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The Papers of Sir John Colville

Reference Code: GBR/0014/CLVL

Scope and Contents

The material held at Churchill Archives Centre mainly consists of Colville's diaries. They provide an insight into the decision-making of three Prime Ministers and the meetings held with other top officials, as well as the lives of key figures during World War II, and its aftermath.


  • Creation: 1939 - 1987


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Sir John Colville was born 28 January 1915, he was the son of the Honourable George Colville and Lady Cynthia Colville. He was educated at Harrow and went on to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1948 he married Lady Margaret Egerton, with whom he had two sons and one daughter. They lived in Hampshire. Sir John (Jock) Colville was Assistant Private Secretary to three Prime Ministers, Neville Chamberlain, 1939-40, Winston Churchill, 1940-41 and 1943-45, and Clement Attlee, 1945. Although he should not have done so, Colville kept a diary from 1939 - 1957, parts of which have been published ("The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939 - 1955"). He served in World War II as a Pilot in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), 1941-44. He served as Private Secretary to the then Princess Elizabeth, 1947-49 and was Joint Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, 1951-55. He was an Executive Director of Hill Samuel Ltd, 1955-80. Colville was instrumental in raising funding for the establishment of Churchill College as a national memorial to Sir Winston Churchill and was made an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1971. He was joint honorary secretary of the Other Club for many years. Colville was a Trustee of both Sir Winston and Lady Churchill's estates. At various times in his life he was Company Director of the Provident Life Association, the London Committee, the Ottoman Bank, and Eucalyptus Pulp Mills Ltd. He was knighted in 1974, having previously been awarded the CB in 1955, and the CVO in 1949. Sir John Colville died in November 1987. Colville wrote or contributed to a number of books including "Fools’ Pleasure", 1935; He contributed to "Action This Day-Working with Churchill", 1968; "Man of Valour: Field Marshal Lord Gort V.C.", 1972; "Footprints in Time", 1976; "The New Elizabethans", 1977; "The Portrait of a General", 1980; "The Churchillians", 1981; "Strange Inheritance", 1983; and a posthumous publication: "Those Lambtons!", 1988.


6 archive box(es) : paper

Language of Materials



The papers have been arranged in three series: diaries, speeches, and writings.

Other Finding Aids

The collection has been catalogued and copies of the catalogue are available at Churchill Archives Centre and The Historical Manuscripts Commission.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Sir John Colville deposited his manuscript diaries at Churchill Archives Centre in October 1980. The remainder of the collection was deposited by his widow Lady Margaret Colville in February 1989.

Related Materials

The papers of Sir Winston Churchill are held at Churchill Archives Centre.


Colville's diaries (ref. CLVL 1) have been partially published in "The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939 - 1955", (1985).


This collection (fonds) level description was prepared by Louise King of Churchill Archives Centre on 30 May 2001. Additional information was obtained from Sir John Colville's entry in Who Was Who, 1897 - 1996, The Daily Telegraph, 21 November 1987, Obituaries.


Colville, Sir John Rupert, 1915 - 1987, Knight, civil servant

2002-01-10 09:20:31+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087