Winston Churchill

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He does have a Win in his name.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (1874-1965). Knight of the Garter, Order of Merit, Companion of Honor, Territorial Decoration, Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Fellow of the Royal Society, first Honorary Citizen in United States history, and almost the Duke of London.

British Prime Minister, 1940-1945, 1951-55. Helped win World War II, then won a Nobel Prize for writing about it in a six-volume Doorstopper.

Switched political parties twice in his very long career (Conservative to Liberal, then back again). A very much beloved British Prime Minister, he is famous for his constant wit (e.g. Bessie Braddock MP: "You, sir, are drunk!" Churchill: "And you are ugly. Tomorrow morning, madam, I shall be sober."), his cigar-smoking (his scowl in the famous portrait, shown above, is because the photographer took his cigar away) and the Victory salute ("the bird" inverted, although he didn't invert it.)

Winning a world war (and funding the invention of the tank) will get a lot of people to forget your less popular policies, and some were very unpopular. He resigned from the War Cabinet in World War One after the failure of Gallipoli and his opposition to Indian autonomy played a large part in his isolation in the 1930s. Furthermore, his second term as Prime Minister is generally regarded a lot less favourably than his first; the general rule is that he's considered a fine wartime leader, but not very suited to peacetime. In 1943, while PM, he did nothing to solve a famine in Bengal, which eventually killed 4 million people—instead expressing disappointment that Gandhi was not killed by it, however given that the war was getting increasingly desperate at that time, his distraction was somewhat understandable. He was also a noted racist, like most leaders and people at the time, believing that one should not help the Palestinians from subjugation by Israel, because "a superior race naturally conquers an inferior one", and supported the use of non-lethal gas on rebellious Iraqis and other "uncivilised tribes" who had been attacking those under nominal British protection.

He'd been in the army before going into politics and was also a war correspondent. As well as his Nobel Prize-winning book on the Second World War (not the most reliable source, but an invaluable memoir), he wrote a history of the English-speaking peoples and a largely forgotten political thriller called Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania.

A real-life Bunny Ears Lawyer, he once had a meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was taking a bath, had little awareness of social mannerisms and sometimes wandered around his house naked. He more or less had a drink with him at all times, thus the, "You, sir, are drunk!", quote. He also suffered from depression, which he called his "black dog".

He was given a state funeral on his death in 1965, with a lot of leaders turning up. He is buried in a churchyard in Bladon, Oxfordshire. In a BBC series he was voted Greatest Briton of all time, and up until the funeral of Pope John Paul II his funeral was attended by the most heads of states.

Winston Churchill was notably a child of a binational marriage; his mother Jeanette Jerome was an American Socialite from Brooklyn. Compare Barack Obama.

Many of Churchill's quotes are rightly legendary, including (as well as our page quote):

  • I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside An Enigma, but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.
  • I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.
  • If the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'
  • From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.
  • In time of war, when truth is so precious, it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
  • One can always trust the United States to do the right thing, once every possible alternative has been exhausted.
  • Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few.
  • A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
  • An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
  • If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.
  • And so many more. You can get a lot of chapter titles from his quotes.

Winston Churchill is the Trope Namer for:

