Another golden oldie Churchill “quote” which Churchill never uttered will soon be making the Twitter rounds, and this one is a bit off-color. Columnist Jonah Goldberg uses it to reflect on “A Thorny Porn-y Issue for the New York Public Library.” No problem with his point about the NY Public, but this quote is not Churchill’s in any way.
For collectors of Churchillian red herrings, here’s the alleged exchange: Churchill reportedly says to a woman at a party, “Madam, would you sleep with me for 5 million pounds?” The woman stammers: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill. Well, yes, I suppose …” Churchill interrupts: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?” The woman responds immediately: “What? Of course not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!” Churchill replies: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.” Amusing–but no cigar.
Like the famous, equally fictitious encounter with Nancy Astor (“If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee”….”If I were married to you, I’d drink it”—almost certainly an Astor exchange with Churchill’s friend F.E. Smith, Lord Birkenhead, who was much faster off the cuff), this put-down of the opposite sex simply cannot be found among Churchill’s 15 million published words—books, articles, speeches, papers—or memoirs by his colleagues and family. This hasn’t prevented it working its way into one or two spurious quotation books, and, of course, the Internet.
As his daughter says, Sir Winston tended to treat women with Victorian gallantry. He was so dazzled by Vivien Leigh, star of Gone with the Wind, that he became uncharacteristically tongue-tied. When he met actress Merle Oberon on a beach in the South of France after World War II, he turned somersaults in the water. Purient jests were not in his make-up.