Strange Speeches July 11, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback
Beachcombing got an email last night from inspired speeches, a new website [now defunct!] dedicated to gathering, well, inspired speeches. His correspondent asked for suggestions for notable discourses from the past. And Beachcombing made the terrible mistake of opening said email at midnight. The result? Beach did not sleep until dawn, tossing and turning, as lines from absurdly unimportant talks bounced up and down like Mayan rubber balls in his head. By dawn he had, however, made a list of his ten favourite bizarre speeches: what a sad little world Beach inhabits. He’ll quickly write them out and then go and sleep it off.
1) Colonel Gaddafi: Gaddafi’s weird speeches are so many and of such excellence that it is difficult to choose from among them: take, for example, the head of the Libyan state reading from his Green Book (author Gaddafi) explaining why he is going to kill his own people and informing his subjects that he cannot be removed because he is not a leader (wth!); or his shifty ramblings to the UN about Iraqis being allowed to enjoy their civil war and the peace-loving Taliban (who are compared to the Vatican). But best of all – Beachcombing would have sacrificed his wisdom teeth to have been there – was Gaddafi’s invitation to two hundred Italian models to an evening soiree in Rome. Here the great man gave these Italian beauties copies of the Koran and suggested, in a brief talk, that they convert to Islam ‘without compulsion’…
2) Abraham Lincoln: Beachcombing has always enjoyed AL’s prose. He was one of those individuals – how Beach wishes he could say the same of himself – who simply could not write a bad sentence. Even his most casual comments and utterances scan perfectly, giving the sense of someone who read the King James Bible too much at an impressionable age. Beachcombing finds the Gettysburg address particularly interesting because it is flawless and yet – and here is the bizarre element – it was a flop and sank almost without trace when it was given. Did the exhausted Lincoln not have the voice to make it work? Without a recording we will never know. Beach should note as an aside that it has been his very great pleasure to teach a class of fifteen bright American university students this summer: when he asked them though where ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ came from not a single one got it right. Answers included: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and ‘Oprah’… Still Beachcombing discovered yesterday that he can no longer multiply fractions so who is he to talk?
3) Ken Livingstone: The sometime socialist mayor of London is a political and a rhetorical contradiction. His monotone, unctuous befuddling voice should be irritating: and yet the man is actually a performer on the podium. This speech in particular lays bare the Livingstone contradiction, not least because talking after the London bombings (7/7) Livingstone could not employ his two greatest resources, his insouciance and his wit. His words are not Churchillian and yet, against all the odds, they are moving.
4) Charles De Gaulle: The greatest politician of the twentieth century? De Gaulle had, from his earliest days, a way with words and like Lincoln never uttered a bum thought even in his most private, terrible moments: for example, ‘maintenant, elle est comme les autres’ ‘now she is like all the rest’ on the death in 1948 of his daughter Anne who had Downs Syndrome. De Gaulle was also an exciting speaker because he did not play by the rules and no one ever knew quite what he was going to do next. There are some lovely reports, for example, of him trying to sabotage British membership talks with the Common Market at Press Conferences where he used to ‘hear’ (i.e. make up) questions. Then there were his lying balcony words in Algiers. Best of all though was his speech in Quebec in 1967. When in Montreal, no less, he advised the province to secede from Canada, saying ‘long live a free Quebec’ in the middle of a state visit! De Gaulle afterwards pretended it was all a big misunderstanding: something the wild crowds did not seem to have appreciated. But note in the video how he underlines the word ‘libre’ as he is speaking. This was clearly, as everything De Gaulle every did, deliberate. Just imagine De Gaulle’s reaction if Pearson, the Canadian Prime Minister of the day had turned up in Corsica or Brittany demanding the Corsicans’ or the Bretons’ ‘freedom’! (Beach has just discovered that this was precisely the point that Trudeau, then Canadian Minister of Justice made against De Gaulle, apologies Pierre).
