February 19, 2015

Finest Hour 161, Winter 2013-14

Page 5

Quotation of the Season

“[The American] National psychology is such that the bigger the idea the more wholeheartedly and obstinately do they throw themselves into making it a success. It is an admirable characteristic, providing the idea is good.”
—WSC, Closing the ring 1952

Topping the Insults

LONDON, OCTOBER 15TH— Sir Winston has seen off competition from Barack Obama and Liberace to top the poll for the best insult of all time, unfortunately misquoted by the press. It was his 1946 response to Bessie Braddock, MP when accused of being drunk (which he was not), witnessed by bodyguard Ronald Golding.

The correct wording was: “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.” WSC was editing a line he’d heard in the W.C. Fields movie It’s a Gift, when Fields’s character says, “Yeah, and you’re crazy. But I’ll be sober tomorrow and you’ll be crazy the rest of your life.” See Churchill in His Own Words, amzn.to/churchillquote.

A vulgar alleged quotation supposedly uttered by Churchill also finished fifth. Although it is very funny and would have been quite devastating, we can find no authoritative source to prove he ever said it, so it will not be repeated here.

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Somehow, the poll missed our favorite insult to Churchill, inadvertently delivered by the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII: “Dear Winston, Thank-you for the copy of your new book. I have placed it on the shelf alongside all the others.” Clementine Churchill and his family roared at that one.

Insult Contest

Finest Hour offers space here for your favorite Churchill insults. Senior Editor John Plumpton nominates WSC’s response to the question, “Have you read my new book?”: “Not at all,” said Churchill: “I only read for pleasure or profit” (1940, to Lord Londonderry).

The editor offers: “I can well understand the Hon. Member speaking for practice, which he badly needs” (1920, directed toward Oswald Moseley MP).

Best Article 2012-13

WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 1ST— The winner of the 2013 Somervell Award, for the best article in the preceding four issues of Finest Hour (156-59, Autumn 2012 through Summer 2013) is Hal Klepak of Ontario, for “Cuba, 1895: First Full Signs of the Man He Was to Become” in FH 159. His award was accepted on his behalf by Ronald Cohen, who conveyed it to him in Ottawa.

Prof. Klepak received seven votes out of nine cast by the Finest Hour editorial board. Several mentioned his plowing of new ground from an obscure period, and the research he provided (with more to come as the project goes on) as key qualities.

Also receiving the 2012 Somervell Award in Washington (FH 152-55, 2011-12) was Allen Packwood for his finely researched article on an earlier conference theme, “How Young Winston Made and Wrote News,” in Finest Hour 152, Autumn 2011.

Plus Ça Change: The Ubiquitous Mr. Churchill

SACRAMENTO, CALIF., 1972— It is not just because our eye is particularly sensitive to the name “Churchill” that we constantly run across it in the media. Sir Winston is one of the most quoted men of our, or any, day. Not only that, but his fame seems to grow even while that of some of his great contemporaries fades. His quotations are often found on editorial pages, but more than that, in letters to and questions of the editor. His life and times still seem to have an immediacy to the reader.

Of course, a good deal of this arises from the fact that he, alone among the leaders of the Free World, recognized early and urgently the perfidy and danger of tyranny, and, moreover, spoke out again and again and again. But he is also found in witty quotations, in sage advice. I have a copy of an antique dealer’s magazine which features on the cover a fine old carved oak four-poster bed. The caption informs us that it is located in Hearst’s San Simeon Castle and was once slept in by Churchill. A brochure from an office furniture company uses a picture of WSC writing at his stand-up desk at Chartwell to illustrate a point they wish to make.

Granting that Churchill issued an enormous number of opinions on a vast array of subjects, it remains amazing that so many of his thoughts remain valid and timely. Few outside of France can quote anything de Gaulle ever said. No one claims “Coolidge slept in this bed.” Stalin’s words have been expunged from Russian history—and what did he say? Even FDR seems dimmer than a short time ago. Excepting his “All we have to fear is fear itself” and his “Four Freedoms,” few can quote that great man to any extent; he seems increasingly of the past. But Churchill is yet of the present and of the future. It is our opinion that he will remain “of the present” in ages to come.

