Churchill’s Potent Political Nicknames: Adm. Row-Back to Wuthering Height

Churchill’s Potent Political Nicknames: Adm. Row-Back to Wuthering Height

Spo­rad­i­cal­ly, pun­dits com­pare Don­ald Trump with Win­ston Churchill. There’s even a book com­ing out on the sub­ject. I dep­re­cate all this by instinct and will avoid that book like the Coro­n­avirus. Sur­face sim­i­lar­i­ties may exist: both said or say main­ly what they thought or think, unfil­tered by polls (and some­times good advice). But Churchill’s lan­guage and thought were on a high­er plane. Still, when a friend said that Churchill nev­er stooped to deri­sive nick­names like Trump, I had to dis­agree.

Whether invent­ed by the Pres­i­dent or his scriptwrit­ers, some of Trump’s nick­names were very effec­tive. “Low-ener­gy Jeb” tor­pe­doed Gov­er­nor Bush‘s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign bet­ter than any debate gaffe. “Mini-Mike” didn’t help May­or Bloomberg‘s in 2020. But except in extreme cas­es like Hitler, Churchill’s name-call­ing was more effec­tive and less wound­ing. Espe­cial­ly when he rather admired cer­tain qual­i­ties in oppo­nents. (He called Lloyd George a “cad” in his youth, but ever after praised the “Welsh Wiz­ard.”)

* Aster­isks indi­cate nick­names not used in a pub­lic set­ting. Churchill, after all, had some dis­cre­tion. But I leave them in for fun. 

Nicknames: Admiral Row-Back to Can’t Tellopolus

Admi­ral Row-Back: Admi­ral Sir John Roe­buck (1862-1928), Roy­al Navy offi­cer. Com­mand­ed the ini­tial Anglo-French attempt to force the Dar­d­anelles in 1915. Hav­ing near­ly suc­ceed­ed, he turned back after loss­es to mines, incur­ring Churchill’s per­ma­nent loathing and cen­sure and an appro­pri­ate nick­name.

*Block: Her­bert H. Asquith (1852-1928), Lib­er­al Prime Min­is­ter, 1908-16. He let Churchill dan­gle in the Dardanelles/Gallipoli deba­cle, which sent WSC pack­ing as First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty. This was a pri­vate nick­name between Churchill and his wife. It may refer to Asquith’s fre­quent role as a block to Churchill’s pro­pos­als.

Blood­thirsty Gut­ter­snipe: Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Ger­man Chan­cel­lor and Führer, 1933-45. First pub­licly declared in a broad­cast after Hitler invad­ed the Sovi­et Union in June 1941. It wasn’t the first Churchillian jab, nor by any means the last.. There is no short­age of insult­ing nick­names in Hitler’s case; but this is as good an exam­ple as any. (See also “Cor­po­ral Schickl­grüber,” in com­ments below.)

Bone­less Won­der: James Ram­say Mac­Don­ald (1866-1937), Labour Prime Min­is­ter, 1924, 1929-35. A dev­as­tat­ing com­par­i­son to a cir­cus attrac­tion, applied in 1931. Churchill was ridi­cul­ing Ram­say Mac’s lack of prin­ci­ple and waver­ing domes­tic poli­cies. In pri­vate he con­sid­ered Mac­Don­ald a ser­vant of Crown and Par­lia­ment. But only in pri­vate.

nicknames
Pick first annoyed WSC by Pick refus­ing on eth­i­cal grounds to pub­lish a clan­des­tine news­pa­per to sub­vert the ene­my. He said he had nev­er com­mit­ted a mor­tal sin. Churchill then referred to him deri­sive­ly as “the per­fect man.” (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

Cant­i­ng Bus Dri­ver: Frank Pick (1878-1941), head­ed Lon­don Pas­sen­ger Trans­port Board 1933-40. “Nev­er let me see that-that-that cant­i­ng bus dri­ver again.” Churchill wrote this in red ink on a mem­o­ran­dum from Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion Alfred Duff Coop­er when Pick resigned.

*Can’t Tel­lopo­lus: Pana­gi­o­tis Kan­nelopou­los (1902-1986), Min­is­ter of Defense, Greek exile gov­ern­ment in Cairo, 1942-45. Churchill was impa­tient with his inde­ci­sion about Greek resis­tance to the occu­py­ing Ger­mans. Alexan­der Cado­gan, Under­sec­re­tary of State for For­eign Affairs, heard these “mut­ter­ings from Churchill’s bath­room, between the splash­ings and gur­gles.”

