Following the Channel 5 programme on the public words of Diana, Princess of Wales, the companion programme on the speeches and statements of HM The Queen has appeared. See it here on the Channel 5 catch-up for a few more days (after you’ve picked your way through all sorts of rather wearing adverts, including some that tell you more than enough about personal hygiene).
I again appear quite often after the first 20 minutes or so to opine on a wide range of points of technique and tone.
As I previously pointed out, drafting speeches/statements for the Royal Family is really difficult:
‘Royal’ speeches are (I’ve found) the hardest to draft. If you’re not in the immediate royal household you get no chance to discuss the substance and tone with the speaker. Does that matter?
Any audience for a royal speech is typically pleased to be there and any rather bland platitudinous stiltedness in words or delivery may in fact come across as part of general Royal Glory. The slightest nuance of the unexpected or the ‘controversial’ in a royal speech will be seized upon by the media, regardless of the way the words are presented.
There was a nice speechwriting touch early (03.50) in this new programme when a Private Secretary figure offers The Queen a draft speech and points out that the words ‘violent and vociferous’ in one paragraph are too sharp and might be a tad … contentious? Maybe one adjective will suffice: “It sounds a bit too Churchillian“.
The Queen agrees that it be ‘softened down’ a bit, briskly pointing out that the phrase is also “frightfully difficult to say“.
YES. Speechwriters! Never might how your clever words read on the page. What’s it like to speak them?
When I was being interviewed I noted what I saw as one subtle speechwriting infelicity – this was not used in the programme. It’s here in The Queen’s VE Speech this year:
Today it may seem hard that we cannot mark this special anniversary as we would wish. Instead we remember from our homes and our doorsteps.
But our streets are not empty; they are filled with the love and the care that we have for each other.
And when I look at our country today, and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.
Can you spot it?
It’s that little word still:
I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.
Why that qualification? What does it add, other than a sense of pessimism that such qualities might be drifting away? Look at how much more powerful and confident the sentence sounds without it:
And when I look at our country today, and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride that we are a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.
Apart from some curious observations from a Professor of Phonetics on the changes in The Queen’s accent down the years (“She’s trying to be the Monarch“) this was another good programme, replete with interesting if not striking examples drawn from what must have been a lot of research. As with the Diana programme this one did well to have the deft contributions of a senior former Palace official who helped explain how it all worked and works, namely Charles Anson who served as The Queen’s Press Secretary in the 1990s.
It’s not often that we get to think about in some detail the speeches and public messages from one person over 80 years.
Have a look.