Churchill stroke was kept secret

LONDON -- Sir Winston Churchill suffered a stroke when he was prime minister in 1953, but it was kept a closely guarded secret from the public and even cabinet ministers, according to government papers released Sunday.

The papers were released under a policy that allows all but the most secret documents to be accessible to historians after 30 years.


The documents showed Churchill, then 78, suffered a stroke in the summer of 1953.

His doctor and a leading neurologist drew up a medical bulletin hinting at what had happened, but two senior cabinet colleagues who were consulted changed the statement to keep the illness secret.

The original bulletin said: 'The prime minister has had no respite for a long time from his arduous duties and there has developed a disturbance of the cerebral circulation which has resulted in attacks and giddiness.'

But the cabinet ministers, R.A. Butler and Lord Salisbury, deleted the references to the brain and giddiness and redrafted the statement to say simply: 'The prime minister has had no respite for a long time from his arduous duties and is in need of a complete rest.'

Butler, who became acting prime minister, even kept the news from his cabinet colleagues, cabinet papers showed.


The cover-up worked. Churchill's press secretary reported five days after the illness that 'there is no suggestion the prime minister is suffering from any specific ailment.'

Within a month, he was filmed leaving Downing Street and nobody guessed the truth about his illness. Churchill continue as prime minister until 1955.

The records showed his stroke delayed key meetings. For example, an important summit in Bermuda with President Dwight Eisenhower to discuss ways of improving east-west relations was postponed for six months.

Churchill died in 1965.

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