Theodore Dalrymple: finger-lickin’ talking head

In November 2013 The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion, “This House Believes Socialism Will Not Work”. We have recently looked at speeches by Daniel Hannan for the proposition and Katy Clark for the opposition. Today we turn again to the proposition to examine a speech by Theodore Dalrymple.

Before I go any further let me comment on that still picture that illustrates the video. He is about to lick his fingers the better to turn a page. Any regular reader knows what I plan to say about that, but first allow me to quote from my book The Face & Tripod.

“If you lick your fingers to turn (or slide) pages, it not only looks slightly naff but they dry out very quickly so you have to keep repeating the naffness. If you smear lip-salve on your fingers beforehand, you should not need to lick them.”

If you think it odd that someone who is as averse as I to using scripts should nevertheless offer advice on doing so, you haven’t read the book. There are occasions when a script is unavoidable.

This is not such an occasion – or shouldn’t be. That still picture tells you that, though a doctor who has probably presented many papers, Dalrymple is a talking head and has not properly learnt how to speak in public. Which is a pity because he has a lot to say that is worth saying.

I have for many years enjoyed reading his articles, and periodically dip into the kindle version of a collection of his essays entitled Anything Goes. I am currently 48% through it (O the joys of digital precision!). He is very widely travelled, and has experienced life at its rawest. He is widely considered dyspeptic and pessimistic, but humour hides not far below the surface. (A professed atheist who assumes a pen name with ‘Theodore’ in it has his tongue not far from his cheek.)

There’s humour in this speech, and the humour harvests laughs. His material is good, but it is written material. I have made the point many times in this blog that written English and spoken English are subtly but significantly different beasties.

Dalrymple is idiosyncratic. I like idiosyncratic. He is opinionated. I like opinionated. He has the wisdom to have resisted shop-window pieties like political correctness. He is able to express regard for his fellow man without lapsing into the moist-eyed misanthropy that is so fashionable.

I have never met him, but I would like to – not least for the opportunity to tear that bloody paper out of his hands and show him how easily he could do without it and how much better his public speaking would then become.

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