Why Winston Churchill’s baths can be good for business

Published on 26 May 2020 by Adam Leigh

I have lovely shoes. Loads of them.

This is primarily due to my role as a NED for Oliver Sweeney, a marvellous brand of elegant footwear.  Twice a year, like Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’, I swan into our Covent Garden Store and select my free pair with alacrity. Brogues, Chelsea Boots, Penny Loafers, hand-painted, calves’ leather, mahogany, navy and tan. You name it, I have got it available to beautify my stubby little feet.

They are all sadly languishing in my cupboard gathering dust, as like the rest of the population, my working life requires no formality, with trainers as the consistent shoe of choice. My suits wilt sadly on their hangers begging to enjoy the good weather. Ironing a crisp shirt? The skill of a bygone age.

My sartorial update, interesting as it is, simply reflects that change and disruption heralds new patterns of behaviour. The most exciting of which I believe is the dismantling of conventional professional routines.

Let me illustrate this by reference to our nation’s greatest leader at a time of crisis – Winston Churchill. A Victorian, imperialist and aristocrat, undoubtedly. But also, an individual who did not conform to the practices of his time.

His wartime routine varied little.

He was woken at 8.00 am, brought the papers, followed by a substantial breakfast. After this, he would light a cigar, prop himself up on pillows wearing elbow pads and dictate letters or make phone calls. This would be followed by a bath and elaborate personal hygiene programme. He would be dressed by his valet and then adjourn for a hearty lunch, followed by a mandatory nap and then another bath.

There were few boundaries. His most senior military commanders would visit him whilst in the bathroom. The most famous occasion was when during a Christmas visit to the United States in 1941, President Franklin D Roosevelt called on him in his White House quarters and found him naked after his bath, pacing about the room giving dictation. The President made to leave, but Churchill stopped him with the line: ‘’You see, Mr President, I have nothing to hide from you.” It was a diplomatic coup. FDR’s secretary, Grace Tully, spoke of the President later “chuckling like a small boy” over the sight of Churchill “pink and white all over.”

He also believed in the benefits of innovation to free up his time. He was a pioneer of electric razors and developed his own teeth cleaning apparatus to squirt water in his mouth, thereby reducing the acrid taste of cigars.  Perhaps most famously, during the war he designed a pair of overalls made from different materials, hand-made in Savile Row by Turnbull & Asser. He called it a ‘siren suit’ although everyone else referred to it as his ‘rompers’. Like his razor and dental equipment, it was a labour-saving device as his recent biographer Andrew Roberts records “time dressing and undressing was less time spent on the war.”

What is so compelling about Churchill is despite the enormity of his job, he refused to eliminate pleasure from his life, nor work with a structure that did not suit him. With the benefits of naps and lengthy baths, his daily energy levels allowed him to work consistently into the early hours.

So, if you are a fan of restorative and regular bathing, you should perhaps think of boosting the wifi in your bathroom, although make sure you have lots of bubbles if you are on a Zoom call. 

Liberation has arrived. Last week, Steve Rowe CEO of M&S reported “We are barely selling any suits and the number of ties I could probably count on one hand.” With informality will come much greater creativity.

Consider yourself able to express individuality not conform to the expectations of tradition. Decide from these last few weeks where you have been happiest and most constructive.  Above all, be inspired by Churchill in the bath. His speeches and oratory in parliament immortalised his leadership. But splashing around in the tub is where he did his best thinking.

We have to cling to the feeling of positivity that has come with waking up a few minutes later and not having the grind of the school run followed by a commute. We will work harder if we work less.  We will work more creatively if we work differently and on our own terms.  We have set a precedent for the effectiveness of change therefore encourage your organisation not to go back to its old ways.

In the meantime, I am off to polish my redundant collection of Italian formal shoes. We have some fabulous offers at www.oliversweeney.com, so check them out. Well, business is business after all.