Churchill in fiction:
  • Pretty much anything set in Britain during World War II.
  • In The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman, set during World War I, Churchill makes a brief appearance as a member of the War Cabinet.
  • The young war correspondent Churchill guest-stars in the Time Wars novel The Khyber Connection, and is attacked by time-travelling assassins.
  • Appears in Time Squad, in which the main characters must go back in time and stop him from being a nudist.
  • In the Time Travel / Alternate History novel The Proteus Operation, people from a different United States go back in time to the 1930s to save the world from the Nazi Empire which defeated Britain. They need to find someone in politics to work with to save the UK. When the name Winston Churchill comes up they are about to dismiss him as all washed up and his career over. Then they think more about it and realize that he is untarnished with the defeatism and appeasement of so many others.
  • When the cast of Are You Being Served camps out on the floor one night, Mr Grainger does an impression of Churchill giving one of his famous speeches.
  • A playable leader in Civilization IV. His traits are Charismatic/Protective.
  • Makes a short appearance in Inglourious Basterds.
  • Appeared in "Victory of the Daleks", the third episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who. He and the Doctor are apparently old friends, and he keeps trying to swipe the TARDIS key from the Doctor. He also turns up in the season finale "The Wedding of River Song" in an corrupted version of the universe where every time is happening at once, where he intrinsically trusts the Doctor due to feeling echoes of their friendship in the proper timeline.
  • In the Doctor Who spin off novel Players, the Sixth Doctor meets Churchill in two time periods—1899, when Churhill is a reporter during the Boer War; and in 1930's England, just prior to the abdication of Edward VIII. Churchill also meets the Second Doctor, but that's another story.
  • Frequently mentioned but rarely seen in the Timeline-191 Alternate History series by Harry Turtledove. When Britain allies with the Confederacy and loses the First World War, he becomes Prime Minister in a coalition with Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts on a platform of revanchism. He is forced to resign when London, Brighton and Norwich are destroyed by German atomic bombs and the British counterattack is defeated. Every time he is mentioned, characters reflect on his gift of the gab (EVERY TIME).
    • You really shouldn't be surprised, this is Turtledove after all. Like how every time Sam Carsten comes back to the fore we have to be told how easily he burns, and how pale his skin is, and how he always has to wear zinc oxide cream while on deck duty, and how he's sensitive to the Sun, etc, etc. If he thinks something's worth saying, Turtledove says it over and over again.
  • Yet another Time Travel novel, Lightning by Dean Koontz, ends with a time-traveling ex-Nazi returning to just after World War II and persuading Churchill to finish off the Soviets as well, creating a much nicer world.
    • Churchill would have liked nothing more. Roosevelt, however, was convinced he had a rapport going with Stalin and that he could "deal with him".
      • Probably not as it would have required a lot of blood and even he was tired of war by then. He would have liked to if he could snap his fingers and get rid of Stalin though.
      • I think the fact that military intervention in the USSR could only be considered and not acted upon is summed up by the name of the British plans for such an eventuality: Operation Unthinkable
  • In the film,The King's Speech, about the abdication of Edward VIII and the ascension of George VI to the throne, Churchill was played by Timothy Spall.
  • Ken Follett's Doorstopper novel Fall of Giants features Churchill during World War One.
  • On Parks and Recreation, after Leslie had to pull down her pants on TV to prove her innocence in sex scandal, she says this in a Confession Cam:

"It's gotten a lot harder to work in government. You think Winston Churchill ever had to pull his pants down and show his butt? No. But would he have? Yes. Now could he have? Well, maybe not towards the end of his life. But he would have. Because he loved his job."


Tropes used in Winston Churchill include:
  • Anticlimax: His second tenure as Prime Minister, 1951-55.
  • Badass Bookworm
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: Naturally, being a witty man, he's had a number of misattributed quotes. When he was alive, he commented on some and said he wished he had said some of them.
    • The famous speech quoted at the top of the page is often referred to as the "we shall fight them on the beaches" speech.
  • Because Destiny Says So: On his accession to the office of Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, the same day that the Germans launched their long-awaited attack on the Western Allies:

...on the night of the 10th of May, at the outset of this mighty battle, I acquired the chief power in the State. ... I cannot conceal from the reader of this truthful account that as I went to bed at about 3 a.m. I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. Ten years in the political wilderness had freed me from ordinary party antagonisms. My warnings over the last six years had been so numerous, so detailed, and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me. I could not be reproached either for making the war or with want of preparation for it. I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail.

  • Big Good: While he wasn't exactly a grade A good guy, he held this postion with Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II.
  • Blue Blood
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Actually he was born in exactly the right century as he was born at the end of the nineteenth and was in many ways a stereotypical Victorian. However he lived in the twentieth century.
    • He was something of a social reformer in his early political career (he was instrumental in introducing old age pensions, for instance), but that largely subsided after taking over the Admiralty in 1911.
    • His unapologetic imperialism was certainly a 19th century throwback.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer
  • Cassandra Truth : He unsuccessfully spent the 30s trying to warn of the danger that Hitler posed to Europe, and of the lack of Britain's preparedness for war. The first chapter of his war memoirs is named The Gathering Storm.
    • The Munich Agreement that Neville Chamberlain brokered, in which the western powers agreed to hand over a slice of Czechoslovakia for Hitler's promise not to swallow the rest, has become a synonym for political weakness. At the time, however, it was wildly popular in England and Chamberlain was hailed as the man who had saved the peace. Churchill was practically alone when he rose up in the House of Commons and said "we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat". Less than six months later Hitler gobbled up the rest of Czechoslovakia, and less than a year later Britain was at war.
  • Cigar Chomper: He was often seen touring the damage during The Blitz with a cigar in hand.
  • Comically Missing the Point: According to one anecdote, Churchill was awoken one day with the news that an MP had been found naked in the bushes with a guardsman the previous night. Churchill asked, "Wasn't it awfully cold last night?" When told that yes, it had been one of the coldest winter nights in decades, he said, "Makes you proud to be British."
  • Cursed with Awesome: Arguably. He was born with a speech impediment that he fought for years to overcome, and the lingering effect of it was that he paused a lot in his speeches, which lent them an additional sense of drama. This style may have been deliberately copied by a later Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Truly prolific, although one of the most famous was this exchange (with one of his favourite House of Commons sparring partners, the Conservative backbencher Nancy Astor):

