5 Things You Didn't Know About Winston Churchill

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Winston Churchill had one of the most immediately recognizable faces of the 20th century, and you probably know all about his triumphs as a statesman and orator. Let’s take a look at five things you may not know about him, including how his mom tried to bribe him to give up smoking.

1. He May Have Masterminded a UFO Cover-Up

During World War II, a squadron of Royal Air Force bombers had what they believed was an encounter with an alien spacecraft during a flight. While flying along the British coast near Cumbria after a bombing raid, a crew claimed that a hovering metal disc had silently shadowed their plane’s movements, and they even snapped pictures of it.
When Churchill heard these reports, he sprang into action and ordered that the story be kept secret for at least 50 years. Churchill was understandably concerned about sparking a mass panic when World War II was already raging, and he further worried that spotting an alien would shake peoples’ religious beliefs at a time when they needed their faith to help deal with the war.

2. He Was an Honest Pedestrian

Churchill made a classic traveling blunder during a 1931 visit to New York City. In a confused moment, he looked right instead of left before stepping onto Fifth Avenue without realizing that here in the States, our traffic moves on the opposite side of the road. Churchill stepped right in front of unemployed auto mechanic Mario Contasino and took a 30 mph thumping from Contasino’s car, which dragged him and then tossed him into the street.

Although Churchill bruised his chest, sprained a shoulder, and suffered cuts to the face, he quickly told police that it was his own bumbling that led to the accident and that Contasino hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he felt so bad about inconveniencing Contasino that he invited the driver to his hospital room for a visit. Churchill also took advantage of his wounds to secure a tipple during prohibition. He got his doctor to write him a note that read, ''This is to certify that the post-accident concussion of Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times.''

Churchill even decided to have a bit of fun with the accident. He asked his buddy Frederick Lindemann, an Oxford physics professor, to calculate the force with which the car hit him. Lindemann responded that it was roughly equivalent to two point-blank charges of buckshot but joked that the charge was probably mitigated by the “thickness cushion surrounding skeleton and give of frame.”

3. He’s Torn Up the Pop Charts

Churchill has one odd distinction on his resume: he’s placed two albums on the British pop charts after his death. In 1965, his posthumous release The Voice Of charted shortly after his death, and he scored another triumph last year with the release of Reach for the Skies. The album features some of Churchill’s most rousing speeches from World War II set to the music of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The new record debuted at number four on the British album charts.

4. He Won a Nobel Prize

Maybe this one’s not so surprising, but the subject is. Churchill brought home a Nobel for literature. The Nobel committee considered Churchill off and on for years after World War II thanks to the strength of his historical writing, but they always had trouble pulling the trigger and actually awarding him the prize. (One of the problems was that Churchill’s main output was as a historian, an area that garnered little literary support. Worse still, the Nobel committee had previously deemed Churchill’s lone work of fiction, the 1899 novel Savrola, to be “without literary merit.)

By 1953, though, Churchill had finally built up enough support to nab the award over the likes of E.M. Forster and Hemingway. When Churchill received the prize, the committee praised him particularly for his six-volume history The Second World War and "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values"

5. His Mom Tried to Nix the Iconic Cigars

Churchill often appeared in public with a cigar in his mouth, and the stogie habit started at an early age. When Churchill was just 15 his mother implored him to give up the habit, even writing in a letter, “If you knew how foolish & how silly you look doing it you would give it up, at least for a few years.” She didn’t just rely on rhetoric, though; she turned to every parent’s favorite weapon, bribery. If Churchill would give up smoking for six months, she’d get him a gun and a pony. He agreed to this deal.

Eventually, he went back to smoking the large cigars that are now named in his honor. Although many of the cigars Churchill smoked were specially made just for him and weren’t the part of any brand, he did occasionally puff on the commercial stuff. His favorites were Cuban Romeo y Julietas and Camachos. His other well-known vices were Johnny Walker Red scotch and vintage Hine brandy.

If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

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January 7, 2011 - 12:26pm
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