This Grey Matters is just slightly off-topic, as this week’s episode involves a macaw rather than an African Grey. But, I hope you find it interesting nonetheless!
Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of England, died in 1969 but (according to legend) was outlived by his pet parrot, Charlie. Many people in southeast England, where the bird resides in a zoo called Hansfield, insist that the 104 year old bird belonged to Churchill. Charlie often goes on anti-Nazi tirades, mimicking Churchill’s voice and favorite profanities against Hilter and other WWII figures. It makes quite a story that a living, squawking, flapping piece of Churchill is still around to speak in his master’s voice (and what words!). The caretakers of Charlie say they are absolutely certain that Charlie indeed belonged to Churchill, even going so far as to finding the son-in-law of the man believed to have sold Charlie to Churchill. Obviously, the zookeepers had a bit of bias; Charlie was a great tourist attraction for them, and garnered them much media attention. (More below the fold!)
But, did Charlie really belong to the late Prime Minister? Are Charlies’ words those of Churchill?
One of Churchill’s daughters has spoken out, saying that she does not recall her father ever owning a macaw. In 2004, NPR sent out a reporter to, er, interview Charlie. The bird whistled and squawked, but the blue and gold macaw did not grace him with an anti-fascist rant. That same year, BBC also ran a feature on Charlie, and at their prompting, Chruchill’s family searched through pictures and records for clues about the parrot. They couldn’t find any evidence that he had owned Charlie, or any parrot. They perhaps, also has a bias in the matter, seeing as how filthy Charlie’s mouth is. Perhaps that might not reflect well on their father.
However, Charlie’s owners stand by their claim:
Sylvia Martin, Heathfield’s nursery manager, said: “He definitely did belong to Churchill.
“My boss Peter Oram’s father-in-law sold the parrot to Churchill and when he died they were asked to go back to Chartwell and collect the birds and brought them away.”
“When he died they were asked to go and collect some birds and Charlie was one of them.”
One might ask if a parrot could really live that long. Well, yes they can. Macaws and other parrots (African Greys too) only rarely cross one-hundred years old, but it is not unheard of.
And the official word of the ‘Churchill Centre,’ an authority on all things Churchill, is that this is a myth and “bunk.”
HOWEVER, get this!! (From a letter writted by Churchill’s daughter):
My father never owned a Macaw in the 1930s or at any other time as far as I am aware. He did own an African Grey Parrot in the mid to late Thirties. I do not know how he acquired it…… I cannot remember the parrot’s name; it was quite disagreeable and frequently bit those who tried to curry favour with it (including WSC). The parrot lived in a large cage in the dining room at Chartwell.
Impeccable taste, old chap! (Sorry for the bites though….)