The origins of the Churchill Memorial Concerts

The original Churchill Memorial Concert was the result of coincidence. Dr Clive Muncaster, a composer and music teacher in a number of Oxfordshire schools, was interested to see if music-making which required no previous knowledge of music (which was effectively being carried out with a number of children of primary school age) could be used as therapy. In conjunction with the Warneford Psychiatric Hospital, where he worked as a volunteer, he conducted some experiments, but he lacked the necessary musical instruments. He therefore decided to establish his own charity to raise the money needed.

Dr Muncaster’s brother, Martin, was a newscaster for the BBC when Sir Winston Churchill died, on 24th January 1965. It was his task to read out over the airwaves the many tributes that day which poured in from world leaders. This date was also the birthday of his brother Clive, who conceived the idea of holding a memorial concert to Sir Winston at Blenheim Palace, his birthplace, to commemorate him and at the same time to raise money for Music Therapy, his new charity. The first concert, in 1966, was arranged on a date as close as possible to the first anniversary of Sir Winston’s death, with Martin Muncaster re-reading the world tributes.

The first concert proved a success, so the decision was taken to repeat it every year, and from 1968 a speaker with a personal knowledge, or special understanding of Sir Winston has been invited to give a tribute in the form of a lecture. This format has continued ever since.