Winston Churchill? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Critics of U.K. Prime Minister Clement Attlee viewed him as an insubstantial and dull figure. The following quip apparently circulated during the 1940s:
An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street and Clement Attlee got out of it.
These words are often attributed to Winston Churchill. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill strongly denied that he employed this quip. See the citation further below. The anonymous barb was aimed at Attlee by 1948 as recorded by the widely-syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
The Upper Classes are at the government because the inheritance tax laws prevent them from shooting pheasants, so they have retaliated with this joke: An empty taxi pulled up in front of Number Ten Downing Street and Mr. Attlee got out.
This joke template has a very long history. In 1879 the French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt who was notably thin was the subject of the following: 2
. . . only yesterday, says a correspondent, you may read in the same paper a fragment of conversation as follows: “An empty carriage stops and who is it who steps out? Sarah Bernhardt.”
In 1882 a similar remark was aimed at Alexander H. Stephens who was a U.S. Senator for the State of Georgia. Stephens was short and slight: 3
. . . the late Senator Carpenter’s description of Stephens. He said: “An empty coach rolled up in front of one of the Departments and Alexander H. Stephens alighted from it.”
A separate article focused on these nineteenth century jokes is available here. This article continues with additional selected citations from the twentieth century in chronological order. Continue reading An Empty Taxi Arrived and Clement Attlee Stepped Out of It
- 1948 February 23, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Lyons Den by Frederic Wakeman (substituting for Leonard Lyons), Quote Page 26, Column 6, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers.com) ↩
- 1879 May 31, Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Table Talk, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1882 August 12, Daily State Gazette (Green Bay Press-Gazette), (Untitled short item), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com) ↩