Churchill Op-Eds

MINNEAPOLIS, SEPTEMBER 21ST— The recent op-ed columns by Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, in The New York Times and the Washington Post respectively, have me wondering: What would a Times or Post op-ed column by Adolf Hitler have looked like in 1936 or 1937?

We don’t have to wonder what a column by Winston Churchill would have looked like. He was regularly cranking out columns as his wilderness years reached their culmination, struggling mightily to awaken his slumbering countrymen. His 1939 book Step By Step collects columns from the preceding three years.

Churchill’s prewar columns are, as you might guess, slightly interesting. The publisher’s note to the 1947 edition observes: “At the time of their first appearance the articles made a profound and disquieting impression on the public, but they now gain immeasurably in significance since they can be read in the context of the events which were then veiled from our sight.”

Here is the somber opening of Churchill’s bitter column, “Gathering Storm,” dated 30 October 1936: “If we look back only across the year that has nearly passed since the General Election, the most thoughtless person will be shocked at the ceaseless degeneration abroad, and also of our own interests on the Continent.”

“Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans”

LONDON, OCTOBER 12TH— The Bank of England seriously thought twice about putting Churchill on the five-pound note (FH 159: 6) because “they didn’t want to upset the Germans,” according to Chris Hastings in the Daily Mail.

This puts us in mind of the Fawlty Towers episode with the visiting German tourists, “Don’t Talk about the War.” Or a favorite song of Churchill’s reported last issue: Noël Coward’s “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.”

Former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King was warned by unnamed “officials” that “the recentness of World War II is a living memory for many here and on the Continent.” Other comments, which relate to Britain’s relationship with its former wartime enemies, have been redacted from the files. A source at the Bank said: “Public bodies are obliged to redact any material which might impact on Britain’s international relations with another country, and this is what has happened here.”

Historian Andrew Roberts put paid to this bit of nonsense: “The comments redacted would have been about irritating the Germans. I don’t think a German or Japanese tourist would be in the slightest bit put off by the fact there is Churchill on a £5 note, and he is the man who flattened Dresden and Hiroshima. They appreciate he’s the greatest Englishman who ever lived so you put him on the currency. It’s surprising this hasn’t happened earlier.”

Bulldog Gin?

TORONTO, SEPTEMBER 19TH— An odd choice of name: “Launched in 2007 and new to Ontario, Bulldog was founded by a former investment banker Anshuman Vohra, as a creative exit from Wall Street. According to the Globe and Mail, “the name was inspired by the ‘bulldog spirit’ embodied by that famous gin guzzler Winston Churchill.”

We beg to submit that Winston Churchill did not drink gin, and was known to dispose of Franklin Roosevelt’s notorious martinis (admittedly laced heavily with vermouth) in nearby White House flower pots.

A rumor once circulated that WSC refused to pay for Clementine Churchill’s gin, which their grandson Winston refuted. Neither of them, he said, was a gin drinker. Her “favourite tipple,” he said, “was Dubonnet….so the story is absurd on its face.”

Bodyguard of Lies

LONDON, OCTOBER 10TH— The New Statesman (“Should we hang Mr. Churchill or not?”) republished a 1926 piece by its first editor, inaccurately claiming Churchill and various allies including Neville Chamberlain and Leo Amery had forced Baldwin’s hand over the General Strike that year:

“When the Prime Minister proposed nevertheless to go forward with the negotiations and avert the strike, he was faced with the immediate resignation of seven of his colleagues— Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, Bridgeman, Amery, ‘Jix’ [Joynson-Hicks], Cunliffe-Lister, and one other of whose identity we are not sure. So he gave way. He ought not to have given way, of course, but excuses may perhaps be found for an utterly exhausted man who, having fought the Trade Unions for days and nights, found himself called upon at the last moment to fight his own colleagues. Mr. Churchill was the villain of the piece. He is reported to have remarked that he thought ‘a little blood-letting’ would be all to the good. Whether he actually used this phrase or not there is no doubt about his tireless efforts to seize the providential opportunity for a fight.”

