Churchill 'borrowed' famous lines from books by HG Wells

Sarah Cassidy
Monday 27 November 2006 01:00

Winston Churchill was a closet science fiction fan who borrowed the lines for one of his most famous speeches from HG Wells, says new research.

Dr Richard Toye, a history lecturer at Cambridge University, has discovered that the phrase "the gathering storm" - used by Churchill to describe the rise of Nazi Germany - had been written by Wells decades earlier in The War of the Worlds, which depicts an attack on Britain by Martians. Dr Toye also identified similarities between a speech Churchill made 100 years ago and Wells's book A Modern Utopia, published in 1905.

Tellingly, just two days before Churchill delivered the speech in Glasgow on 9 October 1906, he wrote to Wells to enthuse about the book, admitting: "I owe you a great debt."

"It's a bit like Tony Blair borrowing phrases from Star Trek or Doctor Who," Dr Toye said.

Dr Toye made the discoveries while researching a book on Churchill. He identified several points at which Churchill appeared to borrow Wells's ideas.

"People look at politicians in the 20th century and presume their influences were big theorists and philosophers," Dr Toye said. "What we forget is that Churchill and others were probably not interested in reading that stuff when they got home after a hard day in the House of Commons. They wanted to read a book that was full of ideas but was also going to be fun. HG Wells was perfect for that.

"Churchill was definitely a closet science-fiction fan. In fact, one of his criticisms of A Modern Utopia was that there was too much thought-provoking stuff and not enough action."

Dr Toye argues that Wells was an important intellectual influence on Churchill during the formative period of his career.

In 1901, having already written some of his best-known works, including The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, Wells wrote Anticipations, a book of predictions about the future calling for the establishment of a scientifically organised New Republic.

His publisher sent a copy to Churchill, and the future prime minister wrote a long letter to the author, in which he told Wells: "I read everything you write" - adding that he agreed with many of his ideas.

Churchill and Wells first met in 1902. They kept in touch in person and by letter until Wells died in 1946.

Wells wrote A Modern Utopia in 1905. The book was an attempted update of Thomas More's Utopia, which championed radical ideas including basic state support for citizens. Churchill, then a junior minister in the Colonial Office, did not get around to reading it until his holidays the following year.

Two days after writing to Wells, Churchill gave an address to the Scottish Liberal Council in Glasgow in which he said the state should support its "left out millions". Historians now regard this as a landmark speech of Churchill's career.

In 1908, Wells supported Churchill when he stood in a by-election for the seat of Manchester North-West.

In 1931, Churchill admitted that he knew Wells's work so well he could pass an exam in it. "We need to remember that there was a time when Churchill was a radical liberal who believed these things," Dr Toye explained. "Wells is often seen as a socialist, but he also saw himself as a liberal, and he saw Churchill as someone whose views were moving in the right direction."

A meeting of minds

* On the state:

Like Wells, Churchill said the state should support its citizens, providing pensions, insurance and child welfare.

* On Utopia:

Wells entitled his book A Modern Utopia.

Churchill, two days after expressing his "debt" to Wells, described his own vision of the supportive state as a "Utopia".

* On selective breeding:

Wells advocated the idea of selective breeding, arguing that people should only be able to have children if they met certain conditions such as physical fitness and financial independence.

Churchill told Wells he particularly admired "the skill and courage with which the questions of marriage and population were discussed". Churchill was then described by a friend as "a strong eugenist".

* On English-speaking peoples:

Wells predicted the political unification of "the English-speaking states" into "a great fed eration of white English-speaking peoples". Churchill often argued for to the "fraternal association" or "unity" of the English-speaking peoples, and even wrote a four- volume history of the English-speaking peoples.

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