Astor: If I was your wife, I would put poison in your tea.
Churchill: Madam, if I was your husband, I would drink it.

  • Democracy Is Bad: As the man himself said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
    • But he did also say "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time", so it would seem he had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the concept.
  • Death From Above: The Blitz.
  • Determinator: Summed up in one of his catchphrases, "Keep Buggering On".
  • Enemy Mine : He absolutely loathed Bolshevism and campaigned for active intervention against the communist faction in Russia's civil war, but when Germany invaded the USSR he quickly and warmly welcomed Stalin as a genuine ally of the British Empire.

"If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

  • Evil Counterpart: In his unfinished biography, William Manchester claims that the reason Churchill knew Adolf Hitler was, well, Adolf Hitler, instead of just another eccentric politician was that Hitler was Churchill's Evil Counterpart. Both were romantic nationalists with a militaristic streak(although arguably Churchill's militarism was comparable that of high-school wargame geek or an unusually avid Tom Clancy fan) who had a sense of national mission. Of course Churchill's idea of Britain's mission was rather different from Hitler's idea of Germany's.
  • Folk Hero
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: He was well known as a writer as well as a politician.
  • Gentleman Snarker: His witty insults are the stuff of legend.
  • Godwin's Law: Possibly the first ever invocation, during the 1945 election he attacked Labour, stating that they would limit free speech and claimed they would have to "fall back on some kind of Gestapo". This went over very badly and certainly didn't do anything to prevent Churchill's defeat.
  • The Good Chancellor: Well, that's what a Prime Minister is, right?
    • Although Churchill's earlier stint as the actual Chancellor was rather disastrous.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Because of his status as one of the great heroes of British history, it's very unlikely to hear much about his politically incorrect views on race or his staunch opposition to Indian independence. This trope combined with Rose-Tinted Narrative also tends to see his racism and endorsement of the use of gas against rebellious Iraqis and other "uncivilised tribes" frequently ignored. In fact, the Indian situation got so bad that British policies resulted in four million dying of starvation during World War II... and his only response was to keep claiming that Britain was ruling the place for the natives' own good, and express disappointment that Gandhi was not one of the casualties.
    • The article link says that a lot of supply aid from within India was blocked...by locally elected Indians working to protect their own food supplies. Moreover, a series of typhoons, floods and the like made the Bengal region even worse off that year, coupled by the fact that the Japanese were invading the main exporters of rice in the region, effectively cutting supply to starvation levels. We do remember that this was during the height of the Pacific War during WWII, right?
    • As far as "poison gas" is concerned, that's a bit of a misrepresentation. The gas that Churchill supported using he insisted should not be a deadly gas, and part of his motivation for this was actually to keep loss of life and permanent damage to individuals to a minimum. He also wrote that he boggled that people seemed to think that lacerating a man's body with bursting shells and lead bullets was somehow "acceptable," and yet suddenly get on their moral high-horse "at making his eyes water" with gas. In short, Churchill advocated tear gas, something that's used for riot control today.
    • A common criticism of Churchill is that he brought in London Metropolitan policemen to break up a strike at Tonypandy in Wales. While this is true, it ignores the fact that firstly Churchill did sympathise with the strikers, and secondly the rest of the government had wanted to send in the army.
    • There's also the matter of him getting rather chummy with Benito Mussolini (mostly because Churchill admired the Italian dictator's anti-communist actions).
    • The Bengali famine aside, Churchill was a passionate opponent of Indian independence and a true believer in Britain's right to rule over brown people around the world. Observe what he said about India in general and Gandhi in particular. Churchill's "wilderness years" when he was a powerless backbencher did not happen because he was against appeasing Hitler; he dropped out of leadership in the Conservative Party before Hitler came to power, because Churchill was opposed to Indian Home Rule.
  • Honor Before Reason: Sometimes. Though not of course when he was Doing What He Had To Do.
  • Had a Hot Mom
  • Impoverished Patrician: Lord Randolph was a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, so money was always a bit of a concern. Winston's expensive tastes meant he was always on the knife's edge in adulthood, and he remained afloat only by churning out an astonishing pace of bestselling books and work-for-hire newspaper and magazine articles.
  • It's All About Me: Accused of this a lot. For instance, when his history of World War I was published in 1922:

