THE WICKED WIT OF WINSTON CHURCHILL #3
PIGS TREAT US AS EQUALS
Although Winston Churchill is, rightly, famed as an orator and
his speeches noted for the rolling fluidity of their language and
their power to move and inspire, most of them could not be
described as wicked or witty, except in so far as there is a kind
of wit in the way he uses language - in the metaphors he employs.
Interestingly, animals often figure - as allusions but most often
as metaphors in his speeches. Churchill liked animals; sometimes
he found this difficult to reconcile with his fondness for rich
food. Anthony Montague Brown recalled that 'One Christmas he was
about to carve a goose. Learning it was one of his own, he put
down the knife and fork and said, "I could not possibly eat a
bird that I have known socially."'
'Dogs look up to men, cats look down on them, but pigs just treat
us as equals.'
He kept all of these animals - and others - but perhaps he felt a
special affinity with pigs (charming and intelligent creatures
that are much maligned): one of his Private Secretaries described
being summoned to Churchill's bedroom where the Prime Minister
was lying in bed looking like 'a rather nice pig in a silk suit'.
Clementine's pet name for him was 'Pig'. (And apparently the
KGB's wartime codename for Churchill was 'Boar' . . . not exactly
unbreakable.) In Britain, during the war, however, he was
depicted as a bulldog - seen as the 'British Bulldog',
epitomizing the never-let-go, never-give-in spirit of the nation.
With his liking for words including the silliest of puns,
Churchill called the henhouse he had built for his chickens
'Chickenham Palace'. (Perhaps he was thinking of its residents
when he exclaimed 'Some chicken! Some neck!'- words quoted
elsewhere in this book.)
'Although it may be very difficult to define in law what is or
what is not a trade union,' he remarked in the House of Commons
in 1911, 'most people of common sense know a trade union when
they see one. It is like trying to define a rhinoceros: it is
difficult enough, but if one is seen, everybody can recognize
'The whipped jackal, who, to save his own skin, has made of Italy
a vassal state of Hitler's Empire, is frisking up by the side of
the German tiger with yelps not only of appetite - that could be
understood - but even of triumph.' (The jackal in this speech to
the House in April 1941 is Mussolini. In November 1942 Mussolini
transmogrified slightly: 'The hyena in his nature broke all
bounds of decency and even common sense.'
On his appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill
described his pleasure with a rather comical metaphor -
especially when one tries to visualize him as a 'fruitful hen'-
or imagine poached admirals: 'This is because I can now lay eggs
instead of scratching around in the dust and clucking. It is a
far more satisfactory occupation. I am at present in process of
laying a great number of eggs - "good eggs" every one of them.
And there will be many more clutches to follow ... New
appointments to be made. Admirals to be "poached", "scrambled"
and "buttered". A fresh egg from a fruitful hen.'
'Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not
dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry' In this warning
letter of 11 November 1937 Churchill's reference is to the
proverb 'He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.' (And he
must have known the limerick: 'There was a young lady of Riga/Who
went for a ride on a tiger; They returned from the ride/With the
lady inside,/And a smile on the face of the tiger.' Probably in
the English rather than the Latin version.)
'It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that
had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give
the roar. I also hope that I sometimes suggested to the lion the
right place to use his claws.' (Speech,1954.)
'We are waiting for the long-promised invasion. So are the
fishes,' Churchill assured the French in a radio broadcast in
October 1940. By then, thanks in large measure to the Battle of
Britain, Hitler had abandoned his plans for Operation Sealion,
the codeword for a German invasion of the British Isles.
'Learn to get used to it. Eels get used to skinning.' These
words, dating from 1940, were from a speech delivered in secret
session - had they been public, there would have been something
of an outcry as the 'it' people were meant to get used to was,
apparently, being bombed. He also used the metaphor in referring
to caricature: 'Just as eels are supposed to get used to
skinning, so politicians get used to being caricatured ... If we
must confess it, they are quite offended and downcast when the
Sometimes Churchill encountered problems with animals - notably
camels, which are not the most accommodating of creatures.
However, Churchill could be as obstinate as them. Edward Marsh
remembered a journey to Aden when WSC, as Under-Secretary for the
Colonies, asked to have a camel from the camel battery. The
battery officer - deliberately? - produced one known to be
badtempered and prone to kicking. A Somali boy later reported to
the officer: 'Effendi, effendi, camel kick Churchill; Churchill
kick camel. Him very good camel now, effendi.'
In 1921, Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, and his companions
were crossing the desert on camels. Suddenly his saddle slipped
round and dumped WSC unceremoniously in the sand. A number of
Bedouin accompanying the group immediately dashed up to him, each
offering his horse. But: 'I started on a camel and I will finish
on a camel,' declared Churchill.
'We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm,' he
remarked to Violet Bonham-Carter, no doubt bringing to an early
end a philosophic discussion of life, the universe and
'An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping that it will
eat him last.' Elsewhere, as we have seen, he remarks that
'Trying to maintain good relations with a Communist is like
wooing a crocodile.'
'We hoped to land a wildcat that would tear out the bowels of the
Boche. Instead we have stranded a vast whale with its tail
flopping about in the water!' This dramatic picture is a
reference to the US and British combined landing at Anzio on the
west coast of Italy, which was almost thrown back by the Germans,
with high casualties.
ARE YOU GETTING AS MUCH FUN AND INSPIRATION OUT OF CHURCHILL AS I
AM? I HOPE YOU ARE! HE WAS USED BY GOD IN HIS DAY AS INDEED A