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Winston Churchill's “Crazy Broadcast”: Party, Nation, and the 1945 Gestapo Speech

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2012


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1 Broadcast of 4 June 1945. Unless otherwise stated, all of Churchill's broadcasts and speeches referred to here can be found in James, Robert Rhodes, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963, 8 vols. (New York, 1974)Google Scholar.

2 Charles Eade, diary entry, 31 August 1945, Charles Eade Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge (CAC). There was a slightly different emphasis in his remarks to the editor of The Times at around the same time: “He offered no explanation [for his defeat] himself except to say ironically that it might have been different ‘If I had done my broadcasts differently and if we had had a little more of your support.’” McLachlan, Donald, In the Chair: Barrington-Ward of The Times, 1927–1948 (London, 1971), 209.Google Scholar

3 Barnes, John and Nicholson, David, eds., The Empire at Bay: The Leo Amery Diaries, 1929–1945 (London, 1988), 1046Google Scholar (entries for 4 and 5 June 1945). The text, in fact, gives “rodomontage,” a clear error.

4 Gilbert, Martin, Never Despair: Winston S. Churchill, 1945–1965, vol. 8 of Winston S. Churchill (London, 1988), 32.Google Scholar

5 Cockett, Richard, Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-Tanks and the Economic Counter-revolution, 1931–1983 (London, 1995), 9496.Google Scholar

6 See, e.g., Harris, Kenneth, Attlee (London, 1982), 255–56Google Scholar; and Hennessy, Peter, Never Again: Britain, 1945–1951 (London, 1993), 8283.Google Scholar

7 “Churchill's Crazy Broadcast,” Daily Herald, 5 June 1945.

8 A key text is Tulis, Jeffrey K., The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton, NJ, 1987).Google Scholar There are numerous examples of post-1945 American political speech being subjected to rhetorical analysis—e.g., O’Gorman, Ned, “Eisenhower and the American Sublime,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 94, no. 1 (February 2008): 4272.Google Scholar

9 Matthew, H. C. G., “Rhetoric and Politics in Britain, 1860–1950,” in Politics and Social Change in Modern Britain, ed. Waller, P. J. (Brighton, 1987), 3458.Google Scholar Another notable example of discussion of rhetoric in the run-up to 1945 is Williamson, Philip, Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (Cambridge, 1999)Google Scholar, esp. the methodological statement at 13–18.

10 However, for a recent challenge to “technological determinism,” see Lawrence, Jon, Electing Our Masters: The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair (Oxford, 2009), esp. 97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 Exceptions are Charteris-Black, Jonathan, Politicians and Rhetoric: The Persuasive Power of Metaphor (Basingstoke, 2005)Google Scholar; and Jackson, Ben, “The Rhetoric of Redistribution,” in In Search of Social Democracy, ed. Callaghan, John, Fishman, Nina, Jackson, Ben, and McIvor, Martin (Manchester, 2009)Google Scholar.

12 Fairclough, Norman, New Labour, New Language? (London and New York, 2000), vii.Google Scholar Other recent examples include Whyte, Jamie, A Load of Blair (London, 2005)Google Scholar; Oborne, Peter, The Rise of Political Lying (London, 2005)Google Scholar; and Poole, Steven, Unspeak: Words Are Weapons (London, 2007)Google Scholar.

13 Vickers, Brian, In Defence of Rhetoric (Oxford, 1998)Google Scholar.

14 Aristotle, Rhetoric, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, Jonathan, 2 vols. (Princeton NJ, 1984), 2:2155.Google Scholar

15 It is mainly his World War II speeches that have been examined, although his 1946 “iron curtain” address has also received considerable attention. Churchill, then, forms only a partial exception to the general neglect of post-1945 British political rhetoric.

16 For example, Weidhorn, Manfred, “Churchill the Phrase Forger,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58, no. 2 (April 1972): 161–74Google Scholar; Cannadine, David, In Churchill's Shadow: Confronting the Past in Modern Britain (London, 2003), chap. 4Google Scholar; Wright, Patrick, Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War (Oxford, 2007)Google Scholar; and Lukacs, John, Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning (New York, 2008)Google Scholar.

17 For the importance of studying weak rhetoric, see Frobish, Todd S., ed., Crises in American Oratory: A History of Rhetorical Inadequacy (Dubuque, IA, 2007)Google Scholar.

