Churchill’s Washington Humor, Part 1

by Richard Langworth on 30 April 2012

Churchll addresses Congress, 26 December 1941

A friend who is delivering a Churchill speech in D.C. asked for some examples of Churchilian humor involving Washington and U.S. Presidents.

Everyone enjoys Churchill’s famous crack in his first (1941) speech to Congress:

“If my father had been American, and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own!” That brought down the house.

When in the U.S., Churchill liked to emphasize his American roots. Broadcasting to America six months earlier, he avowed something he always believed:

 The great Burke has truly said, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors,” and I feel it most agreeable to recall to you that the Jeromes were rooted for many generations in American soil, and fought in Washington’s armies for the independence of the American Colonies and the foundation of the United States. I expect I was on both sides then. And I must say I feel on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean now.

In 1952, during his third speech to Congress, he declared: “I was on both sides in the war between us and we.”

The “Naked Encounter”

The most famous exchange with Roosevelt during Churchill’s 1941 visit to the White House is an “old chestnut,” but everybody enjoys it—and here’s one golden oldie that actually appears to be true:

President Roosevelt, inspired to call the new world body he visualizes the “United Nations,” wheels himself into Churchill’s room, finding the Prime Minister, as Harry Hopkins put it, “stark naked and gleaming pink from his bath.”

Roosevelt hastily turns his wheelchair to leave, but Churchill waves him in:

”The Prime Minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the President of the United States.”

(Or, in another version: “You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide.”)

When queried about this by Roosevelt biographer Robert Sherwood, Churchill denied it: “I could not possibly have made such a statement as that. The President himself would have been well aware that it was not strictly true.”

A third version has it that Roosevelt simply says: “United Nations!” and Churchill responds “Good!”

Whatever they said, the encounter apparently did happen, because both Churchill’s secretary and bodyguard, who were on the trip, confirmed it. And in January 1942, speaking about his visit to King George VI, Churchill said: “Sir, I believe I am the only man in the world to have received the head of a nation naked.”

Quotations are from Churchill By Himself. Continued in part 2….

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