Rowan Atkinson pleads for insults

All over the western world at present there is a battle for and against Free Speech. In 2012 there was launched in Britain a movement to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, the section dealing¬†with ‘Insulting Speech’, and the Campaign chose a splendid slogan “Feel Free to Insult Me“.

One of their celebrity supporters was actor Rowan Atkinson, who delivered a speech at a parliamentary reception on 16 October 2012.

Oh no, he’s reading it!

It’s a disappointment that he of all people would stifle some of the impact of his delivery this way, but to me it’s not a complete surprise. Actors spend their working lives speaking without reference to paper, and they also spend their working lives pretending to be someone else. Here Atkinson is being himself in public, something that many actors find uncomfortable – shyness is surprisingly widespread in the profession. Blackadder or Mr Bean could shoot this from the hip without any trouble, so could anyone if they knew how, so could Rowan Atkinson but here he prefers not to. The rareness of his giving broadcast interviews suggests that he is shy, it is well known that he battles against stammering, and it would not surprise me if his script here is a weapon in that battle.

We can at least expect him to read very well. He does of course.

He quotes from the brilliant Constable Savage sketch in Not the Nine o’Clock News, and this is almost as funny as the sketch itself, because it is the same voice speaking the lines – and the same brilliant timing. To those of us old enough to remember, this is a predictable inclusion in the speech but no less welcome for that.

At 7:15 he expresses the hope that this campaign will begin a process that will “slowly rewind the creeping culture of censoriousness”.

The speech was delivered five and a half years ago and it was a nice and noble try. However that creeping culture has now become an intemperate gallop.

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