On obscene parrots and British tabloids

I have written before about Charlie before, the swearing, anti-Nazi parrot alleged to have belonged to Winston Churchill.

Yesterday the NY Times had a follow-up to this story, including these remarks showing the level of journalistic professionalism at the tabloids.

According to The Mirror, using a detail that was widely repeated in other British newspapers and indeed by the news media around the world, Churchill taught Charlie to curse — "particularly in company" — to the point that "many an admiral or peer of the realm was shocked by the tirade from the bird's cage during crisis meetings with the prime minister."

The Mirror account was written by Bill Borrows, an editor at large for Maxim U.K., who said in an interview that he could not recall, exactly, where he got the information that Charlie used to swear about Hitler, but that he might have read it on the Internet. He said he had not met Charlie in person, but had tried, unsuccessfully, to conduct a telephone interview.

"The bird didn't say anything, but I've had worse," Mr. Borrows said.

Appearing several weeks ago on BBC Radio 4, Mr. Oram said that although the bird did indeed have a history of swearing, she always sounded "parroty" rather than Churchillian. As for the content of Charlie's remarks, Ms. Martin said she had never heard her curse about Hitler, or even about any of the lesser Nazis.

"She lived for a time in Mr. Oram's father-in-law's shop, and all the market traders were teaching her all sorts of swear words," Ms. Martin said. In disgrace, she added, Charlie was exiled to the nursery in Surrey so that her cursing would not scandalize the shoppers.

But whatever Charlie said or did not say, she is not saying it now. Ms. Martin said that as the bird has grown older and more fragile, she has uttered less and less. From time to time, she might suddenly come out with a stray operatic high note, but nothing more. Nor does she fly, except for the occasional swoop.

I love birds. If I ever become a shut-in, I'm getting a smart parrot to play with.

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Published on March 10, 2004 4:26 PM.

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