Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Churchill Series - Feb. 7, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

During World War II, the noted Oxford historian Isaiah Berlin served in the Foreign Office.

His postings included one to the British Embassy in Washington, where his assignment was to write assessments of American political and social leaders and issues.

Churchill became a regular and admiring reader of Berlin's assessments. He told aides that when Berlin was back in England, he wanted to meet him.

The Prime Minister's wish was swiftly passed to Foreign Office staffers and others.

Not long after that, word came back to Churchill's aides that Berlin was indeed in England. So arrangements were made for Berlin to join a luncheon group the PM would be hosting at 10 Downing Street.The seating plan placed Berlin at Churchill's talbe one place removed from his right.

Now, readers, our story comes to a "bump in the road."

Not for the first time, eager government staffers didn't get things quite right.

So it was a surprised and honored Irving Berlin who received the luncheon invitation just days after arriving in England with a USO show.

Author Stefan Kanfer tells about the luncheon:

Berlin showed up at Number 10. The PM addressed him as Professor and grilled him about the progress of the war.

Bewildered, the composer answered in monosyllables, until a frustrated Churchill gave up and turned to the guest on his left.

Later, (Churchill) commented: “Berlin’s like most bureaucrats. Wonderful on paper, but disappointing when you meet them face to face.”
Perhaps the aides later comforted each other with something like, "Simple enough mistake. Both I. Berlin, you know."
Stefan Kanfer, "The Americanization of Irving Berlin." City Journal (Spring, 2002)