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Amol Rajan: Failing and flailing with Churchill's great speech

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Thursday, 12 November 2009 at 04:27 pm
I lost an argument in the office this morning.

Ever since reading Christopher Hitchens' collection of essays, 'Love, Poverty, and War', I have maintained (usually quite forcefully) that Winston Churchill did not in fact read his "We shall fight them on the beaches" speech. 

I did this because the opening essay in that collection - which was originally printed in The Atlantic in April 2002, is called 'The Medals of His Defeats', and which you can read in full here - contains the following paragraph:


"The three crucial broadcasts were made not by Churchill but by an actor hired to impersonate him. Norman Shelley, who played Winnie-the-Pooh for the BBC's Children's Hour, ventriloquized Churchill for history and fooled millions of listeners. Perhaps Churchill was too much incapacitated by drink to deliver the speeches himself".


This always struck me as a remarkable fact, and I was very proud to know it. So when I read our page 3 story this morning, I thought we'd committed a heinous error, one so unforgivable that Guy Keleny would have to devote a whole edition of his peerless 'Errors & Omissions' column to it.

When I raised this with the News desk here, I thought I had achieved a notable victory in the superbrain stakes.  But shortly after returning to our cerebral Comment desk corner, I received an email, notifying me of a comprehensive debunking of a brilliant urban myth.

As Sir Robert Rhodes James explains, Churchill did in fact deliver the speech.  And do you know which historian instigated the revisionist tale?

David Irving.

Do read the fascinating history in full.


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