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on 4 August 2014
As a young man, Churchill had educated himself in the power of language. (He had, famously, done poorly at Harrow.) At the turn of the century, in his early twenties, he had drafted The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, an article designed to get him noticed by the heavyweight periodicals. Unpublished during his lifetime, it’s very much a young man’s piece: overwrought, passionate, recklessly revealing.

Throughout his political career, as he defected from the Tories to the Liberals and back, as he railed equally against the dangers of Nazism and against reform in India, Churchill used his speeches, not only to influence, but also to survive – politically and, perhaps, psychologically. By the 1930s, as Toye points out, the effect was wearing thin. “To MPs who had, as it were, heard it all before, his speaking style seemed not majestically impressive but overblown and hackneyed.”

But his constant interventions in the Commons over India seem to have jolted his rhetoric into a new register. In a letter to his wife, he writes that he is now speaking “with garrulous unpremeditated flow. They seem delighted.”

Churchill carries this new rhetoric into the war with him. He has reinvigorated his Victorian Ciceronianism by injecting the plain English championed during the 1930s by Greene, Hemingway, Orwell, and others. The synthesis will allow him to speak, more or less successfully, both in the Commons and over the airwaves. (One of Toye’s most intriguing discussions is about Churchill’s discomfort with radio.)

The book’s central thesis, in fact, concerns how Churchill’s speeches were judged by his many audiences. Toye uses material both from the Ministry of Information and from Mass-Observation. This material – including polls, reports and diaries – “is extraordinarily rich and variegated, and reveals the complexity of responses to Churchill, including surprising levels of criticism and dissent.”

By 1942, after the disastrous fall of Singapore, Mass-Observation was reporting a sense among the public that Churchill might not be up to the job. “The breaking of the oratorical spell is thus a shock as well as a disappointment.” In the Commons, however, on 23 April, he seemed to find a way forward. The MP ‘Chips’ Cannon reported: “No humour or tact, little oratory, no mea culpa stuff, but straightforward, brilliant and colourful, a factual resumé of the situation.” Something extraordinary was happening: “as the catalogue of catastrophe continued,” writes Toye, “MPs began to cheer up.” The sheer mass of fact and argument seemed to ground the speech in an ethical appeal that steadied a fractious House and increased MPs’ confidence.

For Toye, Churchill’s ability to explain, narrate and argue his case before parliament and the people matters more than the few remembered phrases or the occasional miscalculation. He never gave up speaking. He used rhetoric to inspire his electorate, cajole his allies and deceive his enemies; but he used it also to submit himself to the democratic power that kept him in office, and for which, ultimately, everyone was fighting.

Toye’s conclusion is itself powerful and inspirational. It closes a book that offers a remarkable insight, not only into these most famous of political speeches, but also the complex, conflicted society that responded to them.

A longer version of this review appears here:

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on 20 September 2015
This is an amazingly infomative book. Toye examines the legend that Churchill somehow single-handedly, using his speeches, and without a single voice of dissent, encouraged the population of Britain to let their innate heroism, hard-working attributes and stamina come to the fore in order to vanquish the foe.

Toye extensively quotes the direct opinion of many, many citizens about each of Churchill's main speeches and thereby shows that, as one would logically expect anyway, although Sir Winston was an extremely popular PM (avg. 70% - 80% approval ratings during his period in power during WW2), citizens were generally far from unanimously in favour of his actions and policies.

I should point out immediately that it is absolutely clear in the book that Toye is not disputing that the population of Britain had an abundant share of positive personal qualities, such as "innate heroism, hard-working attributes and stamina", nor is he disputing that Churchill's speeches played a part in "bringing that to the fore". It's just that, on the evidence of the many opinions (both positive and negative) from ordinary citizens about Churchill's speeches, it seems that the speeches were not the single most important factor in Churchill's success as a wartime leader. Even Churchill himself said that, and implied very subtly and humourously and diplomatically in saying so that to believe that his speeches were the sole factor in his success as a wartime leader might lead people to forget that his skills as a military strategist were highly important also.

