[I posted this in January 2014. This month, June 2015, sees the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, so this seems an appropriate time to revisit the speech. Also you should see a new video Hannan has made at Runnymede.]
Magna Carta: the Secular Miracle of the English Speaking Peoples.
It was delivered by Daniel Hannan; and my being currently about halfway through his excellent book How we invented freedom & why it matters I have to say that choosing him for this lecture was not merely inspired but downright inevitable. Not only is he a magnificent speaker, not only has he studied Magna Carta’s historical significance in considerable depth but there was no danger whatever of his breaking the first Cardinal Rule in my book, The Face & Tripod. He was never going to limit himself to speaking about Magna Carta: he was always going to drive an impassioned message on the subject.
I don’t expect regular readers of this blog to expect me to do much here except use up my year’s supply of superlatives before 2014 is a week old. Indeed this is a copy-book example of speech-making. Unless you happen to be a student of speaking you could well stop here and just enjoy a fabulous lecture. Nevertheless if Hannan were consulting me there is one facet of his delivery on which I should dearly like to work.
He is speaking in the open air (never easy), competing with the sound of falling rain and periodic passing aeroplanes, and I am certain he is not amplified. He has a microphone clipped to his tie but I believe that to be only to supply a clean audio feed for this video. This means we are hearing him from a range of about eight inches. His audience is rather further away than that, and it is the way he is projecting that persuades me that there is no PA system. It is a very tough test of vocal delivery. Can you spot what he is doing wrong?
His vocal projection is that of the super-conscientious. His enunciation is excellent without suffering from death-by-consonants. So what’s my beef?
He commits disproportionate syllable stress. If you have a look at this posting (and I hope you do) you will see where I have discussed it before and save me having to repeat myself too much, except that here I have a recording for illustration. Before I begin citing illustrative examples, though, I invite you to look briefly at 11:29 in the video. There you get an idea of the distance of his audience. Remember, you and I are hearing him from only 8 inches away so you need to imagine how much of what we hear will have been dissipated on the way to his audience.
Here is a far-from-comprehensive list of syllables (and sometimes whole words or even phrases) that are faint, or in some cases almost inaudible. Unless otherwise stated, they are at the ends of the words or phrases. 4:12 “victory”; 5:88 “Englishmen”; 7:30 “foundation of modern freedom” (almost all of that was lost); 8:40 “not the king’s law”; 11:05 “as it were” (I had to replay that to check on what he said); 18:40 “authoritarianism” (I think).
Just as with Bill Stuart-White in that posting of mine in August, this flaw comes not from laziness but from a laudable desire to be expressive. There are occasions when Hannan deliberately goes very quiet for reasons of drama, and I have no quarrel with that – though I urge him to turn up the sibilance when he does – but he still needs to make every syllable heard. It’s something I discuss at length (along with my own journey down this very same path!) in my little booklet, Every Word Heard.
I have devoted five paragraphs to picking nits off nits. I wouldn’t have bothered, except Daniel Hannan is about as good as they get. When you have worked hard enough to get that close to excellence, people like me owe you the homage of showing you how close you are.