18 Kandiah, Michael David, “The Conservative Party and the 1945 General Election,” Contemporary Record 9, no. 1 (Summer 1995): 22–47.Google Scholar See also Thorpe, Andrew, Parties at War: Political Organization in Second World War Britain (Oxford, 2009)Google Scholar.

19 Moran, Lord, Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival, 1940–1965 (London, 1968), 187, 254, 278, 309.Google Scholar

20 Ibid., 253.

21 Toye, Richard, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness (London, 2007)Google Scholar.

22 Daunton, Martin, Just Taxes: The Politics of Taxation in Britain, 1914–1979 (Cambridge, 2002), 135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

23 See Williamson, Stanley Baldwin, 353, for Baldwin's status “as a sort of honorary Liberal.”

24 Hunter, Ian, ed., Winston and Archie: The Collected Correspondence of Winston Churchill and Archibald Sinclair, 1915–1960 (London, 2005), 338, 412.Google Scholar

25 Harvie-Watt, G. S., Most of My Life (1980), 117Google Scholar, quoted in Jefferys, Kevin, The Churchill Coalition and Wartime Politics, 1940–1945 (Manchester, 1991), 119.Google Scholar

26 Toye, Richard, “‘I am a Liberal as much as a Tory’: Winston Churchill and the Memory of 1906,” Journal of Liberal History, no. 54 (Spring 2007): 3845.Google Scholar See also Baines, Malcolm, “The Liberal Party and the 1945 General Election,” Contemporary Record 9, no. 1 (Summer 1995): 4861.Google Scholar

27 Green, E. H. H., Ideologies of Conservatism (Oxford, 2004), 253.Google Scholar

28 The entry read, “Baldwin, Rt. Hon Stanley … confesses putting party before country.” Churchill did not write the entry himself, but it represented his view. Reynolds, David, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (London, 2004), 94.Google Scholar

29 As recalled by Harold Macmillan, quoted in Vernon, Betty D., Ellen Wilkinson (London, 1982), 184.Google Scholar

30 Speech of 15 March 1945.

31 Winston Churchill to Lord Croft, 17 March 1945, Croft Papers, CAC, CRFT 1/8.

32 “Major Lloyd-George's Future,” The Times, 20 March 1945.

33 Churchill to Ralph Assheton, 11 June 1945, Churchill Papers, CAC, CHAR 2/554, fol. 14.

34 There were also smaller subheadings: “Prime Minister's Broadcast Attack on Socialism” and “Policy Abhorrent to British Ideas of Freedom.” The Times, 5 June 1945.

35 Speech of 14 February 1920.

36 “Socialists Ran like Rats,” Daily Express, 7 November 1935.

37 Report of Proceedings at the 58th Annual Trades Union Congress (London, 1926), 346.Google Scholar The speaker was Ben Turner.

38 Boothby, Robert to Churchill, 7 September 1939, in The Churchill War Papers, ed. Gilbert, Martin, 3 vols. (New York and London, 1993–2000), 1:48.Google Scholar

39 Stuart, Charles, ed., The Reith Diaries (London, 1975), 271.Google Scholar

40 Arthur Greenwood, Speech to the House of Commons, 20 December 1944, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th ser., vol. 406 (1944–45), col. 1862.

41 Attlee, C. R., The Labour Party in Perspective (London, 1937), 60.Google Scholar

42 Overy, Richard, The Morbid Age: Britain between the Wars (London, 2009), chap. 7, 274, 300.Google Scholar

43 Hodges, Sheila, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House, 1928–1978 (London, 1978), 154.Google Scholar

44 Gracchus [Wintringham, Tom], Your MP (London, 1944), 81.Google Scholar

45 Celticus [Bevan, Aneurin], Why Not Trust the Tories? (London, 1944), 84.Google ScholarPubMed

46 The Labour Party, Speaker's Handbook, 1945 (London, 1945), 179.Google Scholar See also Kelly, Scott, “‘The Ghost of Neville Chamberlain’: Guilty Men and the 1945 Election,” Conservative History Journal, no. 5 (Autumn 2005): 1824.Google Scholar

47 This paragraph draws on Reilly, Joanne, Belsen: The Liberation of a Concentration Camp (London, 1998), esp. chap. 2.Google Scholar

48 Webb, Basil, The House Divided (London, 1945), 45.Google Scholar

49 Dalton, Hugh, The Fateful Years: Memoirs, 1931–1945 (London, 1957), 4142.Google Scholar

50 H. G. Wells to “The Private Secretary of Mr. Winston Churchill,” 29 July 1943, Wells Papers, University of Illinois, WC-37-2; J. H. Peck to Wells, 14 August 1943, enclosing “Mr. Churchill on Fascism,” The Times, 21 January 1927, Wells Papers, C-238-25.