Not only that, but Toye also underlines that dissent is a sign of health in a democracy and compares the situation in the UK with the situation in Nazi Germany, where citizens were completely unable to express open dissent in any form.
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on 6 September 2013
Fear not, this book does nothing to dissuade us from holding true the old adage 'cometh the hour, cometh the man', but it is a timely reminder that history tends to be written by those whom come out of a struggle uppermost. In Professor Toye's very readable study, Churchill is painted in human terms: some of his natural failings are bared for us to see. If anything, this makes the account all the more sympathetic.

Reading this book in current times, we are reminded of how, when a person struggles to pursue a course they believe to be right, even among those who are broadly willing to provide their consent to the cause, there will forever be dissent. Along the way, there is also likely to be the occasional banana peel and also the odd enticing blind alley which history may be slow to forgive or at best understand.

The idea that we cannot disturb the acquired collective memory of our erstwhile wartime leader is, of course, nonsense. For our nation and many besides, his position in the Pantheon is secure, though for his character we now have a few more warts and who among us can claim to have none of those?
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The view that Churchill won the war is widespread even among some historians. It is pure myth. This country, let alone its Prime Minister, did not win the war, it was won by the USA and the Soviet Union with, of course, an invaluable contribution by Great Britain and the Commonwealth. To this day many people find this very hard to accept despite the overwhelming evidence that it is true.

This excellent book by Professor Toye of Exeter University provides at last a welcome and new interpretation of Winston Spencer Churchill's contribution to the war effort by examining in detail his many famous war-time speeches in which he described our 'finest hour' and promised 'to fight on the beaches'.
Toye shows how many people thought, when hearing his speeches, that at times he was the worse for drink. Far more reveal they were not motivated to fight by his rhetoric. Because thousands hudddled round the wireless to hear the gravelly voice is not necessarily an indication that by so doing they were stirred to action. One group of Londoners said after the war that they and their friends listened because:'there was little else to do and it took your mind off the bombs'.

The myth that his rousing speeches kept us going during the darkest days was due to an excellent PR system plus Churchill's own somewhat boastful manner. His speeches were aimed at three groups: the domestic audience, our allies and the Germans- hopefully one day Professor Toye may be able to tell us how the Germans reacted to Churchill's speeches.

A major reason why those speeches have been given so much acclaim is because they are a brilliant example of literature at its best. Few have ever matched Winston's use of extended metaphors and proverbs, or his superb and elegant style. Sadly, very few History students today at any level read his multi-volume account of the war for while at times the detail is suspect the sheer beauty of the words is admirable. But then, for many students serious reading is given a very low priority today.

It is imprtant to remember that the Second World War almost certainly saved Churchill's political reputation for he had a very poor First World War followed by years in the political wilderness. By 1939 he was disliked, in some cases hated, by members of all parties in the Commons. If the Falklands saved Maggie, Hitler certainly saved Winston at least until the 1945 election.

Professor Richard Toye examines in detail the normal account of the speeches and demonstrates that many even in 'high places' had doubts about not only about their content but also Churchill as a Prime Minister. He shows how critics of the speeches were said to be 'aberrational' by those who supported Churchill. As Toye rightly says it is amazing how little attention has been paid to the reaction of ordinary people to those speeches. Winston's Gallop opinion polls were always very high, seldom below 78% between 1940-45-although the accuracy of these polls has been challenged-but very little is known about the publics reaction to his marvellous oratory.

In this his latest book about Churchill, Professor Toye explains how the idea that but for Winston the nation would not have continued to fight alone after the French gave in is bordering on the nonsensical. Indeed, as Arthur Murray (MP) had said, it is 'a libel on the British nation to suggest such'.

Toye shows how Churchill's speeches have remained immune to criticism because of their literary quality plus his superb oratorical skills. He also reminds us that to this day only short extracts of those speeches are known to the majority of people. Not all of a very high quality.

This excellent book is the first analysis of Winston Churchill's wartime rhetoric as a whole that is based on archival evidence. Toye shows that the speeches were 'calculated political interventions' which had widespread diplomatic repercussions far beyond the effect on British morale. Richard Toye analyses the speeches in the context of the 'global media war that was fought alongside the military campaigns'. These speeches were used by us and our enemies in the battle for 'psychological advantage'. We learn that the speeches were the result of a collaborative process although Winston wrote them himself.

