Churchill’s Washington Humor, Part 1

by Richard Langworth on 30 April 2012

Churchll addresses Con­gress, 26 Decem­ber 1941

A friend who is deliv­er­ing a Churchill speech in D.C. asked for some exam­ples of Churchil­ian humor involv­ing Wash­ing­ton and U.S. Presidents.

Every­one enjoys Churchill’s famous crack in his first (1941) speech to Congress:

“If my father had been Amer­i­can, and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own!” That brought down the house.

When in the U.S., Churchill liked to empha­size his Amer­i­can roots. Broad­cast­ing to Amer­ica six months ear­lier, he avowed some­thing he always believed:

 The great Burke has truly said, “Peo­ple will not look for­ward to pos­ter­ity who never look back­ward to their ances­tors,” and I feel it most agree­able to recall to you that the Jeromes were rooted for many gen­er­a­tions in Amer­i­can soil, and fought in Washington’s armies for the inde­pen­dence of the Amer­i­can Colonies and the foun­da­tion of the United States. I expect I was on both sides then. And I must say I feel on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean now.

In 1952, dur­ing his third speech to Con­gress, he declared: “I was on both sides in the war between us and we.”

The “Naked Encounter”

The most famous exchange with Roo­sevelt dur­ing Churchill’s 1941 visit to the White House is an “old chest­nut,” but every­body enjoys it—and here’s one golden oldie that actu­ally appears to be true:

Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, inspired to call the new world body he visu­al­izes the “United Nations,” wheels him­self into Churchill’s room, find­ing the Prime Min­is­ter, as Harry Hop­kins put it, “stark naked and gleam­ing pink from his bath.”

Roo­sevelt hastily turns his wheel­chair to leave, but Churchill waves him in:

”The Prime Min­is­ter of Great Britain has noth­ing to hide from the Pres­i­dent of the United States.”

(Or, in another ver­sion: “You see, Mr. Pres­i­dent, I have noth­ing to hide.”)

When queried about this by Roo­sevelt biog­ra­pher Robert Sher­wood, Churchill denied it: “I could not pos­si­bly have made such a state­ment as that. The Pres­i­dent him­self would have been well aware that it was not strictly true.”

A third ver­sion has it that Roo­sevelt sim­ply says: “United Nations!” and Churchill responds “Good!”

What­ever they said, the encounter appar­ently did hap­pen, because both Churchill’s sec­re­tary and body­guard, who were on the trip, con­firmed it. And in Jan­u­ary 1942, speak­ing about his visit to King George VI, Churchill said: “Sir, I believe I am the only man in the world to have received the head of a nation naked.”

Quo­ta­tions are from Churchill By Him­self. Contin­ued in part 2….

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