51 Daily Herald, 18 June 1945.

52 “House of Commons,” The Times, 14 June 1934.

53 “July Election Nearer,” The Times, 22 May 1945.

54 Hart-Davis, Duff, ed., King's Counsellor: Abdication and War; The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles (London, 2006), 327.Google Scholar

55 Lionel Robbins to Churchill, 15 February 1935, Churchill Papers, CHAR 2/234, fol. 65.

56 Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable, 79

57 The Bodleian Library, Oxford, has a collection of Conservative Party posters, including this one, available online at

58 F. A. Hayek to Paul Addison, 13 April 1980, quoted in Addison, Paul, Churchill on the Home Front, 1900–1955 (London, 1992), 383.Google Scholar

59 Hayek to “The Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister,” 15 March 1944, Churchill Papers, CHAR 2/253, fol. 17.

60 Waldron Smithers to Churchill, 9 October 1944, Churchill Papers, CHAR 2/497, fol. 31.

61 Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable, 92–93.

62 Emrys Hughes, “‘Gestapo Will Get You,’” Forward, 9 June 1945.

63 Jackson, Ben, “At the Origins of Neo-liberalism: The Free Economy and the Strong State, c. 1930–1947,” Historical Journal 53 (2010): 129–51.Google Scholar For Hayek's belief in a “minimum income,” see Hayek, F. A., The Road to Serfdom (1944; repr., London, 1962), 89.Google Scholar

64 Harriet Jones has noted the apparent tensions in the Conservative election message, suggesting that the manifesto had a “basic lack of consistency represented in the simultaneous advocacy of social reform and financial orthodoxy” (Harriet Jones, “The Conservative Party and the Welfare State, 1942–1955” [PhD thesis, University of London, 1992], 108–9, quoted in Kandiah, “Conservative Party,” 33).

65 New Horizon, April 1945, quoted in Dutton, David, Liberals in Schism: A History of the National Liberal Party (London, 2008), 142.Google Scholar Similar arguments, directed at Labour's nationalization plans, were made by some grassroots Conservatives. See Thorpe, Parties at War, 176.

66 Colville, John, The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939–1955 (London, 1985), 606.Google Scholar Colville told Lascelles that “the only share the Beaver had had in it was the deletion of a tribute to Ernie Bevin,” the trade unionist and former minister of labour. Nevertheless, the speech did make a mildly positive reference to Bevin's demobilization scheme. See Hart-Davis, King's Counsellor, 331.

67 Soames, Mary, Clementine Churchill (Harmondsworth, 1981), 545.Google Scholar

68 Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable, 94. However, Churchill was not completely consistent in his defense of the speech. When at last introduced to Hayek after the war, Churchill told him that his arguments in The Road to Serfdom were right but that “it would never happen in England,” which of course contradicted his own argument in 1945. Hayek to Addison, 13 April 1980, quoted in Addison, Churchill on the Home Front, 383.

69 Churchill to Harry S. Truman, 12 May 1945, in U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers; The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1960), 1:89.Google Scholar

70 Overy, Morbid Age, chap. 7, 265–313; Deighton, Ann, The Impossible Peace: Britain, the Division of Germany and the Origins of the Cold War (Oxford, 1993), 221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

71 Briggs, Asa, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, vol. 4, Sound and Vision (Oxford, 1979), 627 n. 4.Google Scholar

72 Colville, Fringes of Power, 606.

73 In fact, Churchill did not oppose the nationalization of the bank when the new government legislated for this in 1946. Dalton, Hugh, High Tide and After: Memoirs, 1945–1960 (London, 1962), 45.Google Scholar

74 Greenwood, Speech to the House of Commons, 16 February 1943, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th ser., vol. 386 (1942–43), col. 1624.

