Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (1874-1965). Knight of the Garter, Order of Merit, Companion of Honor, Territorial Decoration, Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Fellow of the Royal Society, Nobel Laureate, first Honorary Citizen in United States history, and almost the Duke of London. British Prime Minister from 1940-1945 and again from 1951-55. Best known for helping win World War II, and he even won a Nobel Prize for writing about it in a six-volume Doorstopper.A very much beloved British Prime Minister, he is famous for his constant wit (e.g. Bessie Braddock MP: "You, sir, are drunk!" Churchill: "And you are ugly. Tomorrow morning, madam, I shall be sober."), his cigar-smoking (his scowl in the famous portrait, shown above, is because the photographer took his cigar away) and the Victory salute ("the bird" inverted, although he didn't invert it.)Churchill had actually been a senior politician for decades. Originally elected as a Conservative in 1900, but he changed to the Liberal Party due to his support for free trade. He soon became a cabinet minister and the architect of several of the reforms and welfare programs introduced by the Liberals, but he resigned from the War Cabinet in World War One after the failure of Gallipoli. He lost his seat in 1922, but returned in 1924 and rejoined the Conservatives. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) for the next five years, where he made a disastrous decision to reintroduce the gold standard. Churchill described this as the biggest mistake of his career; it resulted in high unemployment and strikes. He was isolated within the party in the 1930s, but made a political comeback after his opposition to the appeasement of Germany became vindicated.Churchill took over as Prime Minister after Neville Chamberlain resigned in 1940 after the Nazis invaded Norway and invited the Labour Party to join his government. From 1940-1941, the UK was the only country fighting against Germany and Churchill made some of his most famous speeches around this time, which are credited for keeping the country's fighting spirit alive. The situation improved after the USSR and USA joined the following year. Churchill became a close friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt and managed to work effectively with Stalin, despite being strongly anti-communist.Famously, his party were routed by the Labour Party in a general election a few months after the war ended in Europe. It appears voters considered him to be a fine wartime leader, but were sceptical about his ability to govern the country in peacetime. This reflects the view historians have on him. He later recovered and won a second term in 1951note Labour actually received more votes than the Conservatives in 1951., serving until his retirement from frontline politics in 1955 (during this time, Elizabeth II became Queen). His second term as Prime Minister is generally regarded a lot less favourably than his first. He died in 1965, three months after retiring from Parliament, and his state funeral became one of the most watched and attended funerals in history.Winning a world war (and funding the invention of the tank) will get a lot of people to forget your less popular policies, and some were very unpopular. Gallipoli and the gold standard are mentioned above. He was again isolated in the 1930s due to his opposition to Indian autonomy and the abdication of Edward VIII. Furthermore, in 1943, while PM, ignored a famine in Bengal, which eventually killed 4 million people. Given that the war was getting increasingly desperate at that time, his distraction might have been somewhat understandable—but he also expressed disappointment at one point that Gandhi was not killed by it. He was also a noted racist, like many leaders and people at the time, believing that one should not help the Palestinians from subjugation by Israel, because "a superior race naturally conquers an inferior one", and supported the use of non-lethal gas on rebellious Iraqis and other "uncivilised tribes" who had been attacking those under nominal British protection. He was also known for supporting eugencies and especially the British Empire. He also never won the popular vote in a British general election: in the 1951 election, Labour actually polled a quarter of a million votes more than him, the most any party had taken at the time, and the most Labour has ever managed. However, a quirk of the system meant that Churchill took the victory (similar to the way George W. Bush "won" the 2000 presidential elections in Eagleland).He'd been in the army before going into politics and was also a war correspondent. As well as his Nobel Prize-winning book on the Second World War (not the most reliable source, but an invaluable memoir), he wrote a history of the English-speaking peoples and a largely forgotten political thriller called Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania.A real-life Bunny-Ears Lawyer, he once had a meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was