I am completing an English assignment which looks at the speeches of Winston Churchill and would like to look at any radio interviews Churchill gave during World War II but have, so far, only been able to find speeches. Please could you advise me whether any such interviews are in existence? —E.L.
Churchill rarely gave interviews—only two that I know of as a young man, and those reluctantly. Speeches (live) were his preference. However, on his visit to Washington after Pearl Harbor, on 23 December 1941, Presidential Roosevelt ushered him into a presidential press conference, where he acquitted himself well. From Finest Hour 108, Autumn 2000, page 32:
On the afternoon of December 23rd, Churchill and Roosevelt conducted a joint press conference for about 200 journalists and broadcasters in the President’s executive office. Churchill, seated in the back of the room, could not be seen very well by the crowd of reporters. When the President introduced him, he suggested that the Prime Minister stand to give his audience a better view. After Churchill climbed on his chair to be seen better, “loud and spontaneous cheers and applause rang through the room.” Although Churchill had some difficulty hearing, his wit charmed everyone. Asked how long he thought it would take to win the war, he quipped, “If we manage it well, it will only take half as long as if we manage it badly.” Later he was asked by a southern reporter if he considered the U.S. entry into the war as one of its “great climacterics.” Churchill smiled and answered in his best Texan drawl, “I sho’ do.” Newsweek reported that the spontaneous and “lusty cheers” were the first in the annals of presidential press conferences.
Footnotes to this article tell you where to look for the transcript: Newsweek for 5 January 1942, page 23; and Complete Presidential Press Conferences of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 18, No. 794, 23 December 1941 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), pp. 382-92.
Churchill easily adapted to the concept of press conferences, which seem to be an American invention. In a White House press conference held in Quebec, after the 1944 conference, he dodged a leading question, “What do you think of the United States?” by replying: “Toilet paper too thin, newspapers too fat.” (Churchill By Himself, page 116.)
After the war he got into another Washington press conference when visiting the U.S. in January 1952. On that trip a woman who managed to corner him asked: “Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech the hall is packed to overflowing?” Churchill responded: “It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.” (Churchill By Himself, 552.)
It would be fair to conclude that on the rare occasions when he found himself surrounded by reporters, he would resort to humor, rather than make any weighty pronouncements.