Reference to Churchill and abuse of alcohol. When my father and I had lunch with Churchill at the House of Commons in 1952, I certainly did not see Churchill drink any more than the usual lunch time glass of wine. My father never mentioned his excessive use of alcohol in any form.—R.W.
He had an impressive capacity but you’re right. Except for a bodyguard who helped him and Eden totter home after a night of toasts with the Russians at Teheran, no one close ever saw him the worse for drink. (Well, Alanbrooke sometimes wrote in his diary that the boss was inebriated. But he wrote a lot of things in his diary late at night when he was exhausted from arguing over strategy.)
Churchill’s intake was exaggerated, not least by himself, and hence the myth. Whatever the amount, it was not enough to affect him. He learned to “purify” drinking water with a dribble of whisky in South Africa. He would nurse a drink like that for hours. One of his private secretaries referred to it as “scotch-flavoured mouthwash.”
The perils of drinking alcohol neat
In Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill, vol. VI, 828-29, is an amusing account from autumn 1940, when George Harvie-Watt, Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary during World War II, was commanding an anti-aircraft unit during a visit by Churchill and General Frederick Pile, which helps explain why why Churchill was able apparently to imbibe so many whiskies—he always drank them well-diluted.
As the party arrived, Pile told Harvie-Watt that Churchill was “frozen and in a bad temper” and suggested that the Prime Minister be brought “a strong whisky and soda.” Harvie-Watt sent a despatch rider to find one. “Meanwhile,” he later recalled, “everything was going from bad to worse. The field was almost waterlogged and the rain poured down. Everything I tried to show the Prime Minister he had seen before.” The searchlight control radar set, which had worked on the previous night, failed to function, and so on.
“At this moment the despatch rider arrived with the whisky, and Harvie-Watt poured one for the freezing Prime Minister. Churchill swallowed a half tumbler, then cried out at the taste of the neat whisky: ‘You have poisoned me.'”
Churchill had an impressive capacity, but drank most of his alcohol with meals; he did not nurse a bottle, as an alcoholic would. He had good advice for those who took it neat. “You are not likely to live a long life if you drink it like that.”