taking a bath, had little awareness of social mannerisms and sometimes wandered around his house naked. He more or less had a drink with him at all times, thus the, "You, sir, are drunk!", quote. He also suffered from depression, which he called his "black dog". He was also obsessed with what he called "the soft underbelly of Europe" in the Mediterranean, leading to results that varied from disastrous in World War One (Gallipoli) to merely wasteful (The Italian campaign) in World War IIHe was given a state funeral on his death in 1965, with a lot of leaders turning up. He is buried in a churchyard in Bladon, Oxfordshire. In a BBC series he was voted Greatest Briton of all time, and up until the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005 his funeral was attended by the most heads of states.Winston Churchill was notably a child of a binational marriage; his mother Jeanette Jerome was an AmericanSocialite from Brooklyn. A study of her biography, and that of her father Leonard Jerome, makes it very clear which side of the family Sir Winston got his resiliency from.In 1963, he became the first person to be granted an honorary citizenship of the United States, and one of only two given this honor while they were alive (the other being Mother Teresa). Including Churchill, there are only seven honorary American citizens. He is also one of the very few non-American citizens to have a U.S. naval vessel named in his honor. (Appropriately, the USS Winston S. Churchill has a Royal Navy guest officer assigned to her company and flies the White Ensign below the Stars and Stripes.)Many of Churchill's quotes are rightly legendary, including (as well as our page quote):
The young war correspondent Churchill guest-stars in the Time Wars novel The Khyber Connection, and is attacked by time-travelling assassins.
Appears in Time Squad, in which the main characters must go back in time and stop him from being a nudist.
In the Time Travel / Alternate History novel The Proteus Operation, people from a different United States go back in time to the 1930s to save the world from the Nazi Empire which defeated Britain. They need to find someone in politics to work with to save the UK. When the name Winston Churchill comes up they are about to dismiss him as all washed up and his career over. Then they think more about it and realize that he is untarnished with the defeatism and appeasement of so many others.
When the cast of Are You Being Served? camps out on the floor one night, Mr Grainger does an impression of Churchill giving one of his famous speeches.
A playable leader in Civilization IV (added in the Warlords expansion). His traits are Charismatic/Protective—which boost "happiness" (a rough stand-in for home-front morale during wartime) and defense respectively. This makes him pretty good for turtling.
Appeared in "Victory of the Daleks", the third episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who. He and the Doctor are apparently old friends, and he keeps trying to swipe the TARDIS key from the Doctor. He also turns up in the season finale "The Wedding of River Song" in an corrupted version of the universe where every time is happening at once, where he intrinsically trusts the Doctor due to feeling echoes of their friendship in the proper timeline. Interestingly, in the latter, he is not prime minister; he is Holy Roman Emperor.
Yet another Time Travel novel, Lightning by Dean Koontz, ends with a time-traveling ex-Nazi returning to just after World War II and persuading Churchill to finish off the Soviets as well, creating a much nicer world.
In The King's Speech, about the abdication of Edward VIII and the ascension of George VI to the throne, Churchill was played by Timothy Spall. He appears to encourage Albert to take on the role of king, and also shares how he too once had a speech impediment. Spall also played Churchill in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games.
"It's gotten a lot harder to work in government. You think Winston Churchill ever had to pull his pants down and show his butt? No. But would he have? Yes. Now could he have? Well, maybe not towards the end of his life. But he would have. Because he loved his job."
The Eagle Has Landed was a fictionalized account of a real Nazi plot to kidnap Churchill on his native soil.
Churchill: The Hollywood Years is an satire of Hollywood History were Winston Churchill is actually an American commando attempting to stop Hitler from marring into the British Royal Family. The Churchill the world knows was just an actor called Ray Bubbles.
The Rousing Speech at the top of the page was sampled and placed in the beginning section of Supertramp's 1977 anti-war epic, "Fool's Overture".
In Stewart Lee's Comedy Roadshow one sketch focused around the fact that Churchill was in fact a pig. A trained pig whose mouth was controlled by remote control and the V-peace-sign was purely because with a cloven hooves there weren't many other type of gestations available. This sketch was curated by a "historian" called Alan Moore.