5) Margaret Thatcher: MT was sold to the public as a conviction politician and the raw anger and sense of injustice that she carried around in her swag bag gave her speeches a sharp, sharp edge. Most commentators like Thatcher when she is playing with words or trying to be memorable: Beachcombing just finds this sub par. Instead, he loves it when MT ‘loses it’ over, for example, the European Union (where she was right) or his personal favourite the capture of South Georgia in the Falklands Conflict. She says little in this clip: most of the talking is done by her defence secretary John Nott – imagine being war minister to Thatcher when British troops are fighting! But watch her face as the speech progresses and then enjoy yourself as she savages the press at the end. Again politicos would see this as MT being a school ma’am to disobedient children. It is nothing of the sort. Really it is a girl from a lower middle class background irritated almost beyond words by smug, London media types who think they know better. Relishing this clip Beach remembers Mitterand’s sublime description of MT – ‘eyes like Caligula, a body like Marilyn Monroe…’
6) Benito Mussolini: It is very difficult to understand today the charismatic charge that Mussolini brought with him. After all, to see him talk and walk in the Luce films would make any casual twenty-first century observer think of an angry duck. Yet Mussolini clearly had presence, a presence that could pack hundreds of thousands into piazzas to listen to his pronouncements. Here is perhaps his most bizarre outing: a brief speech in English, the only one that survives. Enjoy Mussolini’s walks to the camera – what Putinesque strides! – and then listen to the far from perfect spiel. Beachcombing suspects that Muss’s English teachers were too scared to correct him. Certainly no one seems to have every taught him how to say the word ‘people’ properly. But then Mussolini always had to be top of the class, with diet, with sex, with politics, with opera… His vanity over language ultimately got Italy into trouble because he always insisted in speaking in German – a language he had never mastered – with Hitler. The result was not a dialogue but a monologue as Hitler ranted and Mussolini pretended to understand.
7) A.V. Alexander: AVA was a Labour politician, Britain’s ‘Sea Lord’ in the Second World War and a cipher in Churchill’s machinations. He was also a poor public speaker. Beachcombing particularly treasures this speech because AVA misses an open goal. He is speaking to navy personnel. He know something that they don’t: that the German warship the Bismarck has just been sunk and that one of the Bismarck’s victims, the HMS Hood has been revenged. And yet he can’t, perhaps because of his emotions, get his words out at the right speed. The last sentence would have been full of pregnant pauses if Eden or even Attlee had given it. Instead AVA just wants to get to the applause. Listen, instead, now to this heartbreaking description of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral given just months before by a Coventry clergyman: artlessness can sometimes be artful, memories of the radio description of the destruction of Cassino.
7) Winston Churchill: Not so much a bizarre speech as a missing bizarre speech. Many years ago one of Beachcombing’s students, Omar, described a talk by Churchill in which Churchill had stood up at a university, for a much advertised discourse on ‘how to succeed’, said the single word ‘persist!’ and then sat down, discourse over. Beachcombing suspects that this was Churchill’s ‘Never Give Up’ Harrow Speech in 1941, which was actually several hundred words long. Omar told Beach that his source was a self-help book! Does anyone know better?
9) ‘Huntley Haverstock’ (aka Hitchcock): Beachcombing has often pushed in this blog the idea of invisible libraries (books that have not existed save in the imagination) and perhaps there is also a place for invisible speeches, speeches that were only ever made in fiction. The following was Hitchcock’s expatriate contribution to the British war effort in 1940 and comes from the finale of Foreign Correspondent. HH, foreign correspondent extraordinaire, is an American who has learnt the hard way that the Nazis are not to be trusted. The film ends with him making a speech on British radio to an American audience as German bombs fall and the lights start to falter. It is melodrama, it is propaganda and it is manipulative but it is also powerful. And as so often Hitchcock’s timing was immaculate. The final scene anticipated the bombing of London, which was only a hypothesis during filming. The film came out though in the US in August 1940…
10) Einstein and George Bernard Shaw: This speech is a late entry. It can hardly be called bizarre, but it is full of the majesty of history and it is perhaps the speech on this list – with the obvious exception of Gadaffi in Rome – that Beachcombing would most have liked to have attended. Einstein has come to London and George Bernard Shaw has been given the happy task of introducing him. Annoyingly the speech is not to be found on the net in one part (please tell Beach he is wrong). The first part is on film, enjoy GBS kicking Napoleon in the googlies, the second and the most interesting, in audio. Einstein’s reply (in German) is humdrum. There is a lesson there somewhere. Perhaps speech making doesn’t matter that much?
