Michael Vestey

Master orator

Master orator

Apart from a strange and silly piece on Today accusing Sir Winston Churchill of being a racist over his attitude to India — he was, after all, a product of the age of Empire — it was a good week on Radio Four for our greatest prime minister. To mark the 40th anniversary of his death, the network broadcast several programmes commemorating his life, among them a repeat of Playing for Time — Three days in May 1940 (Saturday), a drama about wartime Cabinet disagreements, previously reviewed here, and later on in the evening The Archive Hour: Farewell to Winston, which looked back to his state funeral. Other programmes included Book of the Week: The Fringes of Power, the evocative Downing Street diaries of John Colville, Churchill’s private secretary from 1939, who observed closely the range of his moods throughout the war: the black depression, the rages and the wit and humour.

Inseparable, though, from the war leader was, of course, his powerful oratory and in Churchill’s Roar on Radio Four last week (Monday), Melvyn Bragg and his Routes of English producer Simon Elmes analysed Churchill’s voice, delivery and the poetic dimension of his speeches. Although he was an aristocrat, Churchill didn’t necessarily sound like one; his accent wasn’t extreme, and, as phonetician Professor John Wells of University College London pointed out, he spoke with the received pronunciation typical of the time. Despite his poor academic record at Harrow, it seems that his love of the English language began there. Paul Addison, author of a new book, Churchill: The Unexpected Hero, said that he’d won a prize at school for writing a poem about an influenza epidemic that spread from Asia to Europe, ravaging France and Germany. Churchill’s patriotism was evident then as he wrote that the flu was powerless to cross the Channel.

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