3 September 2009

Claptrap 1: The movie

This is the first in a series of posts to mark this month's 25th anniversary of a television documentary that completely changed my life and can now be watched in full below.

Before that, I’d spent nearly twenty years working in universities and doing research that was widely regarded at the time as being thoroughly 'useless' (i.e. lacking in any theoretical or practical implications whatsoever).

But a series of lucky breaks led to my getting the chance to take part in a World in Action documentary based on my book Our Masters’ Voices: the Language and Body Language of Politics World in Action series frequently attracted audiences of 15 million or more viewers - though 'attracted' is probably the wrong word, because it came on immediately after the nation's most popular soap (Coronation Street): it was also before everyone had remote controls, which meant that viewers still had had to make the effort of getting out of their chairs if they wanted to switch channels.

Such was the impact of the programme that, on the following morning, my phone hardly stopped ringing, with everyone asking the same question: "can you do the same for me?" Without realising it at the time, I had embarked on an irreversible journey from the peaceful seclusion of an Oxford college to the more hectic world of freelance consultancy.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about some of the background leading up the publication of Our Masters’ Voices and the making of the film Claptrap.

It was called ‘Claptrap’ because one of the definitions of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary is a ‘trick, device or language designed to catch applause’. I’d originally thought of using it as the title of the book, but decided against it because it would be too much of a hostage to fortune for reviewers.

Gus Macdonald, the film's producer who'd dreamt up the idea in the first place, had no such qualms about using it as the title for the programme - but by then, of course he did have the advantage of knowing that the experiment had been a success.

You can watch the film here in four consecutive episodes (and I hope you're impressed by my new Apricot computer!).

P.S. A better quality version of the film can now be watched in full HERE.

• CLAPTRAP 2: Eureka
• CLAPTRAP 3: News leaks out of the lecture theatre