Finest Hour 135, Summer 2007
Riddles, Mysteries, Enigmas – Basic English
Q: We have an enquiry about a book or pamphlet by Churchill about “Plain English.” Is he thinking of something by Ogden? —Linne Omissi, Senior Librarian, Jersey Library, St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands, UK
A: Right you are! Basic (not “Plain”) English, the invention of C.K. Ogden (1889-1957), attracted Churchill’s attention during WW2. It was intended not for English speakers, but for foreigners, whom Churchill thought (rather presciently, as it turned out) would benefit from being able to “get by” in what he saw as the up-and-coming world language. He discussed it during his speech on Anglo-American Unity at Harvard University in 1943. Churchill wrote no pamphlet or essay, but if you click on our website search feature and enter “Basic English,” you will find many references to the subject. The first is an abstract of a piece about Ogden, Churchill and the concept.
Roosevelt took a dim view of Basic English. When WSC recommended printing the Atlantic Charter agreement in B.E. as well as its original form, FDR replied: “I wonder what the course of history would have been if in May 1940 you had been able to offer the British people only blood, work, eye water and face water, which I understand is the best that Basic English can do with the five famous words?”
Q: Did Churchill have a tattoo of an xanchor on his left forearm?
A: We hear rumors, but find no evidence. The closest to any skin marking is his reference to having given skin for a grafting of a fellow soldier, Dick Molyneux, in Cairo. John Seigal had an opportunity of raising the question with Lady Soames at the 2006 ICS (UK) Churchill birthday reception. Somewhat bemused, she recalled the scar, but no tattoo.
Q: At the Cabinet War Rooms in London, close to Churchill’s bedroom, is a room with the name plate “Stenhouse.” Who was this person? —D.A. Bailey (email@example.com)
A: Margaret Stenhouse worked in Churchill’s secretarial pool at 10 Downing Street. One of Churchill’s private secretaries, Sir John Martin, wrote in his memoirs: “I was given a kind and reassuring welcome by the Principal Private Secretary, Eric Seal, and ‘Mags’ Stenhouse, the head of the permanent staff of assistants in the Prime Minister’s office (to whose expert knowledge, wisdom and splendid leadership of ‘the Girls’ so much was due in the coming years), and spent my first day at No. 10 being introduced to my new colleagues and my duties.” (John Martin: Downing Street: The War Years , London: Bloomsbury, 1991, 3-4.) Another Private Secretary wrote of “the admirable Miss Stenhouse who had been on the scene almost as long as Miss Watson [another secretary].” (John Colville, The Churchillians , London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981, 52.)
Q: aWould anyone recall the name aof Churchill’s pet bulldog?
A: a Churchill bought a bulldog for a£10 in September 1891 when he was at Harrow. It was a bitch of good pedigree, called “Dods,” nick-named “Dodo.” His idea was to get whelps from her which he could sell for 30/- each. See Randolph Churchill, Winston S. Churchill , Companion Volume I, 274-77; and Richard Hough, Winston and Clementine (London: Bantam Press, 1990) 45.
Q: Churchilltrivia Questions 481 aand 733, posted on your website, seem to credit two different people with inspiring Churchill’s interest in painting: Gwendeline Churchill and Lady Lavery. Which is it? —Neil Scott
A: Both answers are correct. Both aGwendeline, (Churchill’s sister-in-law, aka “Goonie”), and Lady Lavery can be credited with encouraging Churchill to paint. In June 1915 WSC went to Hoe Farm to get away from the misery of loss of office. On 19 June he wrote to his brother Jack: “It really is a delightful valley & the garden gleams with summer jewelry. We live vy simply—but with all the essentials of life well understood & well provided for—hot baths, cold champagne, new peas & old brandy.”
On Sunday 20 June, Gwendeline lent Winston her son’s watercolour paints because she thought this would cheer him up. Churchill soon found out that concentrating on the art of transferring subjects to a canvas, in the words of his private secretary Edward Marsh, “was a distraction and a sedative that brought a measure of ease to his frustrated spirit.”
On Friday 25 June WSC bought himself an easel, plus all the paraphernalia for painting in oils. A week later on 2 July, still at Hoe Farm, he experimented with oils for the first time. What happened next was memorably described by Churchill in an article published in The Strand in December 1921, subsequently reprinted in Thoughts and Adventures and later as a book, Painting as a Pastime (1948):
So very gingerly I mixed a little blue paint on the palette with a very small-brush, and then with infinite precaution made a mark about as big as a bean upon the affronted snow-white shield…. At that moment the loud approaching sound of a motor-car was heard in the drive. From this chariot there stepped swiftly and lightly none other than the gifted wife of Sir John Lavery. ‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush—the big one.’ Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish on the palette—clean no longer —and then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas. Anyone could see that it could not hit back. No evil fate avenged the jaunty violence. The canvas grinned in helplessness before me. The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with Berserk fury. I have never felt any awe of a canvas since. —JL