Origins: “I’ll kiss him on all four cheeks”

Origins: “I’ll kiss him on all four cheeks”

Q: Churchill’s Kiss: A Cheeky Affair

I found myself using an alleged Churchill wit­ti­cism I have long known, but could not find in your book, Churchill’s Wit: The Defin­i­tive Col­lec­tion (2009). As I have it, Churchill was prepar­ing to meet Mar­shal Stal­in, and a diplo­mat­ic advi­sor said, “He will prob­a­bly expect to kiss you on both cheeks.” “Oh, that’s all right,” said Churchill, “as long as he doesn’t want to be kissed on all four.” Can you ver­i­fy this one?

My own main area of schol­ar­ly research is Samuel John­son, anoth­er sub­ject often mis­at­trib­uted. Good quote col­lec­tions more than just the quo­ta­tion and its source. Your book with com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age and thor­ough sourc­ing is impres­sive. That is the real guar­an­tee of the ideas, wit or imag­i­na­tion of the quot­ed per­son, but of their ongo­ing pres­ence in the cul­tur­al mem­o­ry. —P.T., New Zealand

A: De Gaulle not Stalin

Your query sent me on a troll of my hard dri­ve,  I couldn’t imag­ine how I left the kiss gag out! But I did. Not only in Churchill’s Wit, but in the unabridged orig­i­nal Churchill by Him­self, from which Churchill’s Wit was derived.

How­ev­er, the kiss quote above is inac­cu­rate, and stems from some­thing Churchill said about Charles de Gaulle, not Joseph Stalin:

“All right, all right. I’ll be good. I’ll be sweet. I ‘ll kiss him on both cheeks—or all four if you’d pre­fer it.”


For­mer Churchill sec­re­taries Eliz­a­beth Lay­ton Nel (served 1942-45) and Lady Williams, the for­mer Jane Por­tal (1949-55). Paul Courte­nay writes: “They met at a recep­tion in the Cab­i­net War Rooms when Eliz­a­beth was on a vis­it from South Africa, aged 90. I was chat­ting to them when an offi­cial pho­tog­ra­ph­er strolled by; of course he had no idea who they were so I said to him: ‘You must take a shot of these two ladies togeth­er.’ The result was charm­ing, not to say historic.

The kiss crack was relat­ed by a high­ly reli­able source, Eliz­a­beth Lay­ton Nel, one of Churchill’s prin­ci­pal wartime sec­re­taries. Her charm­ing 1958 mem­oir, Win­ston Churchill by His Wartime Sec­re­tary, was recent­ly reprint­ed in elec­tron­ic and print edi­tions. She was a dear lady and a faith­ful recounter of her expe­ri­ences. She first told me the sto­ry in 1988.

Octo­ber 1942: At Che­quers, the Prime Minister’s coun­try res­i­dence, Churchill was prepar­ing to receive the prick­ly French­man. There was a quandary over what to tell the Gen­er­al of “Torch,” the inva­sion of North Africa, sched­uled to begin Novem­ber 8th. Only a few months before, the Allies had been bad­ly rebuffed in an abortive raid on the chan­nel port of Dieppe. There was some sus­pi­cion that de Gaulle’s Free French had some­how leaked advance knowl­edge of the raid. The Ger­mans had been alert­ed by French dou­ble agents that the British were show­ing inter­est in the area.

As Mrs. Nel recalled, Churchill opposed inform­ing de Gaulle of “Torch” until after­ward. His advi­sors warned him to be  diplo­mat­ic. Hence the Prime Minister’s gen­er­ous offer to kiss the Gen­er­al on all four cheeks if necessary.

Churchill on Johnson

Research­ing the quo­ta­tions of Samuel John­son work must be more chal­leng­ing than than Churchill, since the lat­ter left such copi­ous archives. Inci­den­tal­ly, I found this in Kei­th Alldritt, Churchill the Writer: His Life as a Man of Let­ters (1992):

Writ­ing to his wife Clemen­tine, while off research­ing [Marl­bor­ough], Churchill again applied to Marl­bor­ough the word ‘sub­lime’, so cur­rent a word for the eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry prose styl­ists whom he so admired, Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson.

One thought on “Origins: “I’ll kiss him on all four cheeks”

  1. Could you please as to clar­i­fy what WSC thought of the Boer con­cen­tra­tion camps ?

    There are alle­ga­tions made that he trum­pet­ed them and such along with a quote which I can’t source.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.