A young Churchill comes to Toronto in Murdoch Mysteries to give a lecture on his time in the Sudan during the Mahdist War and becomes the chief suspect in his best friend's murder. It's not him, but a fanatical follower of the Mahdi who saw the friend take part in the descration of the Mahdi's tomb.
Churchill is an unlockable character in Medal of Honor's multiplayer mode using the code FINESTHOUR.
Appears during the Family Guy episode "Road to Germany". Turns out his wit is a little bit overblown by history.
Stewie: And look, there's Winston Churchill! Maybe we'll get an up-close look at his legendary wit.
British Woman: Oh, Winston. Drunk again I see.
Winston: Yeah, well you're a fat bitch.
Stewie: Hm. I guess history's just whittled it down to the gems.
He appears in his Secretary of State days in Peaky Blinders, where it's revealed that he's overseeing Campbell's investigation of the BSA robbery personally, as they both believe it's tied to the IRA. Hilariously enough, Campbell's terrified of him.
There is a duology of biopics: The Gathering Storm (named for the first chapter of his book), and Into The Storm (named for one of his war-time speeches), the former talking about his "wilderness years" in political exile in the years before the Second War as the threat loomed on the horizon, and the later about his greatest moments in the war and through it.
Tropes associated with Churchill
The Alliance: A key member of the Allies in WWII, he also coined the term "Special Relationship" to describe his views on the unique friendship between Great Britain and the United States.
America Saves the Day: A good-natured non-American example. Winston spent the first years of the war seducing FDR in a rather unsuccessful attempt to invoke this. When Japan obliged at Pearl Harbor, he was overjoyed and declared "so we have won after all!"
Anti-Climax: His second tenure as Prime Minister, 1951-55.
Badass: Is there any doubt ? Churchill EMBODIES the spirit of resistance, no matter the odds.
Because Destiny Says So: On his accession to the office of Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, the same day that the Germans launched their long-awaited attack on the Western Allies:
...on the night of the 10th of May, at the outset of this mighty battle, I acquired the chief power in the State. ... I cannot conceal from the reader of this truthful account that as I went to bed at about 3 a.m. I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. Ten years in the political wilderness had freed me from ordinary party antagonisms. My warnings over the last six years had been so numerous, so detailed, and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me. I could not be reproached either for making the war or with want of preparation for it. I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail.
Born in the Wrong Century: Actually he was born in exactly the right century as he was born in the third quarter of the nineteenth and was in many ways a stereotypical Victorian. However most of his life was spent in the twentieth century.
He was something of a social reformer in his early political career (he was instrumental in introducing old age pensions, for instance), but that largely subsided after taking over the Admiralty in 1911.
His unapologetic imperialism was certainly a 19th century throwback.
He unsuccessfully spent the 30s trying to warn of the danger that Hitler posed to Europe, and of the lack of Britain's preparedness for war. The first chapter of his war memoirs is named The Gathering Storm.
The Munich Agreement that Neville Chamberlain brokered, in which the western powers agreed to hand over a slice of Czechoslovakia for Hitler's promise not to swallow the rest, has become a synonym for political weakness. At the time, however, it was wildly popular in England and Chamberlain was hailed as the man who had saved the peace. Churchill was practically alone when he rose up in the House of Commons and said "we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat". Less than six months later Hitler gobbled up the rest of Czechoslovakia, and less than a year later Britain was at war.
Comically Missing the Point: According to one anecdote, Churchill was awoken one day with the news that an MP had been found naked in the bushes with a guardsman the previous night. Churchill asked, "Wasn't it awfully cold last night?" When told that yes, it had been one of the coldest winter nights in decades, he said, "Makes you proud to be British."
Cursed with Awesome: Arguably. He was born with a speech impediment that he fought for years to overcome, and the lingering effect of it was that he paused a lot in his speeches, which lent them an additional sense of drama. This style may have been deliberately copied by a later Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Darkest Hour: A real life Trope Codifier of sorts, "The Darkest Hour" is a phrase he coined to describe the phase of the war when Britain alone faced the Axis threat and was pounded daily by The Blitz. He also reversed it to praise such defiance.
