Jonathan Fenby tells a revealing story. On May 29, 1958, France seemed on the brink of civil war. The army in Algeria had rebelled against the politicians in Paris. The President (René Coty) had told parliament that the country’s only hope was to “turn towards the most illustrious Frenchman, towards the man who, in the darkest year of our history, was our chief for the reconquest of freedom”. Charles de Gaulle, to whom these remarks referred, left his country house in Colombey-les-deux-Églises to go to Paris. His chauffeur drove so fast that he outran the police escort, which was only able to catch up when the general stopped his car so that he could relieve himself by the side of the road. De Gaulle the myth – the most illustrious Frenchman speeding to the capital to save his country once again – met de Gaulle the man – an elderly, retired soldier with a weak bladder.
more from Richard Vinen at the TLS here.