“Drunk and Ugly”: The Perennial Quotation-Chase
“Drunk and Ugly,” the first post on this blogsite in 2008, has come up again. Reprised and updated with reader comments: Will this do it? No, we will continue to get the question.
Q: Who said what to whom?
What is the truth or falsehood of the famous exchange between Churchill and a woman (Nancy Astor?). She accused him of being drunk. He retorted that she was ugly but he’d be sober in the morning. Did it really take place? —J.M.
A. True but not original
The encounter did happen, but the lady was Bessie Braddock MP. Churchill was not drunk as charged, and his retort was not strictly original. From my book, Churchill by Himself, page 573:
Bessie Braddock: “Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.”
WSC: “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.” —1946.
Not original to Churchill, but world famous, this was confirmed by Ronald Golding, a Scotland Yard detective present on the occasion. WSC was leaving the House of Commons after a long, late evening debate. Lady Soames, who said her father was always gallant to women, doubted the story, but Golding explained that WSC was not drunk, just tired and wobbly, which caused him to fire the full arsenal.
Churchill was, however, relying on his photographic memory for this riposte. In the 1934 movie It’s a Gift, W.C. Fields’s character, told he is drunk, responds, “Yeah, and you’re crazy. But I’ll be sober tomorrow and you’ll be crazy the rest of your life.” Verdict: Churchill editing W.C. Fields.
A Matter of Religion
Not even royalty escaped the rigors of Churchill’s routine. In February 1945, after the Yalta Conference, he paid a visit to King Ibn Saud. His daughter Sarah made arrangements for the luncheon. Alas the King forbade smoking and alcohol in his presence. Her father characteristically confronted this problem head-on:
Winston informed the interpreter that if it was the religion of His Majesty to deprive himself of smoking and alcohol he must point out that his rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite, the smoking of cigars and the drinking of alcohol before, after, and, if need be, during all meals and in the intervals between them. The King graciously accepted the position, and his own cup bearer even offered the Prime Minister a glass of water from the sacred well of Mecca—“the most delicious that I have ever tasted,” said Winston—which, for him, was going quite a long way. —From Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality (2017)
I asked Terry Reardon, author of Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King, who replies:
Diefenbaker was P.M. from 1957 to 1963. Churchill last visited Canada in June 1954, so the dates don’t fit. I am the proud owner of Diefenbaker’s three-volume autobiography. The only humorous anecdote involving Churchill is in the second volume. Diefenbaker, in London in 1957 for a Prime Ministers’ Conference, lunched with WSC: “During the course of my conversation with Sir Winston he offered to share with me one of his dearest possessions, some Napoleon brandy. He said: “Will you have some?” I replied: “I’m a teetotaler.”
He couldn’t understand what that meant. He checked his ear-piece and had me repeat it. I explained that I did not drink hard liquor. He asked: “Are you a Prohibitionist?” I said, “No, I have never been a Prohibitionist.” He considered this for a moment and then remarked. “Ah I see, you only hurt yourself.”
One thought on ““Drunk and Ugly”: The Perennial Quotation-Chase”
I would like to pay tribute to Richard Langworth for the invaluable assistance he has given me on matters relating to Sir Winston Churchill. Richard is a fine Churchill resource. I am so grateful for his help and guidance. Thank you for all your help over the years.