When it comes to stirring oratory, few speeches have the power to quicken the pulse like Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches…” from June, 1940. Generations of British schoolchildren have learned how that voice, crackling over the airwaves, helped galvanise the nation to new heights of endurance in the struggle against an all-powerful foe.
Churchill’s grand aristocratic tones summoned up the spirit of British defiance from across the centuries. So British schoolchildren are taught anyway — and you still come across grey-haired veterans of those days who vividly remember where they were when they heard it on the wireless.
Shame then, that it was all a bit of a fraud. For the recorded version of the speech we are all familiar with, was not made until nine years later at his Chartwell country residence with the old boy rumbling into a microphone while sitting up in his bed. (The original speech in the House of Commons was not recorded — extracts were read out by newsreaders).
That is one of the milder revelations in a bunker-buster of a BBC television program called Churchill: When Britain Said No which told the story of how the victorious war time premier was overwhelmingly rejected at the 1945 general election.
Predictably, the keepers of the flame are outraged. The Winston Churchill Industry in both the USA and Britain have expressed their disgust that such a program could have been broadcast. A “hatchet job” opined Lee Pollock, director of the Winston Churchill Center in Chicago. In an article in The Spectator Mr Pollock wrote that “When Britain Said No is so one-sided and hysterical that it actually does a disservice to the revisionist cause.” Churchill’s family, too, were enraged and condemned the program as “designed to belittle Churchill’s record.”