Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was a “closet science-fiction fan” who borrowed the lines for one of his most famous speeches from H. G. Wells, a Cambridge academic has discovered.

It's a bit like Tony Blair borrowing phrases from Star Trek or Doctor Who.

Dr Richard Toye

Dr Richard Toye, a Lecturer in History at the University of Cambridge, has found that the phrase "The Gathering Storm" - used by Churchill to depict the rise of Hitler's Germany - had in fact been conjured up by Wells decades earlier in The War Of The Worlds, which depicts an attack on Britain by Martians.

And he has also spotted stark similarities between a speech Churchill made 100 years ago and Wells' book A Modern Utopia.

Tellingly, just two days before Churchill gave the speech in Glasgow on October 9 1906, he had also written 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 whilst researching a forthcoming book on Churchill. He has identified several points at which Churchill appeared to use Wells' ideas. These include:

• State support for ordinary citizens

Like Wells, Churchill said the state should support its citizens, providing pensions, insurance and child welfare. Wells wrote: "The State will stand at the back of the economic struggle as the reserve employer of Labour." Churchill said: "The State should increasingly assume the position of the reserve employer of labour."

• The competitiveness of men

Wells wrote that man was a naturally "competitive creature". While that meant he was always prone to devastating failure, the State could help "make the margin of failure endurable". Churchill said: "I do not want to see impaired the vigour of competition, but we can do much to mitigate the consequences of failure".

• 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".

• Selective Breeding

Wells advocated the idea of selective breeding, arguing that people should only be able to have children if they met certain conditions - including physical fitness and financial independence. Churchill told Wells he particularly admired "the skill and courage with which the questions of marriage & population were discussed" in his book. Not long after reading the book, Churchill was described by a friend as "a strong eugenist" - a supporter of selective breeding.

• The English-Speaking Peoples

In Anticipations Wells predicted the political unification of 'the English-Speaking states' and that there would develop 'a great federation of white English-speaking peoples'. He also mentioned the idea of 'interchangeable citizenship', under which British citizens could become US citizens - and vice versa - if they changed domicile. In subsequent years, 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. In 1943, as he recalled in his memoirs, he proposed to US officials that 'There might even be some form of common citizenship, under which citizens of the United States and the British Commonwealth might enjoy voting privileges after residential qualification'.

• The Gathering Storm

The term famously became the title of Churchill's first book about World War II, but it may well have been taken from The War Of The Worlds. The phrase crops up twice in Wells' book as a metaphor to describe pending Martian attacks. Perhaps it stuck in the iconic Prime Minister's mind as he similarly sought to depict the threat of German invasion years later.

"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. H. G. 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 publishers sent a copy to Churchill, and the future Prime Minister wrote a long letter back, in which he told Wells: "I read everything you write" - adding that he agreed with many of his ideas. They met in 1902 and several times thereafter, and kept in touch in person and by letter until Wells' death in 1946. In 1908, Wells supported Churchill when he stood in a by-election for the seat of Manchester North-West. In 1931, Churchill even admitted that he could "pass an exam" in H. G. Wells' work.

"We need to remember that there was a time when Churchill was a radical liberal who believed these things," Dr. Toye added. "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."

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