Taking Churchill at his words

One viewer's view of the 'Greatest Briton'.

James Heartfield

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Winston Churchill, winner of the BBC’s ‘Great Britons’ poll, is best remembered for the recordings of his wartime speeches – especially the ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech of 4 June 1940 and the ‘Their finest hour’ speech of 18 June 1940.

But Churchill never made those recordings. Norman Shelley did – a radio actor who played Colonel Danby in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and who died in 1980 (1). At the time the speeches were recorded, Churchill, a stammerer who spoke off the cuff and full of Dutch courage, could not reproduce his Commons performances in front of a microphone.

In our inoffensive times, where politicians can lose their jobs by saying the ‘wrong thing’, what is it about Churchill that is considered so great? Maybe we should let Churchill speak for himself, without Colonel Danby’s help….

  • On Bolshevism:

    For Churchill, the Soviet Union was a ‘tyrannic government of these Jew Commisars’, a ‘worldwide communistic state under Jewish domination’, ‘the international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew’, or just ‘these Semitic conspirators’. (2)

  • On race:

    Churchill said ‘the Indians in East Africa are mainly of a very low class of coolies, and the idea that they should be put on an equality with the Europeans is revolting to every white man throughout British Africa’ (3).

    In February 1954, he told the cabinet ‘the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people’ (4).

  • On force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes:

    It was ‘not a medical question’, said Churchill. ‘It is a question of policy.’ (5)

  • On Irish independence:

    According to Churchill, the struggle for Irish independence from Britain was part of ‘a worldwide conspiracy against our country’ by ‘the rascals and rapscallions of the world who are on the move against us’ (6). Organising Orangemen in June 1922, Churchill said: ‘When we begin to act we must act like a sledgehammer, so as to cause bewilderment and consternation among the people of southern Ireland.’ (7)

  • On Hitler’s coming to power:

    ‘The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path’, said Churchill (8).

    Asked about Germany’s anti-Jewish laws in 1938, Churchill thought ‘it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not an obstacle to a working agreement’. (9) In 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh reported that ‘Winston says at heart he is for Franco’ (10).
  • James Heartfield is the author of The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained, Perpetuity Press, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)); and Great Expectations: The Creative Industries in the New Economy, Design Agenda, 2000 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)). He is also coauthor of Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Wiley-Academy, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website

    He voted for Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the Great Britons poll.

    (1) Observer, 29 October 2000

    (2) Churchill, Clive Ponting, Sinclair Stevenson, 1994, p230

    (3) Ibid., p260

    (4) Ibid., p760

    (5) Ibid., p106

    (6) Ibid., p245

    (7) Ibid., p264

    (8) Ibid., p393

    (9) Ibid., p394

    (10) Ibid., p390

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