If the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.
Two of the most famous are these exchanges (the first with one of his favourite House of Commons sparring partners, the Conservative backbencher Nancy Astor):
Astor: If I were your wife, I would put poison in your tea. Churchill: Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it. and... Bessie Braddock: Sir, you are drunk! Churchill: Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.
He was also on the receiving end of this a few times, including an exchange with a Halloween host on what he should come as. "Why don't you try coming sober, for a change?"
Democracy Is Bad/Democracy Is Flawed: Toyed with, as the man himself said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter," but he did also say "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time", so it would seem although he felt that democracy was far from perfect, it was still notably less imperfect than the alternatives.
Determinator: Summed up in one of his catchphrases, "Keep Buggering On". Even in his own life. Nearly killed in a car wreck, lieutenant in the militia and later obese, cigar smoking and drinking like there was no tomorrow. And yet he STILL lived to 91!
Churchill: You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
Enemy Mine: He absolutely loathed Bolshevism and campaigned for active intervention against the communist faction in Russia's civil war, but when Germany invaded the USSR he quickly and warmly welcomed Stalin as a genuine ally of the British Empire.
Churchill: If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.
Evil Counterpart: In his unfinished biography, William Manchester claims that the reason Churchill knew Adolf Hitler was, well, Adolf Hitler, instead of just another eccentric politician, was that Hitler was Churchill's Evil Counterpart. Both were romantic nationalists with a militaristic streak (although arguably Churchill's militarism was comparable that of high-school wargame geek or an unusually avid Tom Clancy fan) who had a sense of national mission. Of course Churchill's idea of Britain's mission was rather different from Hitler's idea of Germany's.
Functional Addict: Dependent on alcohol without being an abuser. He boasted about being able to outdrink Molotov and Stalin and also joked his doctor forbade him to ingest anything non-alcoholic between meals.
Glory Seeker: After the fiasco of Gallipoli and his exit from the government, he rejoined the British Army seeking to rehabilitate his reputation and was given a field commission as Colonel in Belgium, where he continued to exhibit the usual reckless daring of his military career.
Godwin's Law: Possibly the first ever invocation, during the 1945 election he attacked Labour, stating that they would limit free speech and claimed they would have to "fall back on some kind of Gestapo". This went over very badly and certainly didn't do anything to prevent Churchill's defeat.
The Good Chancellor: Well, that's what a Prime Minister is, right? Although Churchill's earlier stint as the actual Chancellor (of Exchequer, Britain's Minister of Economy) was rather disastrous.
Good News, Bad News: Used in a reverse way in his WWII chronicles. Reportedly, after learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor and on the British possesion in East Asia, Churchill broke out a bottle of champagne and said, "We've won the war", since this meant Awakening the Sleeping Giant, his longtime daydream.
He's Back: His decade-long ostracism is ended when Chamberlain invites him to the government at the outbreak of WWII. The Navy welcomes the old First Lord of the Admiralty by sending out a signal to the Fleet: "Winston is back."
A common criticism of Churchill is that he brought in London Metropolitan policemen to break up a strike at Tonypandy in Wales. While this is true, it ignores the fact that firstly Churchill did sympathise with the strikers, and secondly the rest of the government had wanted to send in the army.
There's also the matter of him getting rather chummy with Benito Mussolini (mostly because Churchill admired the Italian dictator's anti-communist actions, and that until the later '30s, he was not well-disposed to Adolf Hitler, making it a case of "He's an SOB, but he's our SOB."). Got a lot less chummy as the years dragged on, of course.
The Bengali famine aside, Churchill was a passionate opponent of Indian independence and a true believer in Britain's right to rule over brown people around the world. Observe what he said about India in general and Gandhi in particular. Churchill's "wilderness years" when he was a powerless backbencher did not happen because he was against appeasing Hitler; he dropped out of leadership in the Conservative Party before Hitler came to power, because Churchill was opposed to Indian Home Rule.
