Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Voice that Inspired a Nation: The Dentures of Sir William Churchill (1874-1965) : Guest Post by Kristin Hussey, Hunterian Museum, London

Kristin Hussey--Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons with responsibility for the Odontological Collection--has kindly agreed to write a series of guest posts for Morbid Anatomy about some of the most curious objects in her collection.

The sixth post from that series follows; you can view all posts in this series by clicking here.
His widely broadcast speeches have become synonymous with the Second World War. But how differently would we remember his famous words if they had been said without Sir Winston Churchill’s infamous lisp?
Churchill was born in 1874, and by the turn of the century was already making a name for himself as a successful military man and politician. In 1900 he was elected to Parliament for Oldham and by 1911 was the First Lord of the Admiralty. In the time before sound recordings were widely available, journalists were quick to point out Churchill’s notable speech impediment, often described as a stutter. His natural lisp became one of his most distinctive features as a speaker which was amplified as radio broadcasts became more prevalent.
When it came to having dentures made for the great man, Churchill entrusted the dental technician Derek Cudlipp to make and repair several sets. Most dentures are made so the metal plate adheres closely to the palate- a feature which would have helped to reduce lisping. However, as Churchill famously said, ‘My impediment is no hindrance.’ Well aware of the power of his recognizable voice, Churchill consulted his dentist Wilfred Fish to come up with a solution. Cudlipp and Fish worked to craft dentures which would leave a gap between the plate and the roof of the mouth, thus retaining Churchill’s distinctive speaking style.
These dentures, worn by Churchill around 1941, have a gold base with platinum clasps and mineral teeth. While this set appears to be in good condition, Churchill reportedly threw his dentures at his staff when frustrated or angry. 
  1. Winston Churchill in Downing Street, June 1943. Wikicommons via the Imperial War Museum.
  2. Skeletal partial upper denture, with gold base, platinum clasps and mineral teeth, made for and worn by Winston Churchill, c. 1941. RCSOM/K 20.9. Copyright the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

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