Some speeches featured on this blog are within days of delivery, some a few years old. Today’s is possibly the oldest, yet still as topical and relevant as can be.
This week forty-five years ago in 1975 was notable for both the momentous and the trivial. You may ponder on which was which. Snow on the Monday (yes, in June) caused the abandoning of first class cricket matches, and the UK rang to the strains of Don Estelle and Windsor Davies performing Whispering Grass. The Thursday of that week saw the UK going to the polls in a referendum to decide whether the country should remain in the European Economic Community, now called the European Union.
On Tuesday June 3rd, 1975, Labour Member of Parliament, the late Peter Shore, delivered a speech in The Oxford Union in a debate ahead of that referendum.
Wearing my rhetor hat I struggle with the sense that any negative observation would be impertinent. This is really an outstanding piece of passionate oratory, but …
It is also one of the clearest examples I have heard of a particular diction flaw. I refer to disproportionate syllable stress. In raising his voice to be heard throughout the hall, he heavily emphasises those syllables that should be stressed. So far so good: Peter Shore speaks with beautiful clarity, but he sometimes neglects the non-stress syllables to the point of virtual inaudibility.
Curiously it is a flaw to be most commonly found in speakers who are especially conscientious about their speaking. (One of the finest speakers around today, Daniel Hannan, commits this, and I have said so in this blog a couple of times. Ditto Barack Obama.) Also if you point out the sin to the sinners they deny it so vehemently that without a recording it is desperately difficult to persuade them of it. I understand their incredulity. Some years before this speech I was receiving training from a genius called Kate Fleming, and when she accused me of this I ferociously denied it till circumstances forced my hand. (There’s an account of that in my booklet, Every Word Heard.)
This speech is fantastic, and is made even more entertaining through the cutaway shots of – e.g. Jeremy Thorpe and Edward Heath. We first see the latter smiling smugly, and later again when the smile has gloriously frozen after Shore’s treatment. Is that Barbara Castle sitting in the background? Anyway I commend it to you.
Yes, that was an interesting week. The snow on the Monday cleared quickly, and by the weekend there had started a heatwave and accompanying drought. The drought continued, on and off – chiefly on – till the August Bank Holiday more than a year later.
The effects of that referendum are only just finishing now (Deus Volent).