Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Churchill a great

Was Churchill a great orator?

Leeds, England. 1950. Winston Churchill, Conservative politician and British Prime Minister between the years 1940-45, and 1951-55, is pictured making a speech. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images).

To most people today this might seem like a very strange question. Churchill’s speeches during the Second World War are seen as almost legendary, inspiring the nation to fight Nazism and achieve final victory.

But were Churchill’s speeches really so effective? Or has history given Churchill a reputation as a great orator which is not completely deserved? Did his use of new media such as radio and newsreel make him appear to be a better speaker and speech writer than he really was? Was it his choice of an inspiring or memorable phrase which made his speeches significant, or was it simply the fact that he was talking about historically significant events?

Of course, Churchill would have argued that it was the quality and power of his writing and delivery which has stood the test of time. Churchill himself wrote about the art of rhetoric as a young man and put forward his ideas as to what makes a good speech. We can use these ideas to judge his success or we can examine what we consider to be the blueprint for a good speech and see whether Churchill meets the criteria set.

Your challenge

We have a box of sources from the Churchill Archive for you to investigate.

  • Your challenge is to study the sources in the Source Box and use them to decide whether you think that Churchill was a great orator. The first source sets out what Churchill thought were the key features of great speaking. The remaining sources are about speeches that Churchill gave. Your task is to see whether Churchill was able to meet his own high standards.
  • Your teacher will be able to help you with a recording framework and suggestions on how to present your work.

 Background information

The sources

Notes for teachers

Winston Churchill at a BBC microphone about to broadcast to the nation on the afternoon of VE Day, 8 May 1945
© War Office official photographers, Egalton (Mr), Horton (Major). (via Wikimedia Commons)