Any other bizarre speeches? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
Beachcombing has just realized that he forgot to include something by Silvio Berlusconi – a crime given SB’s contributions over the years to the art of bizarre speech making:
he will then, ignore public utterances, and put up a token shot of SB (in office) misbehaving on camera in front of the world’s TV cameras. Imagine if Obama tried this… [Apologies Beach fell for a bit of internet fakery: see AC's note below] What about SB offending the European Parliament and above all Martin Schulz (who perhaps didn’t deserve this, but had ‘it’ coming) by implying that Schulz would make an excellent head of a Nazi concentration camp! Sadly there are no versions with English but watch the delayed reaction from Schulz as the translator takes a moment to sum up what SB has said. Watch too the surprised face of Gianfranco Fini, Italy’s foreign minister at the time, by Berlusconi’s side.
11 July 2011: Beachcombing woke up to a few comments on these videos, including a couple suggesting that he had exaggerated with Alexander and Thatcher: perhaps these enter too much his own private mythology? However, the first substantial contribution is from Ten Gallon: ‘I was wondering about a category of accidental speeches. The obvious one is Reagan ‘outlawing Russia’ on an accidentally recorded outtake in a radio studio. And people say we came close with the Cuban Missile Crisis… Then also a vague memory of a Carter visit to Poland where Carter had a very poor translator. On arrival, my memory is that his translator told his hosts that he had come to seek refuge and that he wanted carnal relations with the Poles! I stress again that this is my memory.’ Ten Gallon’s memory seems to be in order! Thanks Ten Gallon!
12 July 2011: Tokyobling writes ‘I have more speeches in languages other than English at the top of my head right now. I am sure the speech that Yukio Mishima gave at the Ichigaya barracks in central Tokyo right before he committed harakiri after his failed coup-de-etat belongs right up there on the list though, no matter what language he gave it in. Apparently his speech wasn’t even heard as the soldiers who had gathered in the yard below the balcony jeered and mocked him and his followers so loudly. While we are on the subject of Mishima, he gave very long, rambling, funny and cute speeches in English, totally different than his Japanese speeches. As for more inspired stuff, you might try the English translation of Kawabata Yasunari’s nobel prize acceptance speech, ‘Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself’. Good stuff. Or, my favorite Swedish speech would be the unofficial ‘president of the Republic of Jamtland’, Ewert Ljusberg’s 1996 speech mocking the French President for his nuclear testing in the Pacific. Translated from Swedish and my memory, here is the most memorable line: ‘So what do we say to this crazy power hungry French President? We call him for what he is! Quack, Quack, Jacques Chirac! Quack, Quack, Jacques Chirac!’ (whereupon a full city square in one of Sweden’s province capitals starts chanting this line, like a duck! Unforgettable and a long runner on Swedish TV. Funny if you saw it, less so if you hear it retold 15 years after the event, in some rambling email, I admit. But surely, even though he might not be serious about it, the king of bizarre speeches must be your very own Sir Stanley Unwin?’ Pure gold, Tokyobling, thanks!
13 July 2011: AC writes in to point out that the Berlusconi obscenity is not, in fact, Berlusconi but a Berlusconi look alike, Maurizio Antonini who has SB’s moves down. Apologies Silvio. Beach has put up an alternative that is, in its own way, almost as good. Thanks AC!!