75 See Williamson, Stanley Baldwin.

76 McKibbin, Ross, Classes and Cultures: England, 1918–1951 (Oxford, 1998), 96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

77 Lawrence, Jon, Speaking for the People: Party, Language and Popular Politics in England, 1867–1914 (Cambridge, 1998), esp. 106–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

78 “Was Worth 50 Seats to Labour,” Daily Herald, 6 June 1945.

79 James, Robert Rhodes, ed., “Chips”: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (1967; repr., London, 1993), 408 (entry for 5 June 1945).Google Scholar

80 Ball, Stuart, ed., Parliament and Politics in the Age of Churchill and Attlee: The Headlam Diaries, 1935–1951 (Cambridge, 1999), 462.Google Scholar

81 “Tory Doubts on Premier's Broadcast,” Manchester Guardian, 6 June 1945.

82 “Churchill's Crazy Broadcast,” Daily Herald, 5 June 1945.

83 “Churchill Claims He Is Leading National Govt.,” Daily Mirror, 5 June 1945.

84 “Labour Case for Socialism,” The Times, 6 June 1945.

85 Published on 31 July 1945 in the Evening Standard, the cartoon was called “The Two Churchills.” It showed one Churchill, “the leader of humanity,” sitting on a pedestal, commiserating with the other one, “the party leader,” down below. “Cheer up!” the former tells the latter. “They will forget you but they will remember me always.”

86 Soames, Clementine Churchill, 545.

87 Daily Herald, 6 June 1945.

88 This theme was taken up in the Labour-supporting press. See, e.g., Maurice Kitching, “New Zealand Is Insulted,” Reynolds News, 10 June 1945; and F. A. Cooper, “Where Labour Has Ruled for 27 Years and They’ve Never Seen a Gestapo Man,” Reynolds News, 24 June 1945. Cooper was writing about Queensland, of which he was premier.

89 “Labour Case for Socialism,” The Times, 6 June 1945.

90 For Morrison, see “The Road to Serfdom,” Daily Express, 6 June 1945; for the broader Labour reaction to the book, see Toye, Richard, The Labour Party and the Planned Economy, 1931–1951 (London, 2003), 136–38.Google Scholar

91 Cockett, Thinking The Unthinkable, 5.

92 Speech of 4 June 1945.

93 Cockett suggests that “the press descended” on Hayek and that he gained “star-status” in the campaign along with Harold Laski (Thinking the Unthinkable, 96). Yet only one paper provided any in-depth coverage of Hayek's ideas (Frederick Cook, “This Is the Road to Serfdom,” Evening Standard, 6 June 1945); otherwise, there were only a few snippets.

94 “Prof. Von Hayek,” Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, 6 June 1945.

95 “The Road to Serfdom,” Daily Express, 6 June 1945.

96 “Labour Case for Socialism,” The Times, 6 June 1945.

97 See Ward, Paul, “Preparing for the People's War: The Left and Patriotism in the 1930s,” Labour History Review 67, no. 2 (August 2002): 171–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

98 “The National Socialists,” Daily Express, 6 June 1945.

99 Pottle, Mark, ed., Champion Redoubtable: The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1914–1945 (London, 1998), 350–51.Google Scholar

100 Barnes and Nicholson, Empire at Bay, 1046.

101 Thatcher, Margaret, The Path to Power (London, 1995), 45.Google Scholar

102 George Bernard Shaw, “Churchill's Fiasco,” Forward, 16 June 1945.

103 See Morrison's comments in “Churchill's Crazy Broadcast,” Daily Herald, 5 June 1945.

104 Briggs, History of Broadcasting, 627.

105 There is need for considerable caution when using MO material; the selection of the comments may have been influenced by the political persuasions of the observers, who tended to be on the Left.

106 Moran, Joe, “Mass-Observation, Market Research, and the Birth of the Focus Group, 1937–1997,” Journal of British Studies 47, no. 4 (October 2008): 827–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

107 “Report on the General Election, June–July 1945,” File Report 2270A, October 1945, Mass-Observation archive, University of Sussex.

