John Bird: Like Churchill, we need to make the right impression

If I am Churchillian in any way, it will be via a very strong belief that we can rise above all things, even tawdry politicking

For the first time in the United Kingdom’s history, a major election result has been rejected by a vast minority. And a Parliament that is decidedly for one side of the argument has been unable to resolve the crisis; the kind of crisis that not even Sir Winston Churchill had to handle. We are caught, for what ever reason, in a solution-free zone.

By the by, I’m very good at imitating Winston Churchill’s voice. For decades now, and along with many former associates, I’ve been pretending to be the saviour of the British Empire on occasions where jollity has been called for. I have, of course, also been imitating others; but mostly anonymous Scotsmen, Irishmen and South Africans.

But my Winston really does take the biscuit. Better, I think, than any actor – yes, even Gary Oldman and Albert Finney, who have taken on the role of portraying him as the mightily mighty Prime Minister who saved our egg, bacon and chips all those forgotten decades ago.

The nearest I ever got to meeting Churchill was to deliver wine to a drunk customer a few doors from where he lived at 28 Hyde Park Gate. A copper waited eternally outside his house.

Later, of course, I tried to attend his funeral but went to the wrong church – Westminster Abbey rather than St Paul’s – on the day that Winston was consigned back to his ancestors. In fact, as I have continuously reminded whoever will listen, that was the morning of my 19th birthday.

The spirit of Winston hangs over central government and Parliament at the moment as the nations’ representatives struggle with the unresolvable. Or what is put forward as ‘unresolvable’.

Another voice I was very good at was one of The Beatles, but in a composite way; not any one Beatle in particular. Rather, the essence of Beatle-ism, you might call it. I owe my skills in this area to a Liverpudlian I spent time with in custody. He had such a long list of jokes and funny Scouse comments that when The Beatles did come along, their humour seemed a pale reflection of what Jackpot (as we called him) threw about.

At one time, many young people thought that The Beatles were sent to save us. But whereas Churchill was to save us from Nazis, The Beatles were to save us from sexlessness, laborious work and study and drab post-war living. They were to bring excitement and joy to our nights and lighten our days. After Winston, they were here to save us from eternal boredom.

The year that Winston finally left the stage The Beatles were awarded MBEs, and, with those honours, the idea of mirth and fun being a British export showed us as a more joyful lot. Saving the world in one decade and titivating their fancies in another.


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No one has asked me to reprise my Liverpudlian Beatles accent. I get a lot of requests for the Irish and the South African, but mainly from natives of those countries. Though it does occur to me that I could go on the radio and reassure the country that, despite all of today’s political grief, we will get out of it. That we need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. All delivered down the wireless in a measured and reassuring manner, imitating the great measured manner of Winston.

Are there real Winstons waiting in the wings to jump in and unite our troubled parliamentary machine? Are there those who (rather than mouth words) could magically bring us through Brexit?

I am practising my Churchillian vowels just in case I’m called on to quell fears and reassure the nation

I saw a recently-published biographer of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in the House of Commons last week. I didn’t recognise him. He’d cut his golden locks, perhaps in preparation, and taking with it a sly, schoolboy look.

Yes, Boris Johnson did not look like Boris Johnson. As an affectionate admirer and lover of Winston, he has penned a glowing book about the old man; a man who kept making mistake after mistake in what could be looked on as preparation for greatness. After all, who hasn’t made the odd cock-up?

I couldn’t do an imitation of Mr Johnson however hard I tried. I could just about get the plummy bit. But the particular ‘charm’ I cannot capture.

But I do sometimes lie in bed at night and think bad thoughts. If only I had taken David Cameron’s offer of being the Conservative candidate for the 2008 London mayoral race. Then, the disdain and hatred of Cameron for Johnson might not have been magnified into the EU referendum. My 10 minutes in the hall of fame as kingmaker.

But then I reassure myself that it wasn’t just two Old Etonians falling out with each other that brought the EU referendum into being. I’m sure there were other things.

I am practising my Churchillian vowels just in case I’m called on to quell fears and reassure the nation. I do, of course, know that Winston did a lot more than speak reassuringly. He reminded us that even if we lost it all, there would be something left for us.

My continental accents – like most Brits when they’re pretending, they sound like an Eighties sitcom character taking on French or German – might add to our problems with Europe. I have yet to imitate Trump, the other wobble thrown the world recently.

If I am Churchillian in any way, it will be via a very strong belief that we can rise above all things, even tawdry politicking. And make peace with each other.

Though like most leaders, he was deeply flawed, perhaps we all need a little bit of good Churchill in us at this precise moment.

I’m preparing the voice.