the Darkest Days of World War II, Winston Churchill’s Visit to the White House Brought Hope to Washington by Erick Trickey

 

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