Chattering Cad to Llama

*Chat­ter­ing Lit­tle Cad: David Lloyd George (1863-1945), Lib­er­al Prime Min­is­ter 1916-22. Said in 1901, when Churchill was still a Con­ser­v­a­tive. After he switched to the Lib­er­als in 1904, his atti­tude changed. He rarely spoke ill of Lloyd George after­ward, despite many provo­ca­tions. WSC’s wife regard­ed LG as treach­er­ous. He duly refused to join the Churchill coali­tion in 1940.

*Coro­ner: Neville Cham­ber­lain (1869-1940). Con­ser­v­a­tive Prime Min­is­ter, 1937-40. Orig­i­nal­ly coined by Bren­dan Brack­en (also “Iron­mon­ger” for Bald­win), this remained in the fam­i­ly lex­i­con. In 1961, Lady Diana Coop­er intro­duced young Mar­tin Gilbert to Ran­dolph Churchill by say­ing “he hates the Coro­ner.” (A bit strong—he sure­ly didn’t hate Cham­ber­lain).

Green-eyed Antipodean Rad­i­cal: David Low (1891-1963), New Zealand car­toon­ist. Churchill had a cer­tain affin­i­ty for the left-wing car­toon­ist whose attacks he admired. He called Low the great­est of mod­ern car­toon­ists. There was mutu­al respect despite polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, and Low drew a beau­ti­ful car­toon trib­ute on WSC’s 80th birth­day.

Half-Naked Fakir: Mohan­das Gand­hi (1869-1948, Indi­an inde­pen­dence leader. The worst sobri­quet attached to the Great Mahat­ma, when Churchill thought Gand­hi an upper­class Brah­man pos­ing as a cham­pi­on of the down­trod­den. Yet they both nursed a pri­vate respect for each oth­er and, in the end, were more for­giv­ing. See “Wel­come, Mr. Gand­hi” here­in.

Holy Fox: Edward Wood, 3rd Vis­count Hal­i­fax (1881-1959, For­eign Min­is­ter, 1938-40, Ambas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, 1940-46. Ver­i­fied by Hal­i­fax biog­ra­ph­er Andrew Roberts, who writes: “It was a Churchill fam­i­ly nick­name, of course a ref­er­ence to his High Church beliefs as well as his love of hunt­ing. And a cer­tain amount of polit­i­cal fox­i­ness….”

*Lla­ma: Charles de Gaulle ( 1890-1970 ), French Gen­er­al and Pres­i­dent. Lord Moran wrote: “Was it true, [Lady Lim­er­ick] asked, that he had likened de Gaulle to a female lla­ma who had been sur­prised in her bath? Win­ston pout­ed, smiled and shook his head. But his way of dis­avow­ing the remark con­vinced me that he was in fact respon­si­ble for this indis­cre­tion…”

Limpet to Prince Palsy

Lion-heart­ed Limpet Leader: Clement Attlee (1883-1967), Labour Prime Min­is­ter 1945-51. Many dis­parag­ing cracks about Attlee (arriv­ing in an “emp­ty taxi”) are apoc­ryphal. But this was an April 1951 jibe at Attlee and Labour MPs cling­ing to pow­er. Churchill and the Con­ser­v­a­tives turned them out in a gen­er­al elec­tion the fol­low­ing Octo­ber.

Min­is­ter of Dis­ease: Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960), Labour Min­is­ter of Health 1945-51, founder of the Nation­al Health Ser­vice. One of the rougher nick­names, applied in the Com­mons, 1948. “…is not mor­bid hatred a form of men­tal dis­ease, and indeed a high­ly infec­tious form?” Churchill asked. He also called Bevan a “squalid nui­sance.”

nicknames
Arthur Bal­four (Wiki­me­dia)

Old Grey Tab­by: Arthur James Bal­four (1848-1930), Con­ser­v­a­tive Prime Min­is­ters, 1902-05. After he suc­ceed­ed Churchill at the Admi­ral­ty in 1915, WSC feared the “Old Grey Tab­by” would dis­solve the Roy­al Naval Divi­sion. (Bal­four did resem­ble a tab­by cat in old age, but Churchill con­tin­ued to admire him, and gave him a superb memo­r­i­al in Great Con­tem­po­raries.)

Pink Pan­sies: Harold Nicol­son (1886-1968) and his friends. Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, 1935-45. I am aware this vio­lates P.C. deco­rum and will no doubt be added to Churchill’s “sins.” True, Nicol­son was bisex­u­al, but a) Churchill was emphat­i­cal­ly not homo­pho­bic, and b), the ref­er­ence (Par­lia­ment, late 1945) was to non-com­bat­ive young Tory MPs.