Readers are indebted to Professor Toye for revealing the true nature of these speeches and how they were received by the British people. He challenges the standard image, reinforced by Churchill himself, as in his 80th birthday speech. As he says, the impact of the speeches have for far too long been taken at face value.
There is little doubt that Churchill's speeches expressed defiance, galvanised the nation and energised the people as well as impressing our allies. But his popularity was not ubquitous. Many Brits in 1940 distrusted him, in part as a 'war-monger'.During the war he was not admired by all in his own country. What Toye has done is to use a very large volume of evidence, for example, Mass-Observation data, and diaries, to reveal the very complexity of responses to Churchill. These included high levels of dissent and criticism. He has done us an immense service by so doing.

Thie book is NOT intended to denigrate a remarkable politician. As the author says, it is not intended either to be the definitive analysis of Winston's speeches. Professor Toye hopes his book will stir others to dig deeper into the reaction to Churchill's speeches, particularly his wartime ones.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the author has already suffered severe criticism, even abuse, in the media not for his research but for having the temerity to dare to question Churchill's contribution to the war effort. Much of this criticism reveals an ignorance not only of the speeches but also of Churchill the man and political leader. It should be remembered that after 1942 Churchill meddled in military strategy to a degree that caused the chiefs of staff to despair. A number of his suggestions were bordering on the insane and totally unachievable given the circumstances at the time.

Do read this fascinating account of the speeches of an enigmatic Prime Minister. It is beautifully and clearly written, and very informative. Above all, Professor Toye reminds us that despite Churchill's flaws he was a very remarkable man and politician.
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2013
Myth, legend and iconisation are natural processes, especially for a man who was vital to Britain's survival, and indeed the survival of the entire world. His contribution in keeping Britain in the war and in bringing the US 'into the war' is beyond question. But any 'legend-making' process takes place as back-projection, imbued with nostalgia, nationalism and narrative weaving. King Alfred only became 'Great' in the 19th century, and even today, the same process is taking place with Baroness Thatcher. The book stirs up a great debate but does act at times as if all historians have drawn big inferences from Churchill's speeches, arguable! I think this debate owes as much to film, media and dramatic representation 'since the war', as it does to cold historical fact. The iconisation of Winston Churchill took place in an era of visual immediacy, an era of the Pinewood war film, airfix model kits and the BBC's Dad's Army. It is a media studies phenomenon as much as a historical one. However, his military decisions and calculating ruthlessness, provide far more fertile ground for any discussion of his legend!
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on 12 September 2013
Even if in peacetime he was not a success, after the victory of the Allies in 1945 Winston Churchill's popularity as a war leader did not ebb. It may have prompted people to elect him sixty years on as the Greatest Briton. The US journalist, Ed Murrow, had declared in war he had "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle"; even today key phrases from his speeches, such as "I have only to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" (13/05/1940) are remembered. Prior to May 1940 Churchill was neither universally popular, nor trusted, and after the 1945 General election the general public happily kicked him and the Conservatives into opposition. The historian, Richard Toye, feels his message has been forgotten and romanticized, and few now realise how popular or, indeed, impopular he was.

What needs to be repeated is that Churchill was hated by the workers since sending troops against the miners at Tonypandy in 1910, and in the General strike, and though an aristocrat by birth, he was considered a turncoat by his fellow Tories for his switches in party allegiance and distrusted for his great independence Winston Churchill The Wilderness Years [2005] [DVD]. But it was the failure in Norway when Chamberlain and not Hitler had "missed the bus" (04/04/1940), which made Churchill the man of the moment, and Labour's pin-up boy in Parliament against Chamberlain's failed Conservative appeasers until the death of their leader in the autumn Guilty Men.

