Winston Churchill, author of the Gallipoli fiasco of 1915-16 and the disastrous deflation of the British pound in 1925, finally redeemed his reputation in his sixties as the head of Britain's wartime coalition government. In your humble narrator's youth, most Americans who knew of Winston Churchill considered him one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century, the man inspired a besieged island nation to fight the Nazis wholly through the power of oratory. Winston Churchill's wartime speeches are certainly masterpieces of rhetoric, but careful research by Professor Richard Toye of the University of Exeter has revealed that most Britons found the prime minister's addresses less than inspiring at the time of delivery. Polls from the early 1940s indicate that listeners had measured responses to Churchill's broadcasts, found some of them gloomy or depressing, never actually heard one of the most famous speeches ("We shall fight them on the beaches...") on the radio, and in some cases considered the prime minister guilty of a "f[arging] cover-up." Listeners also thought the PM was drunk during his "finest hour" speech of August 1940, and lest some of my readers think this improbable, let me add the following recollection by Churchill's secretary, who left no indication that he considered the PM's drinking habits excessive:
Small wonder that Dave Barry renders Churchill's most famous dinnertime quote as "Madam, I may be drunk, but BLEAAARRRGGGHHH." Apparently the prime minister thought he had better treat World War Two less as a great national trial and more as a drinking game.