Redmond O’Hanlon: still crazy after all these years

There is a quotation attributed to Danny Kaye –

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.

I had a school friend. In fact we were together at two consecutive schools. That means we spent the best part of a decade being educated at the same establishments. On balance I’d say he was marginally less naughty than I, though it was a close thing. In half a century since then I have periodically caught sight of his distinguished career as a naturalist, explorer and author, throwing more paint on his canvas than would be good for most people’s health. He is Redmond O’Hanlon, and having one day online caught sight of a video of his making a speech, I had to go and look.

For heaven’s sake! Whoever posted this video could have chosen a better still picture.

The absence of ethos tells me that either he has been introduced or that he is so well known to this audience that introduction and/or ethos is redundant. The easy-going opening, together with his casual garb, rather reinforces the opinion. A warm decorum is established: he and his audience are comfortable with each other. If I am wrong and he was previously unknown to these people, I doff my cap. Nothing can relax an audience more quickly or thoroughly than a speaker treating them like old friends. The tactic is not speaker-proof: unseemly over-familiarity can be counter-productive. O’Hanlon has got it right.

There follows a stream of fascinating and delightful anecdotage.

It is idle and wrong to assume that if you have been to interesting places and seen interesting things and had interesting experiences then anecdotage just falls into place. To be a raconteur requires real skill.

You have to play to your strength. Peter Ustinov, for instance, was a superb mimic and used that ability to make his stories sparkle. O’Hanlon has written several successful books recounting his travels, so he is practised at painting word-pictures to make his stories come alive. Nevertheless, as we have observed very many times in this blog, writing is not the same as speaking and being good at the one does not automatically make you good at the other.

O’Hanlon has one particular quality on his side: he is prepared to make a fool  of himself. He waves his hands around, he makes silly noises, and the audience enjoys it. But still, lest any reader thinks that I’ve revealed a golden secret, that tactic is not speaker-proof either. I don’t know whether he had to die a few times before he got it right, or whether it was always a natural ability, but he’s got it right now. This is a lovely piece of speaking and great fun to watch.

Speaking personally I am delighted to find that age has not wearied him nor the years condemned. More importantly, he remains as charmingly bonkers as I remember. That is (you might say) satisfactory.

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