::Great Speeches:: 011
Hello, I hope you had a good weekend. As we start the third week (of four), I’m planning something a bit different.
I’m going to focus on just one speech all week, letting light shine through it from different angles.
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The speech in question throws up many questions for me, because the speaker loomed large in my adolescence. At the time, I believed that this person was about as awful as any human being can be.
Till recently, the only thing I knew about this particular speech was that the speaker didn’t understand a certain play on words, written by the speechwriter to go at the end - and had to have it explained, again and again.
To my teenaged self, this proved the speaker to be Very Dim Indeed. But I like to think I’m more open minded now - and I’m excited to see what I might learn by studying the speech.
When I was writing A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech, I came up with the idea of reading a speech by Winston Churchill, first in my head and then out loud, to understand why he said what he did say, and in that order.
It was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot, and not just about technical issues. You may have heard the saying that you can learn a lot about somebody by walking a mile in their shoes. Well,
- a) it’s become a bit of a cliche and
- b) I don’t have access to Churchill’s shoes.
But happily I discovered that I could achieve a similar benefit by “speaking a mile in his speech”.
Later in the book, I did the same with a speech by a less well-known speaker - my late friend the journalist Tazeen Ahmed - and that had a similar effect.
So I’m curious to know what might happen if I read aloud the speech of this politician I thought I loathed. Will I find myself empathising? Do I want that? Do I dare?
As you may have guessed already, the speaker in question is Margaret Thatcher.
To somebody who grew up in a Labour-voting, Guardian-reading household, and went to a comprehensive school where the teachers were openly hard-left, Thatcher was considered a monster, and a rude word.
I hope you will indulge these side-notes. Because they’re not really side-notes. They’re central: you can’t understand a speech unless you consider, as well as the speaker, the audience.
Even when the speaker is dead, and the audience is reading the speech in a dusty box-set found in a second-hand bookshop, the character, life history, political views - well, everything about the audience will colour the way the speech is understood.
Because a speech isn’t a one-way broadcast. It’s a meeting of minds.
I’m going to record myself reading the speech aloud. It’ll be too long for you to watch, but I’ll share it anyway.
Before I go, a question.
What’s one speech you would feel uncomfortable reading aloud, in full - because you might find yourself warming to the speaker?
Don’t try coming up with a “good” answer - the first thing the pops into your head is perfect.