On 21 December, 2015, at the Richard Nixon Library in California, Jonathan Aitken delivered a speech entitled ‘A Biographer’s Journey’, comparing the subjects of his two best-selling biographies – Richard Nixon and Margaret Thatcher. Though I habitually attach, for readers that need it, an explanatory hyperlink to the name of the speaker and key people mentioned, I believe that at least two of them require no introduction, and anyway if you watch this video you will come to learn more about all of them than a link can offer. But if you insist –
As I habitually also, as a courtesy to the author, include links to books that are mentioned let us attend to them now. All these are authored by Jonathan Aitken.
- Pride and Perjury – an autobiography
- Porridge and Passion – an autobiography
- Nixon: A Life
- Margaret Thatcher
- Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed
Frank Gannon, aide to President Nixon, delivers the introduction and apologises that – unlike Nixon and Thatcher – he cannot speak without notes. Was this a specific appeal for me to teach him? Alas no.
That apology notwithstanding he proceeds to shoot most of it very capably from the hip. It’s a truly excellent introduction, affectionately delivered, replete with personal memories and fulsomely advertising all but one of the books listed above. I have heard few introductions that lasted as long as nine and a half minutes and none that so deserved to.
It has been said that punctuality is the politeness of princes. Aitken begins his lecture at 9:30, and passes to Q&A exactly 40 minutes later at 49:30. That sort of precision is super-professional and very rare.
And now I am slightly at a loss for words. This is just such a beautifully constructed and delivered lecture that I shy away from cheapening it with comment. Yes I know he regrettably has notes. Sadly the word ‘lecture’ strictly means a reading, and there are here a few occasions that I feel the reading makes the delivery a little pedestrian, but when his face comes up and he addresses us spontaneously it eclipses those brief shortcomings.
He’s a very fine speaker, and what he has given himself to say is fascinating throughout. I concede that I may bear an advantage in being old enough to have lived through the period in question, but of the many hundreds of speeches I have sampled for this blog (perhaps three times as many as have been actually reviewed) I think this the most enjoyable. I urge you to watch it.