Winston Churchill’s 50th Anniversary Biography Quotes

You write that when you were growing up, your father would recite Churchill quotes. Can you recall any in particular?

London Mayor Boris Johnson grew up with Winston Churchill. That is, his parents would often quote the British Bulldog around the house. So when Churchill’s estate asked Johnson to write a biography to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death, the mayor agreed. We spoke with Johnson about Churchill’s legacy and his new book, The Churchill Factor.

In The Churchill Factor, you quote a source as saying that Winston Churchill was the greatest Briton of all time. What made Churchill so great?

The sheer scale of his achievement and in particular, in being the only man who could possibly have saved Britain and indeed western civilisation in May 1940 from a catastrophe that would have disgraced humanity.

You write that when you were growing up, your father would recite Churchill quotes. Can you recall any in particular?

He would recite some of the famous lines from [Churchill’s] great wartime speeches. And I think it was my mother who used to tell us jokes about Churchill. You know, the famous one about when he’s in the lavatory and he’s told, someone comes to him and, the Lord Privy Seal has got a message for him. And he shouts out, ‘Tell the Lord Privy Seal that I’m sealed in the privy, and I can only deal with one shit at a time’…That turns out, to my amazement, to be true. Or at least partly true.

Do you have a favourite Churchill quote?

There are so many. His gift for language was so incredible…The great story about when the chief whip comes to tell him about some minister who’s disgraced himself on a park bench. Some Tory cabinet minister is caught on a park bench at 6 o’clock in the morning in February with a guardsman, which is a total disgrace. And obviously the party machine starts to think he’s got to resign and the news of this is brought to Churchill in his study in Chartwell. And he doesn’t turn around from his desk and the chief whip’s relating this unhappy event, and Churchill says after a long pause, “Do you mean to say that so and so was caught with a guardsman?” “Yes, prime minister.” “On a park bench?” “Yes.” “At 6 o’clock in the morning?” “Yeah, that’s right.” “In this weather?” “Yes, prime minster.” “By God, man, it makes you proud to be British.”

But aren’t some of those great quotes fake?

That’s the trouble. I heard that one from his grandson, whether or not that’s a substantial source, I don’t know…When [politician] Bessie Braddock told him he was drunk, he certainly did say, “Well madam, you’re ugly, but I’ll be sober in the morning.” I’m afraid that is true, and very rude. [Experts believe that Churchill got that line from a W.C. Fields movie.]

What makes his quotes so memorable?

He loves reversing word orders…chiastics. So, “It’s not only the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.” Or, “I’m ready to meet my maker, whether or not my maker is ready to be meeting me.” Or, “I’ve taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” “We shape our places and then they shape us.” He’s using the same device.

Finally his view on BBQ’s and frankfurters (nothing to do with Winston Churchill but we wanted to include it)

A great moment where Paul Murton and Boris on Room 101 break BBC health & safety rules by cigar smoking in the studio.