Churchill was never even in wartime acceptable in public to all, and contrary to myths neither was he a spontaneous orator. His Liberal friend, Lloyd George, described him a "rhetorician", who focused on how a phrase sounded, rather than as himself or Hitler who attempted to move crowds. Thus, it is doubtful that the speeches themselves, according to Toye, were the cause of his popularity. People admired his defiance, and they may even have been inspired by his passion - and may reflect Gallup's 80% "satisfaction" with him, though at the same time far fewer (up to 66%) of the Mass Observation diarists -of progressive middle class, with time to spare, admitted liking him.

Moreover, all the famous speeches were directed to a variety of interested groups. For instance, the "Dunkirk" speech (18/05/ 1940), the "Finest hour" (18/06/1940), and the "Few" (20/08/1940) were not exclusively for national consumption, to raise flagging morale as the chosen nation state standing up against the "guttersnipe" Hitler, the Naazis, or "Musso"; they were also intended to influence President Roosevelt and the US to give a helping hand through Lend-Lease aid in ships for bases. Gradually, the message became more specific and directed in "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job" 09/02/1941; but many were not aware of this at the time. Unexpectedly other groups would respond differently: when Singapore surrendered despite being allies of Japan many Germans feared that this victory as a danger, as the rise of the "yellow peril" (gelben Gefahr) against Arian whites like themselves. So it is impossible to assess if the speeches were indeed considered popular or successful to all concerned.

Roy Jenkins recounts peoples' memories during the Battle of Britain in July and August 1940, as being played back to May, and representing the entire Churchill's Premiership in order to create a "terrible beauty" of nostalgia and a myth of the great war leader of the hour Churchill: A Biography.

Satisfaction, successful speeches and popularity did not preclude criticism in a parliamentary democracy in war, considered more dictatorial than in peacetime. Churchill, unlike certain of his successors (eg. Blair), used the Commons to the full to provide censored information, to debate, and when greatly embarrassed as in defeats - Singapore and Tobruck in 1942, to await votes of no-confidence. It did prompt rivals and unhappy folk to express their anger when conditions worsened with waspish remarks, such as he is a "born dictator", "childish", and a proper "bastard". Perhaps with some envy and somewhat helplessness, Aneurin Bevan even declared: "The Prime Minister wins Debate after Debate and loses battle after battle" That for Churchill and the author was the binary mark of strength and weakness of a democracy compared with totalitarian states, where leaders facing opposition chose long periods of silence from public, isolation, and then surrounding themselves with yes-men. Perhaps, but just as Churchill would not have been acclaimed the Greatest Briton had Britain lost the War either in 1940, in 1944, or later, defeat, as in France discovered in June 1940, would have questioned the very nature of the political system itself.

However, when the first victory was proclaimed after El Alamein, Churchill had to admit that it was something unique and memorable beyond his original offering of "blood, toil, tears, and sweat", to be celebrated by all as a people's victory for Britain. They had to remember it was still "not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning" (10/11/1942), which outside the memorable phrases meant a lot more b,t, t and s had to be spilt and then "k.b.o.", meaning keep buggering on; he had with humility helped the country come through, but it was they who were the real heroes, who had given and had sacrificed more. That when understood, and when describing Winston a "bastard", might have led many more Britons of the East End breed to add in jest "but he's our bastard!"

Toye did not fall into the author's typical trap of becoming enamoured with his protagonist. He admitted, as his wife, his secretary, and the CIGS, Gen. Sir Alan Brooke, had previously, that he was like a moody, excitable prima donna to work with at all hours, but he was facing tiresome, equally headstrong characters in unpredictable circumstances; whereby the speeches alone could not produce instant or effective results.

Despite the claim of a "special relationship", originating from a "common language" with the US, Churchill was not the poodle of Roosevelt who disliked British imperialism (nor Thatcher of Reagan) as Blair was of G.W. Bush. Sitting between the intransigent Russian bear and the not listening US buffalo, at the Tehran conference, he felt the poor, feverish "British donkey" (his words) was the only one of the three who still had the right answers.

