Rare Recordings of Churchill Recently Discovered
6 July 2013: Historian Andrew Roberts hosted an edition of BBC Radio 4’s “Archive on Four” titled “Churchill’s Secret Cabinet” which presented to the public extracts of rare recordings of Churchill speeches recently discovered at the Churchill Archive Centre. The recordings preserved on fragile discs made of shellac and lacquoer were found in a cabinet that sat for many years in the dining room at Chartwell. The polished mahogany cabinet, about 3 feet high and two feet wide, was moved to the Churchill Archive Centre nearly twenty years ago. Only recently though did archivists look into the cabinet and examine the contents. Among discs containing Churchill’s favorite sort of music (Gilbert & Sullivan, Noel Coward, Music-Hall ditties) rested 43 recordings of Churchill himself, a number of which appear to be unique.
The Cabinet is believed to have been presented to Churchill by HMV in the 1940s, but the contents include discs made both before and after this time. Archivists are carefully digitizing the fast-deteriorating discs some of which perhaps are already beyond reclamation. One of the most exciting discoveries appears to be the earliest known recording of Churchill’s voice. On the disc, which likely dates from 1910, Churchill can be heard defending “The People’s Budget” that triggered a general election. Another rarity thought unique is a home recording of a broadcast Churchill made to the United States in 1934 in which he discusses the leadership of President Roosevelt.
There are two excellent examples of Churchill speaking to live audiences in which he displays his famous wit. In the first, Churchill speaks during the war to the pilots at RAF Biggin Hill about his own dodgy efforts at learning to fly. What commentators are describing as “the jewell in the collection”, however, is a 1952 recording of Churchill addressing a gathering of HM Tax Collectors. Having just been returned to Downing Street, Churchill told his audience, “We’re all relying on your assistance to extract more and more money from those who guilessly voted us into office.”
In the program Andrew Roberts interviews both Piers Brendon and Allen Packwood, past and present keepers of the Churchill Archives, about the significance of the discovery. Robert Hardy, who has portrayed Churchill more often than any other actor, analyzes Churchill’s speaking style, and Churchill’s grandchildren Nicholas Soames and Celia Sandys share their memories.