What is the truth or falsehood of the famous exchange between Churchill and a woman (Nancy Astor?) who accused him of being drunk? Did it really take place? —J.M.
Bessie Braddock MP: “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. Ronald Golding to the Editor.
“Drunk and Sober”
Not original to Churchill, but world famous, and confirmed by Ronald Golding, a bodyguard present on the occasion, as WSC was leaving the House of Commons after a late evening’s 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 relying on his photographic memory for this riposte: in the 1934 movie It’s a Gift W. C. Fields’s character, when 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 at the Fayoum Oasis in Egypt. His daughter Sarah, making arrangements for the luncheon, was informed that neither smoking nor alcohol were allowed in the Royal presence. This matter was characteristically confronted 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)