Only a matter of hours before Hitler unleashed his Blitzkrieg on the West, four men met in the Cabinet room at No 10, Downing Street, to decide who should be Britain’s war leader. Virulent and mounting personal opposition in the House of Commons had forced Neville Chamberlain to realize that he could no continue as prime minister. He and David Margesson, the Government Chief Whip, had therefore convened a meeting for 4.30pm on Thursday 9th May 1940 to decide upon a successor.

The two contenders, Edward, Lord Halifax and Winston Churchill, could not have been more different. Halifax, the foreign secretary, was a calm, rational man of immense personal presitige and gravitas, his career an uninterrupted tale of achievement and promotion. He had also for some time seemed to be Chamberlain’s heir apparent. Across the Cabinet table sat Churchill, the romantic and excitable adventurer, whose life was aBoy’s Own story of cavalry charges, prison escapes and the thirst for action.

Both Chamberlain and King George VI wanted Halifax. The Government wanted Halifax. The great majority of National Government MPs wanted Halifax. The Times, The City, the House of Lords and Whitehallall wanted Halifax. Opposition leaders had indicated that they would prefer him and even Churchill himself had told friends that he too would serve under him.

The Churchill family’s nickname for Halifax played on his fondness for High Church services and hunting, which making a rather weak pun on his title. But it became popular in Westminster and Whitehall because it also pointed to something deeper; that for all his pious and patrician reputation, Halifax was as wily and quick-witted as any of his opponents. These were no bad faculties to possess in facing the dictators of the 1930s and, although intended pejoratively, Halifax should have rejoiced in his nickname. This is the story of ‘The Holy Fox’.