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London.- The most public

ised book on Britain is the latest volume in the official biography of Churchill. Martin Gilbert's 'Finest Hour': Winston S. Churchill 1939-1941'.

It's not only in the window of every general bookshop but it was also being given pride of place in the window of a specialist religious book shop in Exeter when I was there the other day.

But in Britain Churchill is a re ligion. Certainly a reviewer would need religious fervour to review the 1,350-page Gilbert book along with the new books on Churchill by Wil liam Manchester and Ted Morgan and then still cry out for more — as

some have done.

The consensus is that Gilbert's book is another tour de force and one which has gained added relevance in the post-Falklands euphoria gripping Britain. As a detached and cynical Australian, however, 1 find it dif ficult to sec any parallel between Churchill's stubborn fight for the . future of Western civilisation and

Thatcher's toy war at the other end of the globe.

One area of publishing that is flourishing in London is women's presses. The output of these all women concerns specialising in feminist works is well displayed in the bookshops and even W. H. Smith is at last beginning to display

feminist books.

London has now five feminist im prints: Virago, Women's Press, Sheba, Onlywomen and Pandora — an imprint controlled by editor Phil ippa Brewster with the backing of Routlcdgc and Kegan Paul.

The biggest, of course, is Virago which in 1982 had a turnover of about £1 million. It was launched six years ago and now publishes about 60 books a year. I am delighted to see that they have added Elizabeth Taylor's wonderful 1961 novel 'In a Summer Season' to their series of modern classics.

The Women's Press was founded five years ago and last year earned its first modest net profit on a turn over of £220,000. Its list of 80 books

is mainly fairly radical feminism, but some unlikely titles have done very well, including Mary Daly's 'Gynecology' and Andrea Dworkin's book on pornography.

Unfortunately, neither of these books has a chance of winning the £40,000 Trask Prize, which is in the news again. That's because the late Betty Trask left a small fortune to endow a prize for romantic fiction.

Philip Howard, in The Times, has been sarcastic about both the prize and romances in general, but they arc not to be ignored. The Daily Mail told the talc the other day of

a true confession of stolen romances.

A 32-year-old sacked librarian confessed in court that she had sto len 483 books, most of them ro mances, while she had worked at 22 branch libraries. "Love was a stranger to the librarian in real life — so she stole it from the shelves which surrounded her," said the Mail.

And it quoted a friend as saying:

"The romantic books were the wall she has built around herself. She reads 20 to 30 of the Mills and Boon sort every week.

"They give what she cannot find in reality. As far as I know she has never had a boyfriend."

A real-life romance which is being rcvaluatcd here is that between Katherine Mansfield and John Mid dleton Murray. He has often been

presented as the heartless partner in that tragic marriage but now that Constable has published his letters to her from the time they met in 1911 until she died of tuberculosis in 1923, it can be seen that he was far from heartless.

The question of heartlessness is also being raised by the revival of Terence Rattigan's play 'The Winslow Boy', at the Lyric, Ham mersmith. Trendies relegated this dramatisation of the Archer Shcc case to the category of well-made but forgettable plays, but I have always admired it.

Having seen Tom Stoppard's 'The Real Thing' and watched the three people in front of me go to sleep in the middle of it, it was easy to see why Rattingan's play wears well.

It is utterly impossible to em pathise with any of Stoppard's cardboard cutouts, or to forgive the long, philosophical monologues. But every character in 'The Winslow Boy' comes to life and all its philosophy is dramatised.

The same can be said, of course of Shakespeare's 'King Lear', which is being given a memorable prod uction by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Lear had half the au dience weeping — and rightly so.

1 see that, following last year's volume by PAV.M. Blayney, yet an other study is about to appear argu ing that the 1609 quarto of Lear and

the 1623 Folio do not derive from a single play, but that the quarto gives the play in the form in which Shakespeare conccivcd it, and that the Folio represents his substantial


Whatever the ease, I find myself troubled, as always, by its ending — more like one from one of Shakespeare's historical chronicles than from one of his great tragedies. Nevertheless, 1 still prefer the won derful RSC production to that of any other play I've seen in the West End.

I'm not the only one here troubled by Shakespeare though. I see that Calvin Hoffman is again attempting to have the Walsingham family tomb opened in an attempt to prove that Christopher Marlowe really wrote Shakespeare's plays. When he last had it opened in 1956 in a search for manuscripts, he was not per mitted to search beyond the lop of

the tomb.

Now his passion for his theory has led to an application to dig deeper. Will the outcome prove to be All's Well That Ends Well? Love's Labour's Lost? Or Much Ado About Nothing? Perhaps it will prove mere ly to be Barefaced Cheek, which is the title of Michael Lcapman's new biography of Rupert Murdoch who is seen here not as a successful entrepreneur but as one of England's enemies in the form of Export