In 1686 the Oxford English Dictionary described “red herring,” a metaphor to draw pursuers off a track, as “the trailing or dragging of a dead Cat or Fox (and in case of necessity a Red-Herring) three or four miles…and then laying the Dogs on the scent…to attempt to divert attention from the real question.” I apply the term to quotes, allegedly by Churchill, which he never said—or if he did, was quoting somebody else.
Hence my Red Herrings Appendix, updated herewith, for the new, expanded edition of my quotes book Churchill by Himself.…
According to the usually reliable Kay Halle, in her quotations book Irrepressible Churchill (Cleveland: World, 1966, page 116), Shaw wrote to Churchill in 1924: “Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend—if you have one.”
Churchill, Halle says, replied: “Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend the second—if there is one.” Finest Hour editor Dalton Newfield explained in the 1970s that the play in question was Shaw’s “St. Joan.”
But Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre, has just come across an correspondence in a remote corner of the Churchill Papers (CHUR 2/165/66,68) in which both Shaw and Churchill deny the exchange: