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Winston Churchill, 1929-55

2. Becoming Prime Minister, 1939-40

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about how Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, focusing in particular on: (i) Churchill's return to government in September 1939 as First Lord of the Admiralty; (ii) the German occupation of Denmark and invasion of Norway in April 1940, and the subsequent Norway Debate in the House of Commons; (iii) the criticism directed at Neville Chamberlain, Labour's decision to 'divide the house', i.e. force a vote on the issue, and the result of the vote; (iv) Chamberlain's attempt to form a new coalition government with Labour and Liberal participation, and their refusal to serve if he remained as Prime Minister; (v) the two potential successors to Chamberlain – Churchill and Lord Halifax – and the reason Churchill prevailed; and (vi) Germany's invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940, the very day that Churchill became Prime Minister.


In this course, Professor Richard Toye (University of Exeter) explores the career of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill between 1929-55. In the first module, we think the decade between 1929-39 in which Churchill was out of government, what he called his 'wilderness years', focusing in particular on Churchill's views on India and the rise of Nazi Germany, and ending with his return to government as First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939. In the second module, we think about how Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, before turning in the third module to his performance as Prime Minister during the Second World War. In the fourth module, we think about why Churchill and the Conservatives suffered such as a heavy defeat in the 1945 general election, before turning in the fifth module to think about what Churchill did next. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about how Churchill and Conservatives managed to return to power in 1951, and Churchill's performance during his second ministry between 1951-55.


Prof. Richard Toye is Professor in the History department at the University of Exeter. He is a historian of Britain in its global and imperial context in the period from the late nineteenth century to the present day, and is particularly interested in the rhetorical dimensions of politics, economics and empire. He is the author of several monographs, including The Labour Party and the Planned Economy, 1931-1951 (2003), Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956 (2017), and Winston Churchill: A Life in the News (2020).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Toye, R. (2021, March 21). Winston Churchill, 1929-55 - Becoming Prime Minister, 1939-40 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Toye, R. "Winston Churchill, 1929-55 – Becoming Prime Minister, 1939-40." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Mar 2021,