Prince Pal­sy: Paul of Yugoslavia (1893-1976), Prince Regent of Yugoslavia, 1934-41. His palsied hand signed a treaty with Hitler. This  assured Ger­man occu­pa­tion, the end of his Regency, and Churchill’s dis­dain. Exiled in Kenya, he appealed for refuge in Britain, but Churchill con­sid­ered him a trai­tor and war crim­i­nal.

Scheming Prelate to Turnip

Schem­ing Prelate: Damask­i­nos Papan­dreou (1891-1949), Arch­bish­op of Athens, 1945-49. Churchill, medi­at­ing the Greek civ­il war in late 1944, alleged­ly asked if he was “a man of God or a schem­ing Mediter­ranean prelate?” Assured that he was the lat­ter, Churchill sup­pos­ed­ly said, “Good, he’s just our man.” (Not ver­i­fied)

Snub-nosed Rad­i­cal: Lib­er­al heck­ler, 1887. Aged only twelve, young Win­ston was attend­ing a pan­tomime where he heard a man hiss­ing a por­trait of his father. He burst into tears, then turned on the per­pe­tra­tor: “Stop that row, you snub-nosed rad­i­cal!” This may be Churchill’s first polit­i­cal zinger.

Spur­los Versenkt (Sunk with­out a Trace): Sir Ben­jamin Smith (1879-1964), Labour Min­is­ter of Food, 1944-46. After he resigned from Par­lia­ment, Churchill searched “for the burly ‘and engag­ing form of the Rt. Hon. Gen­tle­man. He has depart­ed ‘spur­los versenkt,’ as the Ger­man expres­sion says—sunk with­out leav­ing a trace behind.”

Turnip: Stan­ley Bald­win (1867-1947), Con­ser­v­a­tive Prime Min­is­ter, 1925-29, 1935-37. Bald­win made Churchill Chan­cel­lor in 1925, but lat­er kept him out of the Cab­i­net. After his final res­ig­na­tion, “S.B.” appeared in the House of Com­mons smok­ing room. Churchill quipped, “Well, the light is at last out of that old turnip.”

Useless Percy to Wuthering Height

*Use­less Per­cy: Eustace Per­cy, First Baron of New­cas­tle (1887-1958). Board of Edu­ca­tion Pres­i­dent, 1924-29. At the Exche­quer 1924-29, Churchill tried to low­er the defense bud­get. Per­cy and Min­is­ter of Health Cham­ber­lain  were opposed. “Neville is cost­ing £2 mil­lions more and Lord Use­less Per­cy the same,” WSC wrote his wife on 30 Sep­tem­ber 1927.  “…these civ­il depart­ments browse onwards like a horde of inju­ri­ous locusts.”

Whipped Jack­al: Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni (1883-1945), Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter, 1922-43, Duce of Fas­cism, 1943-45. Churchill praised him briefly before the war, but after join­ing Hitler he became a “whipped jack­al… frisk­ing up at the side of the Ger­man tiger with yelp­ings not only of appetite—that can be understood—but even of tri­umph!”

Winc­ing Mar­quess: Hen­ry Pet­ty-Fitz­mau­rice, 5th Mar­quess of Lans­downe (1845-1927), House of Lords, 1886-1927. Churchill, 1909: “he claimed no right…to mince the Bud­get, [only] the right to wince when swal­low­ing it. Well, that is a much more mod­est claim…. If his Par­ty are sat­is­fied with the Winc­ing Mar­quess, we have no rea­son to protest.”

*Wuther­ing Height: John Charles Wal­sham, 1st Baron Rei­th (1889-1971),  BBC Direc­tor Gen­er­al, 1923-38. The tow­er­ing Rei­th was briefly in the wartime Coali­tion Cab­i­net. But he’d kept Churchill off the air in the 1930s, and no love was lost between them. WSC rejoiced to have seen “the last of that Wuther­ing Height” around 1940.

7 thoughts on “Churchill’s Potent Political Nicknames: Adm. Row-Back to Wuthering Height

  1. I think my favorite nick­name he gave Hitler was not so much a nick­name, but a reminder of Hitler’s high­est rank achieved in the army. “They have of course the con­so­la­tion of know­ing that they have been com­mand­ed and led, not by the Ger­man Gen­er­al Staff, but by Cor­po­ral Hitler him­self.” —World Broad­cast, 29 Novem­ber 1942.

  2. Excel­lent list – many thanks.
    Sub­scribers might like to add to it.

    One of my favourites (par­tic­u­lar­ly thorny when you have to trans­late it into French, as I had to do on at least two occa­sions, since a French eye does not per­ceive the joke) : “Use­less” Per­cy for Eustace Per­cy (attest­ed in pub­lished let­ters to Clemen­tine).

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