Jonathan Aitken on the shoulders of giants.

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 –

Jonathan Aitken Richard Nixon Margaret Thatcher

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.

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.