Churchill's steadfast support of Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis not only proved a personal embarrassment, but hindered his credibility during the run up to World War II. Even M Ps with reservations about Chamberlain's appeasement policies were reluctant to ally themselves with Churchill after this.
Humble Hero: While Winston was prone to egotism, he also was a romantic who genuinely put the credit collectively in the British and not in his leadership. Quoting from his 80th birthday ceremony in the middle of his second mandate:
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 Was Quite a Looker: Prior to looking like a very large ugly baby in a suit, he was actually a rather handsome man.
Improbable Aiming Skills: Was a excellent shot with a Mauser C96 in his cavalry days and practised with a Colt M1911 to keep his skill up.
Impoverished Patrician: Lord Randolph was a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, so money was always a bit of a concern. Winston's expensive tastes meant he was always on the knife's edge in adulthood, and he remained afloat only by churning out an astonishing pace of bestselling books and work-for-hire newspaper and magazine articles.
Arthur Balfour: Winston has written an enormous book all about himself and called it The World Crisis.
I Warned You: Churchill warned the Western powers of the threat to democracy Hitler and his fascist government posed. No one listened to him until WWII broke out, and he was elected as Prime Minister in 1940.
Large Ham: He had a habit of using that soaring rhetoric all the time.
Lesser of Two Evils: He opposed Communism with a passion, but he made this quote in response to Germany's invasion of Russia: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."
Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston's father, who was a rising star in the Conservative Party but his political career ended in disaster due to a miscalculation when he became Chancellor. Exactly the same thing happened to Winston in the 1920s and, until WW2, most people assumed his career was over as well.
Look Both Ways: Struck by a car in New York City and nearly killed on Dec. 13, 1931. He looked the wrong way when stepping into the street (Americans drive on the right).
Modern Major General: Churchill's military incompetence is generally glossed over as part of his Historical Hero Upgrade. He was one of the architects of the disastrous British defeat in Gallipoli in World War I (something that derailed his political career for a time).
The Dardanelles naval campaign failed because the field commander (Admiral John de Robeck) called off the final assault, against Churchill's advice. The marine landings were also opposed by Churchill, and went bad because of similarly awful leadership from commanders on the scene, but Churchill ended up taking the blame for their failure in spite of that.
Probably a better example would be his tendency towards micromanaging British naval forces in the early stages of World War I, which led to several notable failures and defeats (the flight of the Goeben and the battle of Coronel among them). During World War II he had many novel ideas and schemes, though most of them were so outlandish and unrealistic that General Brooke (his chief of staff) was often driven to distraction. President Roosevelt commented "Winston has a hundred ideas a day, of which four are good ideas".
Also Churchill diverting General Wavell's forces to defend Greece. Greece and Crete were lost anyway and the delay in the Libyan offensive enabled the Africa Corps time to deploy there.
Apparently tougher on his Admirals than his Generals, during the Bismarck pursuit, Churchill micromanaged the situation to the Admiralty and Admiral Tovey's despair. At one point, he ordered Tovey to keep his capital ships out on the hunt even if they had to be towed back to port from running out of fuel (a possibly disastrous situation during the heyday of the U-boat). Tovey and the Admiralty blew him off and ignored him and not being a Hitleresque dictator with permission to kill, all Churchill could do was stew at them.
He did try to get Admiral Cunningham punished after what Churchill felt was timidness during the Battle of Cape Matapan (which the British technically won anyway). No action was taken against Cunningham.
While undeniably prescient on Hitler's designs against Europe, Churchill grossly underestimated Japan even after their invasion of China. His haphazard management of Singapore's defenses (allocating inadequate airplanes and tanks, dispatching only two warships to screen it against an entire Japanese fleet, sending significant reinforcements only after the city was under siege) contributed greatly (along with General Percival's poor leadership) to that city's surrender to the Japanese.
