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Paper Monitor

10:38 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2007

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Another terribly interesting "Great Speeches of the 20th Century" pamphlet fell out of the Guardian this morning. There have been some awfully high-brow speeches included in this series, such as Jawaharlal Nehru's landmark 1947 speech at the dawning of Indian independence.

The series is now drawing to its conclusion - and, hark, is that the faint sound of a barrel being scraped? Perhaps that's unkind - today's speech is Earl Spencer's eulogy from his sister's funeral. There's no doubt it was a bold address, but would it really count as a *great speech* of the century?

That set Paper Monitor musing on a conversation which must have taken place in the recent past at Guardian Villas when they were deciding which speeches to include. It would be reasonable to set out to include speeches which were expertly crafted works, rich in allusion, metaphors and classical references, which electrified their immediate audiences and whose impact spread around the country resulting in demonstrations on the streets within days.

Odd then, that Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech didn't make the grade - though "Loathsome Speeches of the 20th Century" might not have appealed to Guardian readers in quite the same way.

It cannot entirely be because his politics fell far to the right of the usual Guardian spectrum, because others for whom the paper's readers have little truck have been included.

Curious, Paper Monitor gives series editor Tom Clark a ring to ask why not. D'uh! Not answering his phone. Tom, if you're out there, drop us a line using the comments button below.

UPDATE 1145: Aha! Paper Monitor was right! Just belatedly caught up with this explanation of the series that Tom Clark wrote in the paper on 21 April.

"We ran into [what makes a great speech] in considering Enoch Powell's anti-immigration 'rivers of blood' speech, made in 1968 as Kenyan Asians arrived in the UK. Powell was a classical scholar, steeped in the rhetoric of the ancient world, and he drew on it heavily - even, in line with the best Roman practice, enhancing the urgency of his tone by holding in his urine in advance of delivering a big speech.

"His speeches were said to 'smell of the wick' - he sat late into the night, weaving in allusions to and oratorical tricks from the ancient world. Much of that is in 'rivers of blood', and no doubt it helped create the immediate impact, seen as racist protesters came out on to the street in support of a man who they felt had finally articulated their fears.

"Looking back at the text today, well-crafted as the words are, they look pernicious above all else. More than that, the predictions they make have proved unambiguously false - immigration happened, and blood was not spilt in the way Powell predicted. In the end, although remarkable, Powell's notorious speech falls short of being great."


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