“Drunk and Ugly”: The Perennial Quotation-Chase

“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.

Bessie Brad­dock MP (Lab., Liv­er­pool Exchange)

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.

(Para­mount Pic­tures, pub­lic domain)

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)

Reader comments

Paul F. Austin writes: “Is there truth to the story of Nancy Astor saying to Churchill, ‘If you were my husband I would put poison in your coffee’? WSC supposedly replies, ‘If you were my wife, I would drink it.'”?
His­to­ri­ans who have researched it tend to agree that the exchange was between Nan­cy Astor and F.E. Smith, Lord Birken­head. It should be regard­ed as a promi­nent exam­ple of “Churchillian Drift.”

* * *

Peter Badenoch writes: “There is a story that WSC, visiting Canada when prudish teetotaler John Diefenbaker was prime minister, brought along his own bottle of brandy to an official dinner. Is there truth to that one?”

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

  1. 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.

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