108 Addison, Paul, The Road to 1945 (London, 1975), 266Google Scholar; Fielding, Steven, “What Did ‘The People’ Want? The Meaning of the 1945 General Election,” Historical Journal 35, no. 3 (September 1992): 623–39, at 632.Google Scholar

109 McCallum, R. B. and Readman, Alison, The British General Election of 1945 (London, 1947), 144.Google Scholar

110 “He's the Silliest Candidate of the Election,” Daily Mirror, 28 June 1945.

111 McCallum and Readman, British General Election, 148.

112 Hurd, Douglas, Memoirs (London, 2004), 48.Google Scholar

113 Quoted in Mitchell, Austin, Election ’45: Reflections on the Revolution in Britain (London, 1995), 69.Google Scholar

114 Fielding, “What Did ‘The People’ Want?” 631.

115 Jon Evans, “Churchill—Enemy of the Workers!” New Leader, 16 June 1945. On Churchill's record as home secretary in relation to the Gestapo speech, see also the comparatively mild but nonetheless critical remarks of J. Chuter Ede, MP, quoted in “Election Letters,” Daily Herald, 6 June 1945.

116 Hughes, “‘Gestapo Will Get You.’”

117 Emrys Hughes, “Fuhrer Churchill!” Forward, 30 June 1945.

118 Michael Foot, “Why This ‘National’ Label Is a Shameful Fraud,” Daily Herald, 19 June 1945.

119 See “Rejoinders to Premier's Broadcast,” Manchester Guardian, 6 June 1945; and “‘Tory Gestapo Put Gag on Leading Scientists,’” Reynolds News, 17 June 1945. For examples relating to Tory MPs’ alleged fascist sympathies, see Kelly, “‘Ghost of Neville Chamberlain,’” 21.

120 “Cripps Answers Churchill,” Forward, 16 June 1945.

121 “Tories and Mr. Churchill,” Manchester Guardian, 12 June 1945.

122 “Axis Aid by Tories,” Sunday Pictorial, 17 June 1945.

123 “Liberals Are Rallying in the West,” News Chronicle, 9 June 1945. For Morrison's comments, see “Churchill's Crazy Broadcast,” Daily Herald, 5 June 1945.

124 Draft of broadcast of 13 June 1945, Churchill Papers, CHAR 9/208B, fol. 106.

125 Broadcast of 13 June 1945.

126 “Crowds Cheer and Jeer,” Manchester Guardian, 5 July 1945.

127 Harrod, R .F., The Prof: A Personal Memoir of Lord Cherwell (London, 1959), 255.Google Scholar

128 The Nuffield survey did concede that “the opposition papers had almost a monopoly of abuse,” but the target of this remark was the press, not politicians. McCallum and Readman, British General Election, 190.

129 “You Are Warned,” Evening Standard, 5 June 1945.

130 Brogan, Colm, Our New Masters (London, 1947), 5Google Scholar; Thatcher, Path to Power, 51–52.

131 Lawrence, Electing Our Masters, 210.

132 The leaflet, along with a copy of Callaghan's remark in Hansard (9 November 1976) can be found in the Thatcher Papers, THCR 2/7/1/37, CAC.

133 However, Morrison did suggest that Churchill's comments came ill from one holding “the high office of Prime Minister.” “Churchill's Crazy Broadcast,” Daily Herald, 5 June 1945.

134 “Opening Salvo,” News Chronicle, 5 June 1945.

135 The Liberals put up only 306 candidates (there were 640 constituencies). A Gallup poll conducted after the campaign closed found that “about 23 per cent. of the total electorate would have voted for the Liberal Party, given the opportunity” (“58 Per Cent. Opposed Election,” News Chronicle, 26 July 1945). It remains unclear whether the Liberal involvement in the election damaged Labour or the Tories most. See Gilbert, Bentley B., “Third Parties and Voters’ Decisions: The Liberals and the General Election of 1945,” Journal of British Studies 11, no. 2 (May 1972): 131–41Google Scholar; Arnstein, Walter L., “‘The Liberals and the General Election of 1945’: A Skeptical Note,” Journal of British Studies 14, no. 2 (May 1975): 120–26.Google Scholar

136 Moran, Winston Churchill, 254.

137 Vita Sackville-West to Harold Nicolson, 22 June 1945, in Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters, 1939–1945, ed. Nicolson, Nigel (London, 1967), 472.Google Scholar

138 A point made effectively in “The Unfinished Task,” Spectator, 8 June 1945.

139 Soames, Clementine Churchill, 544.