He was right in 24/08/1941 when he announced in the Soviet Union the world was witnessing "a crime without a name", which was later called the Holocaust. He was right and thankful to General Franco for his refusal to support the Axis, or his preventing a reinforcement of the Gibraltar fortress before the North African landings (24/05/1944), and was justified to continue loyalty thereafter (as Thatcher was to General Pinochet after the Falklands' War), much criticized by Labour at home and Roosevelt abroad. He was even prepared to risk wrath when, after the murder of Lord Moyne in Cairo by the Jewish Lehi terrorists, he provocatively calling them "gangsters" and comparing their actions as "worthy of Nazi Germany" (17/11/1944). Unfortunately his solution was less coherent and weak, and is still unacceptably criticized by the Poles, when he bullied their leaders into accepting Stalin's tyranny, and their system.

The most controversial issue concerned preparation for post-war (Four Year Plan 21/03/1943), and in particular the General election of 1945, when Churchill announced the Labour Party, referred to as Socialist, as using a "Gestapo" style secret police led by Harold Laski to change the system in Britain which all had fought for long to protect (04/06/1945). This has since been treated as having lost him the election (the author includes a passing cameo part played by a young Margaret Roberts at Oxford). Toye believes Churchill was directly influenced by the Austrian economist Von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (believed to be the seed of the future Thatcherism), whose phrase was an attack on all socialist totalitarian systems (linking the pre to the post war worlds and his profound hatred of both Nazism and Communism). He comments that Labour, including nice pipe-smoking Mr Atlee, however, was not free from name calling, except that Churchill's words stuck. Why? Toye does not say explicitly. Was it because of the influence of the left newspapers, The Mirror and The Herald, which were freely despatched and available among the Forces overseas? Perhaps. The author, however, contrary to the myth revealed that the speech did not reduce the popularity of the wartime leader during the election, though as poll studies in Britain were in their infancy and still not rigorous enough it is not possible to arrive firmly at such a conclusion. They were effectively choosing, or voting for or against a new Conservative Government, not partaking in a personalised referendum in favour of or against Winnie, the great wartime statesman.

Obviously, the ending of the war brought an end to an intensive draining epoch for Churchill; if he was to succeed in peace he had to re-calibrate his language and present himself for a new age. It seemed the old lion no longer had such tricks up his sleeve; so he has since been recalled as an aged, dying bulldog, or as Toye explains he was like a proven icon, on a pedestal, but by deciding to fight on politics he had to step down and face the barrage and unclear cruelties and dirt of the real world.

Labour supporters will be irritated here in being reminded that the welfare state was not their sole baby for the post-war world. It had been agreed to in various forms by the Coalition in wartime; its origins dated back to the start of the century by the Liberals, at a time when Winston himself was a member of government, and the real founder of the welfare state was none other than William Beveridge, not a Labour man, but another Liberal.

Normally studies on speeches are covered by linguistic scientists who produce reams of statistics based on unlimited samples of items without saying much. Richard Toye, a specialist on Winston ChurchillChurchill's Empire: The World that Made Him and the World He Made, and with an introductory title on rhetoric Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions), has now published an informative, readable and well-argued volume for historians, linguistic scientists lacking a historical background, and the general public. They will find revealing comments about Greece, Italy, Eire, Gen. De Gaulle, and on the nature of "Britain alone" which most certainly will surprise and antagonise people today. . Words in the speeches roar across the pages like the warrior lion of Downing Street. One word will suffice to portray his final product:Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road will be; for without victory, there is no survival. (13/05/1940)
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on 30 March 2015
I will have to rethink my favourite MGM logo after this. I preferred to one with the mane.
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on 22 March 2015
Good book quick delivery well done everyone xx
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on 11 May 2014
Richard Toye tries here to convince us that Churchill's speeches during the second world war did not inspire. He may as well try to convince us that the moon is made of cheese ! There is a vast amount of contemporary evidence to show that his speeches did inspire not only this nation but peoples all over the world . Churchill rallied this nation at a crucial time in our history and he did it with words. Incomparable words. As John F. Kennedy said a few months before his untimely death Churchill mobilised the English Language and sent it into battle. I suggest that anyone wanting to know about Churchill's speeches should take the time and experience the pleasure of reading them for themselves in preference to reading this book.
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