Winston Churchill as John Bull

Bow Tie Bros: The Lion and The Bull


World War I John Bull Recruiting Poster

John Bull and Winston Churchill represent the United Kingdom, and in many ways they are similar. Sir Churchill (who was half-American, just sayin’) served as a Prime Minster and a public servant for decades before that, and Mr. Bull as a national personification.

Of great import, both gents had a penchant for bow ties.

According to the United States Library of Congress, Mr. Bull is the creation of John Arbuthnot who wrote him as a character in his The History of John Bull (1712). Later “[h]e became widely known from cartoons by Sir John Tenniel published in the British humor magazine Punch during the middle and late nineteenth century. In those cartoons, he was portrayed as an honest, solid, farmer figure, often in a Union Jack waistcoat, and accompanied by a bulldog.” He was very present in the British zeitgeist through World War II but has declined (a shame) since the 1950s. Washington Irving described him in his chapter entitled “John Bull” from The Sketch Book:

…[A] plain, downright, matter-of-fact fellow, with much less of poetry about him than rich prose. There is little of romance in his nature, but a vast deal of a strong natural feeling. He excels in humour more than in wit; is jolly rather than gay; melancholy rather than morose; can easily be moved to a sudden tear or surprised into a broad laugh; but he loathes sentiment and has no turn for light pleasantry. He is a boon companion, if you allow him to have his humour and to talk about himself; and he will stand by a friend in a quarrel with life and purse, however soundly he may be cudgelled.

Winston Churchill as John Bull

Winston Churchill as John Bull

William Manchester felt that these two blokes were very similar. In the first volume of his tome about Churchill, The Last Lion (page 755, if you’re looking), he explains this similarity after Churchill turned 50. Manchester states:

He had begun to resemble the cartoonist’s conception of John Bull, hearty and prosperous, with an ovoid torso and a low center of gravity, good humored if you let him have his way but stubborn even refractory if you didn’t. His height was just under five feet, seven inches, which have surprised those who knew him only through newspaper photographs, because his massive shoulders one led one to expect a taller man. His manner was always forthright, never devious; no one ever called him enigmatic. As unsubtle as the rare roast beef he (and John Bull) loved, his expression invariably reflected his mood… By now his props — the cigar, the blue polka-dot bow tie, the elegant malacca gold-topped walking stick he had inherited when [his wife] Clementine’s brother Bill committed suicide in a Paris hotel room — were familiar throughout England” (emphasis added).

Manchester wasn’t the only one to notice this resemblance.

This political cartoon was illustrated by Leslie Illingworth for Punch magazine. According to Winston is Back, the cartoon depicts him as John Bull “with his back to the wall facing the German onslaught in the dark days of 1940; troops of the British Commonwealth and Empire are clammering over the top of the wall to join Churchill in the spirit of ‘Never Surrender.'”

Thus, while one was fictional, they both weren’t perfect. Despite this fact, they were both top blokes — who are great ambassadors for bow ties.