John Maynard Keynes: Winston has written a book about himself and called it The World Crisis.

  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Was very fond of his cats and often brought them to Cabinet meetings in a Real Life aversion of Right-Hand-Cat (the villainous trope).
  • Large Ham
  • Let's Get Dangerous
  • Like Father, Like Son: Randolph Churchill, son of Winnie who spent World War II as a swashbuckling warrior, Intrepid Reporter and general Badass.
    • Then there's Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston's father, who was a rising star in the Conservative Party but his political career ended in disaster due to a miscalculation when he became Chancellor. In fact exactly the same thing happened to Winston in the 1920s and, until WW 2, most people assumed his career was over as well.
  • Magnetic Hero
  • The McCoy
  • Military Maverick: He criticized Kitchener in the press while a serving officer.
  • Modern Major-General: Churchill's military incompetence is generally glossed over as part of his Historical Hero Upgrade. He was one of the architects of the disastrous British defeat in Gallipoli in World War 1 (something that derailed his political career for a time).
    • The Dardanelles naval campaign failed because the field commander (Admiral John de Robeck) called off the final assault, against Churchill's advice. The marine landings were also opposed by Churchill, and went bad because of similarly awful leadership from commanders on the scene, but Churchill ended up taking the blame for their failure in spite of that.
    • Probably a better example would be his tendency towards micromanaging British naval forces in the early stages of World War I, which led to several notable failures and defeats (the flight of the Goeben and the battle of Coronel among them). During World War II he had many novel ideas and schemes, though most of them were so outlandish and unrealistic that General Brooke (his chief of staff) was often driven to distraction. President Roosevelt commented "Winston has a hundred ideas a day, of which four are good ideas".
      • The Chief of the Imperial General Staff said in September 1944, "Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again ... Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent. Never have such opposite extremes been combined in the same human being."
    • Also Churchill diverting General Wavell's forces to defend Greece. Greece and Crete were lost anyway and the delay in the Libyan offensive enabled the Africa Corp time to deploy there.
      • However, as the Churchill Museum in London makes a point of noting, unlike Hitler Churchill never actually overruled his generals.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: His smoking and drinking, both seen as excessive, did nothing but add to his mystique.
  • Nice Hat: He frequently wore bowlers, as seen in photographs. This hat has become associated with his image almost as much as his famous cigars.
  • Noble Fugitive: During the Boer War.
  • The Only One: Churchill was hardly the heroic saint he's remembered as in some quarters. However, regardless of why it happened, Churchill's standing as practically the only British politician who hadn't supported appeasement left him the only realistic candidate to take over as PM in the spring of 1940, when the war started to go bad.

"In England, there was such a man. [chapter break] Now, at last, his hour had struck." (William Manchester's Churchill bio)

  • Only Sane Man: During the 1930s, he was pretty much the only politician in Britain who saw Hitler for what he truly was.
    • Although, ironically enough, he was one of some to openly congratulate Benito Mussolini on his policies (mainly because Mussolini was no threat to British supremacy, and even despite that he showed remorse for doing that later on).
  • Parental Substitute: Mrs. Everest, his childhood governess, who, as with most good Victorian households, handled most of the actual child-rearing.
  • Prepositions Are Not to End Sentences With: An Urban Legend attributed to Churchill deals with this. Supposedly some bureaucrat wrote a memo in which he tortured his sentences greatly in order to avoid ending them with a preposition. Churchill is said to have scrawled the following apocryphal quote on the memo:

"That is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put."

Female voter with baby: Look, sir, my baby looks just like you.
Churchill: Madam, all babies look like me.