May 23, 2013

Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010

Page 33

Riddles, Mysteries, Enigmas

The Trouble with Audio Speeches

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I’m analysing recordings of Churchill’s speeches for an academic paper, and finding many paragraphs left out. It’s especially evident in the “Finest Hour” speech of 18 June 1940, where only a fifth of the text made it to the audio. Were the audio files full radio speeches or just excerpts? —N.K., Copenhagen

Most of these audios are postwar recording of speeches Churchill made for HMV/Decca, which were edited and truncated in later versions now available on CD. However, the June 18th speech was rebroadcast in full by Churchill that evening over the BBC, and it’s the broadcast you hear, albeit only excerpts.

The Levenger Press book, The Making of the Finest Hour, includes a CD containing the full broadcast, taken from the BBC archives. But many Churchill speech CDs, and LPs before them, contained only excerpts. Some of these were taken from actual BBC broadcasts, but quite a few were recorded by Churchill years later.

No recordings were permitted in the House of Commons in Churchill’s time, leaving us with two inferior possibilities: later broadcast versions over the BBC (on the occasions when he made them) or in some cases his postwar recordings. Both of which, said those who heard them in the Commons, lack the fire of the originals. The House of Commons was his favored venue; any lesser medium tended to bore him.

Sir Robert Rhodes James, in “Leading Churchill Myths: ‘An Actor Read His Speeches over the Wireless,'” Finest Hour 92, posted on the Churchill Centre website, commented:

“Problems then arise from the records, Harold Nicolson lamenting that it was necessary to bully Churchill into broadcasting, and, referring to a June 18th broadcast, ‘he just sulked and read his House of Commons speech over again.’

“Nicolson was Information Minister at the time,” Rhodes James continued. “Churchill never liked broadcasting [and disliked television even more than he did radio]. But there is no evidence whatever that he was replaced by anyone, and speech researchers have confirmed this.”

LeVien’s “The Valiant Years”

Would you happen to have any inside information on when, if ever, the BBC will release “The Valiant Years” documentary in DVD format? Various rumors continue to circulate on the Internet but there doesn’t appear to be any source with definitive information.

It has been in the thoughts of many to reproduce Jack Le Vien’s famous documentary. This should not be confused with a shorter Le Vien production, “The Finest Hours” (narrated by Orson Welles), which has been reproduced on a commercial CD. The twenty-six-part “Valiant Years” has not. (For a partial summary of the contents of several parts, go to:

The LeVien production is now very dated, and shades heavily into the hagiographic. Professor Charmley would say the film only perpetuates the “Churchill myth” as created after the war by WSC himself. Maybe so, but the film footage is fantastic. Richard Burton, the narrator, personally despised Churchill, but this is not apparent in his narrative (or in his later role as WSC in the original “Gathering Storm” production).

“The Bank of Observance”

I am in the final stages of a book on the religious beliefs of post-World War II U.S. presidents. In the chapter on Dwight David Eisenhower I wrote that although Eisenhower asked for the “blessing of Almighty God” on D-Day, few assessments of him would dwell on his religious character:

“In fact, Eisenhower’s faith might be more accurately described by Winston Churchill’s remark that he had made “so many deposits in the Bank of Observance” as a youth that he had been confidently withdrawing from it ever since. Can you confirm the quotation?
—D.H., Virginia

From Churchill’s autobiography, My Early Life (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1930), 127–28:

Hitherto [until age 21] I had dutifully accepted everything I had been told. Even in the holidays I always had to go once a week to church, and at Harrow there were three services every Sunday, besides morning and evening prayers throughout the week. All this was very good. I accumulated in those years so fine a surplus in the Bank of Observance that I have been drawing confidently upon it ever since. Weddings, christenings, and funerals have brought in a steady annual income, and I have never made too close enquiries about the state of my account. It might well even be that I should find an overdraft. But now in these bright days of youth my attendances were well ahead of the Sundays.

Visiting President Truman just before Truman left office in 1953, Churchill asked the President what they would say if St. Peter asked if they had been responsible for dropping the Atomic Bomb. When Truman aide Robert Lovett asked if WSC thought they would be asked this question “in the same place,” Churchill said perhaps not—”but wherever it is, it will be in accordance with the principles of English Common Law….I waive a jury, but not habeas corpus.”

Sir Winston also had a more succinct remark, as recorded by his last private Secretary Sir Anthony Montague Browne, circa 1954, cited in Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill vol. VIII (London: Heinemann, 1988), 1161: “I am not a pillar of the church but a buttress—I support it from the outside.”

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