Drunk and Ugly

Drunk and Ugly

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.

drunk
Bessie Brad­dock MP (Lab., Liverpool)

It’s true, but the lady was Bessie Brad­dock MP, and Churchill’s retort was not strict­ly orig­i­nal. From my book, Churchill by Him­self, page 573:

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. 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)

3 thoughts on “Drunk and Ugly

  1. There is a sto­ry that WSC, vis­it­ing Cana­da when prud­ish tee­to­taler John Diefen­bak­er was Cana­di­an 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. WSC last vis­it­ed Cana­da in June 1954, so the dates don’t work. I am the proud own­er of Diefenbaker’s three vol­ume auto­bi­og­ra­phy. The only humor­ous anec­dote re WSC is in the sec­ond vol­ume when Diefen­bak­er was in Lon­don for a Prime Min­is­ters’ Con­fer­ence in 1957 and was invit­ed to lunch with Churchill: “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 tee­to­taller.” 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.’”

  2. Is there much truth in the sto­ry of Nan­cy Astor say­ing to Churchill, “If you were my hus­band I would give you poi­son” to which WSC is said to have retort­ed, “My dear, if you were my wife, I would take it.”

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