As it's only rarely (e.g. in this example from Ronald Millar) that we get to hear politicians and/or their speechwriters commenting on memorable lines from speeches, I was especially intrigued by the following part of the interview:
... I mention Cable's famous joke about Brown morphing from Stalin to Mr Bean, and ask if he knew it would be such a hit.
"No, and in fact I get a bit frustrated, because I'm actually quite good at one-liners, and I've had hundreds of them over the years, and they sink without trace, and I get very frustrated. Every party conference I really work on the speeches, and I always have two or three things I'm quite proud of, and no one ever remembers them. I can't even remember them myself. I think they're brilliant," he chuckles, "and no one else notices. So every week at PMQs I had a very good line, I thought. And yet that's the only one that anyone remembers."
In case you never saw it, here it is:
What made it so memorable?
As readers of my books (and various posts on this blog - see below) will know, contrasts are among the most important and powerful rhetorical techniques in the armoury of public speakers and, not surprisingly, feature in some of the most famous quotations of all time.
But this particular contrast between a notoriously authoritarian leader and a bumbling idiot had at least two added advantages - both of which, I've suggested in an earlier blogpost may be critical in making a line or a speech 'memorable': timing and context.
On timing, it came when Gordon Brown had come increasingly under attack for his alleged indecisiveness - and therefore touched an aptly topical nerve with the audience.
On context, the fact Mr Cable was a new (and temporarily 'acting') party leader who was addressing the contrast directly to Mr Brown across the floor of the House of Commons gave it a chirpy cheekiness - as if a schoolboy were poking fun at the headmaster in front of the whole school.
One of the problems in coming to any definitive conclusions about what makes some lines more memorable than others is that you always have to approach them with the wisdom of hindsight.
Take, for example, the most famous line from John F Kennedy's inaugural speech - "ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." A powerful contrast it may have been, but it was hardly noticed by the media at the time (HERE).
SOME PREVIOUS POSTS ON RHETORICAL TECHNIQUES
- Combining rhetoric and imagery to get your point across in a speech
- Vince Cable shows how 'Yah-boo politics' can win victories for the LibDems
- How to improve impact by sequence, repetition and a rhetorical technique
- How rhetorical techniques work: an example from last night's Question Time
- Rhetoric wins applause for questioners on BBC Question Time
- TV Debate Claptrap
- An example or rhetorical virtuosity from rhetoric denier Tony Benn
- Rhetorical techniques and imagery in Hannan's attack on Brown
- Martin Luther King Day - and a reminder of how to use rhetoric to convey passion
- Cameron's conference sound bite: 'compassionate Conservatism'
- David Cameron's attack on the Budget used some weill-crafted rhetoric
- Gordon Brown: the way he told them
- Unexpected poetry in Gordon Brown's speech to US Congress
- When the young Paddy Ashdown surprised himself by the power of his own rhetoric
- Joe Biden's moving tribute to Edward Kennedy
- Moon rhetoric from Neil Armstrong, JFK & Werner von Braun
- Rhetoric and applause in Obama's inaugural speech
- You don't have to be Barack Obama to use rhetoric and imagery to discuss the financial crisis
- Tom Peters: high on rhetoric but low on content?
- Rhetoric and imagery in Obama's victory speech
- Not Clinton, not MccCain but Obama
- Why lists of three: mystery, magic or reason?
- Puzzle-solution formats
- Rhetorical questions and audience involvement