400th post: Oratory and the Sound of Music

As this is the 400th post since the blog began, I wanted to post something a bit special. And there is, I believe, something very special about the two short clips I've chosen to mark the occasion.

For one thing, they're the only ones I've ever seen in which musical backing is added to excerpts from political speeches.

For another, they show that there was a time, a little more than 20 years ago, when our two biggest political parties still believed that making speeches at rallies not only had an important part to play in election campaigns, but also that they make for effective television - otherwise, why else would they have included excerpts from their leaders' speeches in their own party election broadcasts?

I was struck at the time (and still am) by how effectively the music works to lift the mood of what the speakers are saying - and you can see what you think by watching these two clips.

Both were broadcast within a week or two of each other during the 1987 general election.


The first comes from the PEB directed by Hugh Hudson, the successful advertising film-maker who'd graduated to become a feature film-director who'd been nominated for an Oscar for Chariots of Fire a few years earlier.

American readers might also be interested to know that this particular segment from Neil Kinnock's speech was the climax of the sequence that was later lifted, more or less verbatim (and with disastrous consequences), by US Vice President Joe Biden during his failed bid for the Democratic nomination in 1988.

Notice how the theme from Brahms's first symphony comes in just as Kinnock concludes with"it was because there was no platform upon which they could stand" - and then builds as the camera pans along the Labur logo through the standing ovation and freezes on a final victory salute to the applauding audience as the music ends.


Such was the impact of the film that Labour decided to replay it in another of their allotted PEB slots later in the campaign. And, even though the Conservatives were well ahead in the polls, Hudson's film rattled them at least enough to borrow this particular idea for one of their own PEB slots.

This time the music comes from Holst's Jupiter - the well-known tune of the patriotic hymn "I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above ..." - but what follows suggests that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

As in the Kinnock movie, the sequence builds through shots of the standing ovation and fades as the film freezes into a still of Mr and Mrs Thatcher smiling and looking towards her applauding supporters.


The first time I used these clips was in a paper that John Heritage and I presented on the 'Snakes and Ladders theory of political communication' at a conference held at Essex University after the 1987 general election (the gist of which was that speeches are 'ladders' that bring positive news and interviews are 'snakes' that only bring bad news - for more on which, see HERE).

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the next UK general election looks like being the most 'speechless' one in history (HERE).

A few months ago, in The Lost Art of Oratory' by a BBC executive who helped to lose it in the first place, I suggested that this was partly the fault of the British media.

But why our politicians have gone along with the idea that speeches somehow don't work on television (and that endless interviews actually do them some good) continues to baffle me - especially when we (and that presumably includes any of our politicians and media with as much as half a brain) have just seen a brilliant orator come from nowhere to the White House, aided and abetted by televised speeches

Thatcher and Kinnock both excelled at making powerful speeches at rallies that came across as lively events - from which both the passion of the leaders and the enthusiasm of their audiences were communicated way beyond the conference halls into our living rooms.

It's a liveliness that I fear we may never see again - unless or until one of our political parties bites the bullet and forces the camera crews out of the television studios and on to the stump.

Given the relative speaking skills of the current leaders, David Cameron would surely have most to gain from emulating rallies of the Thatcher-Kinnock era.

But I don't suppose he will - which means that my own audiences will have to carry on having to watch increasingly ancient clips from general elections that more and more of them are too young to remember.

1 comment:

Brian Jenner said...

Thatcher's reach/grasp contrast triad is brilliant!

The sound on Kinnock's clip is not so good - Kinnock always suffered from a surfeit of words.

I remember that Thatcher broadcast - the height of my Tory boy days at school.