The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library

Isaiah Berlin / Irving Berlin

Excerpt from edited transcript of 'Desert Island Discs'



[Winston Churchill confuses the two Berlins.....]

  photo by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies      copyright
Radio 4, 19 April 1992

Copyright (c) The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust 1998

... this occurred in the spring of 1944 - I should say February or March. What happened actually was this.

Mrs Churchill said to Winston:
        "Irving Berlin is in town, he has been very generous to us"
- he'd given a large sum of money to - a war charity, I don't know which, with which she was connected.
        "If you meet him, do tell him we are very pleased with him."
Mr Churchill said,
        "I want him to come to lunch."
She said,
        "No, no, no, I did not mean that. I mean, if you meet him in the Churchill Club,"
she said,
        "just pat him on the shoulder and say we are very grateful to him."
        "I want him to come to lunch," he said, but she couldn't understand why.

Well, Irving Berlin sat next to Winston Churchill, who said to him,
"Mr Berlin, what is the most important piece of work you have done for us lately, in your opinion?"

Poor Berlin obviously couldn't quite make out what this man had said. After some hesitation,"
       "I don't know, it should be A White Christmas, I guess."
And Winston said
        "Are you an American?"- there was this thick American accent.
Berlin said,
        "What? Why? Why? Yes."
Then Winston again turned to Mr Berlin and he said,
        "Do you think Roosevelt will be re-elected this year?"
Irving said,
        "Well, in the past I have voted for him myself, this year I am not so sure."
At this point Mr Churchill became rather gloomy, he couldn't understand who he was dealing with. He still thought it was me. Obviously my despatches were quite coherent, but he obviously had an idiot before him.

Finally Winston said,
        "Mr Berlin, when do you think the European War is going to end?"
Berlin said,
         "Sir, I shall never forget this moment. When I go back to my own country I shall tell my children and my
        children's children that in the spring of 1944 the Prime Minister of Great Britain asked me when the
        European War was going to end."

Winston was very displeased about this: he really more or less lost his temper, got up - lunch was over.

Poor Irving Berlin went off to the Savoy, where he was sharing rooms with Sir Alexander Korda, and he said to Korda,

Winston immediately went to a Cabinet meeting, after lunch, told them the story with the greatest pleasure.

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