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Was Churchill a great orator?

Source 3

Letter to Churchill from George Buckle, Editor of The Times regarding problems with the reporting of Churchill’s maiden speech


CHAR 1/29/6

Simplified Transcript

Dear Mr Churchill

I am glad you liked the report. I wanted it to be positive for the sake of your father. I admired him sincerely even though I also disagreed with him on many issues.

I am sorry for the mistake you point out. But I am sure it was not your speaking ability which was to blame. The reporter did not record what you said properly.

I don’t think we need to print a correction as the error did not change what you were trying to say.

Yours sincerely

G Buckle

Original Transcript


The Times 1788
Printing House Square

20 Feb 1901

Dear Mr Churchill,

I am glad you liked the report, which I was anxious should be a good one for the sake of your father, whom I knew for many years and, in spite of some acute differences, admired very sincerely.

The blunder you point out I regret. But you need not blame your articulation. It is clear to me that the Reporter, in his shorthand note, only took down the letters 'p r l s' & then, in writing out, inserted the wrong vowels. It is hardly worth while to make a correction as the general meaning of the sentence is quite clear.

With good wishes

Believe me

Yours sincerely

G.S. Buckle

What is this source?

This is a letter to Churchill from the editor of The Times newspaper. It was written on 20 February 1901 in response to a letter which Mr Buckle had received from Winston Churchill claiming the newspaper had misquoted his maiden speech.

Background to this source

In October 1900, Churchill was elected to the House of Commons for the first time, representing the constituency of Oldham in Lancashire. He took his seat on the Conservative Benches in the House of Commons on 14 February 1901.

An MP’s first speech in the House of Commons is called his 'maiden speech' and Churchill made his just four days after he entered the House. This is unusual as normally it would take a new MP much longer to make his first speech.

Churchill’s speech was about the conduct of the Boer War, a theatre of war with which he was familiar, having served there as a cavalry soldier. Speaking after one of the war’s principal opponents, a Liberal, the young David Lloyd George (who would become Prime Minister in 1915), Churchill defended the British army in South Africa and spoke about his opinion on how the government of that country should be organized after the end of the war.

The reporter from The Times would have been rapidly taking down notes for his report while Churchill was speaking. Churchill had said 'The government…ought to make it easy and honourable for the Boers to surrender, and painful and perilous for them to continue in the field'. The reporter had written down 'prls' as a shorthand for 'perilous' then mis-interpreted his notes and reported Churchill as saying 'painful and powerless'.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping this source can be useful to us in whether Churchill was a good orator. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What is the source saying about Churchill’s maiden speech?
  2. Why was Buckle anxious that the report should be positive?
  3. Does the letter praise or criticise Churchill’s speech?
  4. Buckle explains the reason for the error made by the Times reporter: do you think that Buckle feels Churchill is justified in raising the issue? 

Deeper level

Which of the following areas of Churchill’s key features of public speaking can be investigated by using this source?


Tick if this is present

If you have put a tick, what makes you think this?

On a scale of 0-5 (0 being absent and 5 being strongly represented), indicate how important this attribute is to the speech.

Correctness of Diction

Does he use words which some people might not know? Does the source tell us anything about whether the choice of words was important to Churchill?



Does his speech seem like blank verse poetry?


Accumulation of Argument

Does he build his argument?



Does he use examples from the past or from people’s knowledge to illustrate his point?


Emotions of the speaker and the audience aroused

Do the audience know Churchill’s final point before he gets there?


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Need help interpreting the source?

  • For the historian, the audience and tone of the letter are important. Historians might consider that Buckle’s admiration for Churchill’s father had an effect on what he wrote.
  • The source does not tell us anything about the content of the speech, we have to rely on what is inferred from the letter. The speech itself was reported in Hansard, the official transcripts of Parliamentary Debates in Britain, on 18 February 1901.
  • The source indicates that Churchill took care over the words he used in his speech because, even though the newspaper report had been positive, he had written to ask for a correction over one mis-reported word.

Source 4

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