My God, What Have I Done?: At one point, when shown film footage of the bombing campaign against German cities, he burst out "Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?" Also, his remark in his history of the Great War that the only atrocities that hadn't been committed by the "civilized" nations who fought the war had been "Torture, and Cannibalism; and those had been of doubtful expediency." As First Lord of the Admiralty he had been, of course, a senior political leader of one of the nations that had fought so dirty.
Mr. Vice Guy: His smoking and drinking, both seen as excessive, did nothing but add to his mystique.
Nice Hat: He frequently wore bowlers, as seen in photographs. This hat has become associated with his image almost as much as his famous cigars.
The Only One: Churchill was hardly the heroic saint he's remembered as in some quarters. However, regardless of why it happened, Churchill's standing as practically the only British politician who hadn't supported appeasement left him the only realistic candidate to take over as PM in the spring of 1940, when the war started to go bad.
"In England, there was such a man. [chapter break] Now, at last, his hour had struck." (William Manchester's Churchill bio)
Only Sane Man: During the 1930s, he was pretty much the only politician in Britain who saw Hitler for what he truly was.
Although, ironically enough, he was one of some to openly congratulate Benito Mussolini on his policies (mainly because Mussolini was no threat to British supremacy, and even despite that he showed remorse for doing that later on).
Actually, there were a few British politicians who saw Hitler for the threat he was, some before Churchill did; its just that most of them weren't famous.
Parental Substitute: Mrs. Everest, his childhood governess, who, as with most good Victorian households, handled most of the actual child-rearing.
Power Trio: With Uncle Sam Franklin D. Roosevelt and Uncle JoeJosef Stalin, who historically was the winner at Yalta, to Churchill's chagrin. Strategically Churchill was the leader of the weakest nation among the big three, but nevertheless fought to retain some parity.
During the 1926 general strike, he nationalized Fleet Street machinery and started to edit, with great success, the government-biased paper The British Gazzette. He would wield it later as a warning "If ever you let loose upon us again a general strike, we will loose upon you another British Gazette"
Liberally and justifiedly used during the war.
In war-time truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
Rousing Speech: Pretty much the real-life king of this trope. Seriously, go read that page quote again. He's perhaps the only person in history to be awarded a Nobel Prize for his speeches. John Kennedy once said that he "weaponized the English language for use against tyranny."
A frequent visitor to the ruins during the blitz, a moral act of defiance. He had trouble containing the tears however.
His declaration of war on Japan received some flak for being extremely courteous, which he defended reasoning that "If you have to kill a man, it cost nothing to be polite"
Senior Sleep Cycle: Inverted, because of the siesta habit he picked up while covering the Spanish-American war, Churchill in his sixties was able to stay fresh and work until late at night and his junior colleagues or underlings were barely able to keep up.
V Sign: He popularized its use as a "Victory" sign during World War II. Apparently he had to be told to do it with the palm out, because with the palm in it becomes a vulgar gesture.
Churchill and the Conservatives were defeated by the Labour Party in July 1945 (soon after Victory-in-Europe Day but before Victory-over-Japan Day) as the people deemed his martial traits and general agenda were not useful for a post-war Britain in need of reforms.
Additionally, there was the dissolution of Britain's empire, which happened quite rapidly after the war, as Britain had gone so far into debt fighting Hitler that there was no possible way to maintain it. For Churchill, a strong believer in the Empire, this came hard.
In a broader sense, Britain went to war to defend Poland's sovereignty and the European Balance of Power. By the end of the war Poland was a defacto Soviet satellite and Churchill was unable or powerless to convince Roosevelt against this. Churchill was at least able to sway Greece (but failed with other countries) away from the Soviet sphere in the Percentages agreement done with Stalin.
Working Class Hero: Winston, who was born in a Palace, fancied himself as one and liked to play-up this trope. He spent a lot of time personally renovating his house, had some skill at it and even joined the Guild of Bricklayers. Then again, he showed signs of being a Sheltered Aristocrat, for instance, the one time he took the London underground he didn't know how to exit and had to be "rescued".
Written by the Winners: Trope Namer. Churchill, of course, made sure that he was one of those writers, publishing multi-volume histories of both the First and Second World Wars.