“Now That He Is Minister of War I Feel Safe” “Why?” “Well, When He Was Minister of Fuel We Had No Fuel”

Winston Churchill? Alexander Ince? Leonard Lyons? Emanuel Shinwell? John Williams Hughes? Drew Pearson? Eleanor Boardman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Ensuring the smooth operation of the industry sector that supplies energy to a country is a crucial task. Here is an example of the type of mockery aimed at a politician who botched this important mission:

“Wonderful news about the new Minister of War. Peace is assured!”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, when he was Minster of Coal we had no coal. Now that he is Minister of War, surely we shall have no war.”

This joke has been attributed to statesman Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The “New York Herald Tribune” reported that British Prime Minister Clement Attlee changed several ministerial appointees on October 7, 1947. Emanuel Shinwell who had been the Minister of Fuel and Power was transferred to the post of Secretary of State for War (also known as Minister of War). 1

The earliest match for the quotation located by QI appeared in the syndicated U.S. newspaper column of Leonard Lyons on October 25, 1947. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Alexander Ince reports that when Emanuel Shinwell was removed as minister of fuel and became minister of war, his friends rejoiced and said: “Peace at last is assured us. Because when Shinwell was minister of fuel, we had no fuel. And now he’s minister of war, so we’ll have no war.”

This report indicated that the creator of the quip was anonymous. Also, the remark originated as a friendly barb and not a harsh criticism.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Now That He Is Minister of War I Feel Safe” “Why?” “Well, When He Was Minister of Fuel We Had No Fuel”


  1. 1947 October 8, New York Herald Tribune, Attlee Drops 11 Labor Ministers Ousts Shinwell From Fuel Pos by Ned Russell, Quote Page 1, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1947 October 25, Asbury Park Evening Press, The Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 8, Column 5,Asbury Park, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

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

Winston Churchill? Clement Attlee? Emmanuel Shinwell? Apocryphal?

Dear 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)