The editors should have read the facts, published thirty-seven years ago by Martin Gilbert:

• 1 May 1926 Cabinet meeting:

“The civil servant J.C.C. Davidson wrote…‘It has often been written that the extremists forced Baldwin’s hand, but nothing could be further from the truth.’ The unanimity of the Cabinet in breaking off negotiations was unknown to the public. Indeed, it was widely believed, especially in Labour circles, that a ‘peace party’ led by Baldwin, Birkenhead and Steel-Maitland had been defeated by a ‘war party,’ led by Churchill, Neville Chamberlain and Cunliffe-Lister, whose aim was said to have been confrontation and bloodshed. ‘There were no divisions among Ministers,’ [Sir Samuel] Hoare noted in his diary a few weeks later, ‘and it is incorrect to say that a Churchill-Birkenhead section was determined upon a fight to the finish.’ Baldwin himself had been determined to uphold parliamentary democracy in the face of what he believed was an unconstitutional attempt to undermine it.”

• 3 May 1926 Commons debate:

“It was not wages that were being imperiled, [Baldwin] warned, ‘it is the freedom of our very Constitution.’ When Churchill spoke his tone was conciliatory. Commenting on the moderate tone of the Labour MPs who had spoken…Churchill went on to praise the ‘efforts for peace’ which had been made by the Trade Union leaders….In particular, he said, J.H. Thomas had tried ‘with all the compulsive and persuasive powers of his nature and of his experience to bring about a warding off of this shocking disaster in our national life.’”

Hungarian Rhapsody

BUDAPEST, OCTOBER 2ND— Veronika Bánki, who translated Lady Soames’s A Daughter’s Tale into Hungarian (Chartwell Bulletin, October 2013, http://xrl.us/bp2bkg), kindly sends us a photograph of a Churchill memorial in the Városliget (Town Park), XIV district of Budapest. Along with statues of famous Hungarians, Churchill is honored along with Archduke Rudolf, George Washington, Ronald Reagan and others. The Churchill statue, by Imre Varga, was unveiled in 2003, in the presence of Lady Soames and the historian John Lukacs.

Never Give In

GIBRALTAR, SEPTEMBER 20TH— Having produced a £5 Churchill coin in 2004, Gibraltar has minted a £20 coin with the slogan, “We shall never surrender” (to Spain we presume) and a relief portrait of WSC. On the obverse is the sovereign with the inscription, “Queen of Gibraltar.” Todd Ronnei, on Churchillchat, remarked, “this may be less a symbolic defiance of Spain’s perpetual claim to the Rock and more a not-so-symbolic grab for cash from coin collectors.”, Whatever it is, we like their spirit.

Gibraltar Philatelic offers Gibraltar coins on its website. There is a wide range of coins available ranging from complete year sets of circulating coins to various commemorative crowns issued by the Gibraltar government. Gibraltar has its own currency, the Gibraltar pound, which is pegged with the pound sterling at par. As a consequence, the Gibraltar government mints its own coins. The coins are made with the same planchets as the British pound. Denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pence and £1 were introduced which bore specific designs for and the name of Gibraltar. They were the same sizes and compositions as the corresponding British coins. Two-pound coins were introduced in 1999. More coins will be added shortly, such as the new £5 coin that will bear the text “HM Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Gibraltar.”

For more on local inhabitants of the famous Rock, see “Churchill and the Barbary Macaques,” page 53.

Escaped Desperado

NANTWICH, CHESHIRE, SEPTEMBER 15TH— Following their recent successes in the Nantwich Theatre Festival, the Players again hosted a production from Cheshire Rural Touring Arts. Winston on the Run tells the story of a young Churchill, portrayed by Freddie Machin. Told by a young man at the cusp of greatness, the play is a dramatic story of adventure, audacity and imperial folly.

It is 1899 and escaped prisoner-of-war Churchill is in a spot of bother, lost in the African savannah, wanted “Dead or Alive,” and hounded by the scathing words of his dead father. A gripping, hilarious and often poignant one-man-show, the 25-year-old Winston takes the audience deep into his confidence, sharing his experiences of electoral failure, capture and daring escape.

The production, at the Love Lane Theatre, was followed by a presentation and Q&A session from writer and performer Freddie Machin on the historical material that inspired the show’s creation.

It’s in the discussions afterwards that the urbane Freddie Machin and his collaborator John Walton show how much deliberation, care and research has gone into Winston on the Run. Based on Churchill’s early memoirs, it’s a one-man show in which Machin emerges—arguably too ponderously—from his blackened coal mine hideaway, sporting a distracting curly red-blonde wig which the director seems over-keen on.

