Any Time You See Anything Big and Working Well, You Want To Take It Over

Winston Churchill? Clement Attlee? Emmanuel Shinwell? Apocryphal?
fount08Dear Quote Investigator: There was an extraordinary and ribald conversation between Winston Churchill and his political opponent Clement Attlee that supposedly took place in the men’s room of the House of Commons. Was this event authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a letter dated December 22, 1958 that was written by the statesman Dean Acheson who recorded an anecdote about Winston Churchill and Labour Party Leader Clement Attlee. But Acheson did not hear the story directly from either of the participants; instead, the colorful vignette was presented by the journalists Scotty Reston and Stewart Alsop who were relaying a tale told by the politician Hubert Humphrey. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . the situation reminded him of a story of Attlee’s that in the War Cabinet days he and Winston had had to be excused, and found themselves at opposite ends of the stalls. “Isn’t this unusual modesty for you, Winston,” said Clem. “Not at all,” said Winston, “I’m just suspicious of you Socialists.”

Clem asked why. “Because,” said Winston, “whenever you see a means of production in good working order you want to nationalize it.”

In subsequent years the anecdote evolved. For example, in 1965 a politician named Emmanuel Shinwell was identified as the conversational partner instead of Attlee. In modern times Attlee is usually specified.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order Continue reading Any Time You See Anything Big and Working Well, You Want To Take It Over


  1. 1980, Among Friends: Personal Letters of Dean Acheson, Edited by David S. McLellan and David C. Acheson, Letter dated December 22, 1958 from Dean Acheson to Felix Frankfurter, Quote Page 153, Dodd, Mead, New York. (Verified on paper)