Copy Book Archive

Britain’s Destiny In a Christmas broadcast in 1940, actor Leslie Howard explained why British sovereignty was worth fighting for.
King George VI 1936-1952
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Photo by RKO Radio Pictures, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

About this picture …

Leslie Howard with Rosamund John in ‘The First of the Few’ (1942).

Britain’s Destiny
In a radio broadcast just before Christmas in 1940, British actor Leslie Howard spoke movingly of the remarkable and indeed unique character of his country, built on individual liberty and democratic government, and contrasted it with the ‘new European order’.

BRITAIN’S destiny has been to uphold tolerance in religion, thought, speech, and race – the mainspring of democracy. We have still far to travel on the road to true democracy, but only the Germans have made no progress in this direction.

Britain, with her great gifts and strange inconsistencies has helped populate five continents and shown that the white man and the coloured man can live in peace together.

We have also taken the Roman ideal of just administration, the Greek ideal of democracy and freedom of art, and the French tradition of the family unit, along with the Norse courage and loyalty and the Christian faith.

Like all people, we have made some mistakes and have committed some crimes during our history, but we can say that we have built something worthy of our defence. We can look at our record without shame.

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In a radio broadcast in 1940, British actor Leslie Howard explained that Germany had never taken the step forward to democratic freedom that Britain had. Crediting classical culture as well as other European nations and Christianity for Britain’s more forward-looking society, he urged his listeners to feel pride in their sovereignty, and to believe it worth fighting for. (57 / 60 words)


From a radio broadcast entitled ‘New Order in Europe’, 23/24 December 1940. Quoted here (slightly abridged) from IMDB. The speech is treated in more detail in ‘Britain Can Take It’, by Tony Aldgate and Jeffrey Richards.

Suggested Music

Fantasia on Greensleeves

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Seaman.

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How To Use This Passage

You can use this passage to help improve your command of English.

IRead it aloud, twice or more. IISummarise it in one sentence of up to 30 words. IIISummarise it in one paragraph of 40-80 words. IVMake notes on the passage, and reconstruct the original from them later on. VJot down any unfamiliar words, and make your own sentences with them later. VIMake a note of any words that surprise or impress you, and ask yourself what meaning they add to the words you would have expected to see. VIITurn any old-fashioned English into modern English. VIIITurn prose into verse, and verse into prose. IXAsk yourself what the author is trying to get you to feel or think. XHow would an artist or a photographer capture the scene? XIHow would a movie director shoot it, or a composer write incidental music for it?

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