Churchill never knew whether he would emerge from the South African war as soldier or journalist, as a hero or the contents of a body bag. But emerge he did, and went on in 1900 to win Oldham for the Conservatives.

The only “action” is the famous train ambush which almost won Churchill the Victoria Cross. The rest is Machin entertaining us with the witty, headstrong young genius’s self-serving exploits and trysts with death.

Machin is engaging, moves vividly, varies pace and performs effortlessly. It’s a deuced good show. This is a thirty-four-venue tour, so there’s a chance British Churchillians caught it.

Meyer at Bath

BATH, SOMERSET, SEPTEMBER 18TH— Sir Christopher Meyer launched the American Museum’s inaugural Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Lecture series here today. Sir Winston delivered his first political address in 1897 at Claverton Manor, now home to the museum. In his lecture, Sir Christopher drew on Churchill’s dispatches on conflicts on what is now the Pakistan and Afghanistan border in the late 19th century.

Sir Christopher Meyer is the author of DC Confidential, a chronicle of his time in Washington, and Getting Our Way : 500 Years of Adventure and Intrigue: The Inside Story of British Diplomacy. American Museum Director Dr. Richard Wendorf said: “We are delighted Sir Christopher agreed to deliver the inaugural lecture. He has a deep understanding of British-American history and relations as well as current world events.”

Amery, Honorary Indian

DELHI, SEPTEMBER 18TH— Unlike the British one-law-for-all approach, we should find our course of action in our own confused, messy way.

Leopold Amery was a tragic 20th century éminence grise. Born in Gorakhpur, he would today be eligible for the numerous tax exemptions that are provided to non-resident Indians. As an aside, my friend Kamal Sharma assures me that the only eminent persons who are born these days in Gorakhpur or in Motihari (George Orwell’s birthplace) are criminals who masquerade as legislators. So much for the glories of free India!

Amery studied at Harrow where he was a contemporary of Winston Churchill. But unlike young Churchill, who was always at the bottom of the class, Amery went to Oxford and was made a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford. He had the distinction of being among the few Conservatives, along with Churchill, Eden and Macmillan, resolutely to oppose Chamberlain’s appeasement policies. He led the attack when Chamberlain’s leadership was debated in the House of Commons (“A Time for Old Men,” FH 150). Leopold Amery was appointed Secretary of State for India, reviving his connections with the land of his birth. He had a reasonable position on India but was impatient with his intransigent leader. He once said: “Winston knows as much about India as George III knew about the American colonies.”

Editor’s note: Churchill was not always at the bottom of his class. Nor did he resist efforts to alleviate the 1943 Bengal Famine: quite the opposite, within the constraints of fighting a world war, and despite a whole book devoted to this false assertion. See our website at: http://xrl.us/bhvod5.

Global Warning

BRISBANE, SEPTEMBER 7TH— Winston Churchill would be a global-warming activist had he been alive in the present, writes Clive Hamilton in Earth Masters: Playing God with the Climate (Allen & Unwin, A$24.99), citing Churchill’s willingness to defy comforting political fictions.

The Churchill analogy overstates the influence of naysayers in the great climate debate, but there is no doubting the sharp downturn in prevailing attitudes in the past few years—less in outright denial of global warming science, in my view, but rather a plunge in popular willingness to pay for the costs of tackling the consequences. But Hamilton’s invoking of Churchill reinforces the point that there will be consequences from climate change. Some of the worst might result from ill-thought measures taken in the search for a solution.

Hamilton’s opening lines invite readers to consider the conceit of tinkering with a deliberate “plan” to transform the planet after the unintended effects of pumping out masses of carbon dioxide. Chainsaws, bulldozers and heavy industry might have brought the world to this point, and while “growing trees is good, it cannot save us from climate change.” The zeal of billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson in seeking a “techno fix” and possible profit is also explored.

Hamilton is partly right that there is “something deeply perverse” in massive industrial solutions for massive industrial problems, “when we could just stop burning fossil fuels.” But he sees the potential for commercial conspiracy when the temptation to solve a problem might be the result of weak politicians refusing to act.

The discussion drifts, regrettably, to the culture war surrounding climate science in a way that can appear condescending (detailing the apparent embarrassment of the wife of a climate skeptic, for example). Hamilton is on strongest ground when warning that interfering in complex environmental systems runs the risk of unintended side-effects—a lesson, he claims, that should already be obvious.

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