Like many people, as Winston Churchill got older he began to suffer from hearing loss. Records in the government’s archives shed light on this little-known aspect of his life as well as the technology that was installed in the House of Commons chamber to help him work effectively.
Churchill was initially reluctant to admit that his hearing was deteriorating and only had his first hearing aid fitted in 1952, some eight years after his hearing loss was first detected.
The hearing aid was made by a company owned by Russian engineer Alexander Poliakoff. However in 1953 Poliakoff’s contract was ended because MI5 was concerned that Soviet Russia could bug the Prime Minister’s hearing aid to listen in on his conversations! (There’s no evidence to suggest this was true.)
In April 1953, a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Ministry of Works noted that arrangements were being made for ‘the provision of a hearing aid connected with the amplification system in the House of Commons’.
The PM was apparently ‘very pleased with the preliminary trial’ which worked in a similar way to a modern hearing loop. The House of Commons system could pick up the sound of MPs speaking in the chamber and amplified this sound to Churchill’s hearing aid.
In April 1955, Churchill stepped down as PM but remained an MP until 1964. He clearly had difficulty following what was happening in the chamber. A letter from May 1958 requested that that ‘special amplifier, which [Churchill] had as a Prime Minister, be fitted’ in his new seat in the Commons. The system was duly transferred so he could once again benefit from the equipment.
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