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«Some people got depressed by Churchill's speeches»

Churchill's visiting Geneva, 1946. Foto: Photopress-Archiv (Keystone)

How does the Brexit situation harp back to longings about the British Empire?

About the time during the war?

«Even during the war, Chruchill was a more controversial figure, subject of more criticism than one would expect from the standard portraits.»

Do you think in this context that there will be a nostalgic wave of Churchillism?

You strongly criticize Churchill for his imperialist convictions. What were the reactions you got to your book on the subject?

«Churchill was not bringing people false comfort, he was telling them the truth. Over time this allowed him to establish his credibility as a speaker.»

Reading your books, I sometimes get the impression that both the worst and the best about Churchill comes from the same place, so to speak. His conviction of being right for instance.

Now you not only wrote about Churchill’s War speeches, but you also teach rhetoric.

How did he use his rhetoric skills?

How do you think people’s assertion of Churchill will change? He has done and thought terrible things, after all.

«Some of his most effective speeches have not remained famous today because they don't have many striking phrases in them.»

In the film, there is no parliamentary reaction to the «Blood, Sweat and Tears» speech. Is this historically accurate?

There is an interesting theory by the Austrian psychoanalyst Alfred Adler which he, in an unfortunate phrase, called «die Organminderwertigkeit»: If someone intelligent and ambitious had a defect, a speech impediment or being of little growth and so forth – he would aspire to be better at everything else he could be better at. How did Churchill’s stuttering as a child and his lisp make him the brilliant orator we remember him by?

Can one say that the very characteristic that made him such a bigot and a racist in places made him such a strong character when it came to recognize Hitler as a danger?

«There is kind of a spectrum of racism. On one end you have got Hitler, and then you have got the very unpleasant, but not actually genocidal racism of Churchill.»

I wonder about his frame of thinking: He was very stubborn, he made a lot of mistakes, but he was right about Hitler. Are those things related?

In the film Churchill is suspected of being a war monger. Is this an accurate description?

In what way his imperialistic attitude shaded or influenced his thinking about the Second World War?

«In fairness Churchill didn't want the war. What he genuinely wanted was to get act together sufficiently that Hitler could be deterred.»

Coming back to Churchill’s war speeches which you analyse in your latest book: Can you elaborate on his task to motivate the public, scare-off his enemies, giving information but not giving it away – an enormously difficult task, I imagine.

Can you tell us what makes Churchill such a great orator?

«A lot of people are completely unaware that he was imprisoned in South Africa and escaped, they don’t realise the length of his career or its complexity.»

He seems to have been a natural talent, because he wasn’t good at school. Did he teach himself?

Gladwell talks about the Beatles in this instance. But I think that it works the other way around: Talented people have limitless patience to learn something they are passionate about.

Over a thousand biographies have been published about Winston Churchill, you have written about him many times. My last question to you, Richard, is: What makes him so fascinating?