JOHN CARTER visits the Churchill War Rooms – the setting for Oscar-tipped film Darkest Hour – on a weekend in London

TO MY mind he’s our greatest ever Briton, but Sir Winston Churchill wouldn’t have tolerated me for one moment.

You see, our wartime leader hated unnecessary noise. He needed silence and time to think as he plotted the downfall of the Germans.

Woe betide anyone who interrupted one of his afternoon naps, so crucial to a man who thought nothing of working 20 hours a day as he attempted to outwit Hitler’s Nazis. Even his private secretaries were asked to work on silent typewriters shipped in especially from America.

But it was the ‘No whistling’ signs which really had me pondering how difficult it must have been to match up to our military leader’s exacting standards. I love a good whistle, me. There’s nothing better than starting the day with a good, old whistle in the shower, or trilling a harmonic tune along with the radio.

Just ask my poor, long-suffering partner, who accompanied me on our fact-finding trip to the Churchill War Rooms.

I’m sure she’d have happily swiped one of those ‘No whistling’ signs straight off the wall if she thought it would have worked.

Both of us were eager to soak up more Churchill knowledge having been mesmerised by Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Darkest Hour. Oldman surely deserves to land the best actor award when the Oscars are announced on March 4, but just how close was his performance to the great man?

We knew, of course, that Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace and buried just outside the gates at Bladon. But was he really so impetuous? So hard on his staff? So unsure of himself?

Churchill War Rooms, located in Westminster just a stone’s throw from 10 Downing Street, provided the answer to these questions and more.

From the film, set in 1940 in the days following Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister, I expected the war rooms to be set deep beneath the capital, an impenetrable fortress designed to protect our wartime leaders.

Instead, take one flight of stairs underground and you’re among the warren of rooms where Churchill, his Cabinet and army of staff worked day and night to nullify the Nazis and eventually bring about the greatest of victories.

Even the great man himself realised it wasn’t the safest of buildings from which to mastermind his military operation, later ordering 1.5m thick concrete reinforcements in an effort to make it bomb-proof.

To add to the atmosphere, the war rooms remain virtually untouched from the moment staff packed up the day after the surrender of Japan in August 1945. Even the sugar lumps left behind by a Royal Air Force officer, Wing Commander John Heagerty, remain on a desk in the map room.

Alongside these rooms, the Imperial War Museum has developed a fascinating interactive tribute to Churchill, taking visitors on a journey from his birth to military rise, ousting as Prime Minister despite his wartime heroics, rise again as one of the world’s most popular speakers, and finally his grand state funeral.

From heart-breaking letters begging his parents to visit him at boarding school to his famous velvet ‘onesie’, there is much to make you warm to a man to whom we have so much to be thankful today.


WE’VE made mistakes in the past by trying to cram too much into a visit to the capital.

The Churchill War Rooms were a must on our schedule this time, as was an outing to Queen’s Theatre to see Les Miserables (a Christmas present to my partner who cries pretty much non-stop from the first bars of Look Down to the close of Valjean’s Death).

But while I was happy to gen up on Churchill and the French Revolution, I needed this weekend for some rest and relaxation. A touch of pampering, if you like.

Where better to stay than the luxurious Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel, in the heart of Belgravia, where making guests feel like kings and queens is second nature?

Opened in 1961, this five-star hotel oozes class. Its charming staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and, having been shown to our suite on the 11th floor, I knew I’d found the perfect retreat to refresh and revitalise from the rigours of a tough week at work.

We couldn’t wait to try out the 20-metre stainless steel swimming pool with its skylight views, while the jacuzzi and steam room were perfect after completing the obligatory 20 lengths.

The state-of-the-art gym and fitness studio on the ninth floor looked impressive enough, but our view from two floors above was the closest I wanted to be!

Having been wrung out by the emotional rollercoaster that is Les Miserables, the sight of a heart made from rose petals on our bed when we got back couldn’t have been more perfect.

The hotel’s location could not be better, either. Everywhere you turn, whether towards Sloane Square in one direction or Harrods in the other, you’re surrounded by foreign embassies, designer boutiques and flashy sports cars I can only dream of.

We decided to work off the excesses of the night before – and a mightily-impressive full English breakfast – by walking to Churchill’s War Rooms. Strolling past Buckingham Palace and along Birdcage Walk we were there in no time at all. And as we ambled back through St James’ Park on our return to the hotel, my partner mused “London’s beautiful, isn’t it? When you get away from all the crowds and really look at the buildings, it’s such a lovely place.”

I was too busy staring at the Lamborghini that had just roared past…


  • Jumeirah Carlton Tower offers 216 guest rooms and suites, many with stunning views across London. A superior room costs from £450 in high season and £342 in low season. Last month its Rib Room Bar and Restaurant launched a new Sunday roast lunch including a complimentary Red Snapper cocktail and a free ride home in the hotel’s Mini Clubman. Visit
  • Churchill War Rooms in London, as featured in Darkest Hour, is open daily. Adult admission costs £21 or £18.90 online; child (5-15) £10.50 or £9.45 online; concessions £16.80 or £15.10 online. A family ticket (two adults/two children) is £53.55 or £48.20 online. Visit