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28 February 2011

The Baron's Speech

A repeat of an old Round the Horne reminded me of Patrick Campbell, an Irish raconteur who used to appear quite often on television in the 1970s. Here's an example of his work.


So many things to cherish: Robert Robinson's famous scrapeover, the astonishing beauty of the young Joan Bakewell, and the embryo of evil that was Noel Edmonds.

But, of course, what's most striking is that BBC tv used to regularly feature a man with a pronounced stammer, with an attitude that said "You just be patient. This man is funny and charming and worth waiting for."  It treated his "impediment" as just a way of speaking, no more an impediment than Frank Muir's rhotacism.

Campbell himself put it best:
From my earliest days I have enjoyed an attractive impediment in my speech. I have never permitted the use of the word 'stammer'. I can't say it myself.
When did you last see someone talking with a stammer on television who wasn't the subject of a documentary? Probably never, unless you're as old as me. Stammering has become defined as a disability. If that helps people get treatment (and if they want treatment) I suppose that's good, but it brings all the familiar downsides: the stammerer is pitied, not fully respected. If Campbell were to appear on television now - as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, say - there'd be a feeling that he had no right to be there, that the BBC was being politically correct in forcing us to listen to him.

Perhaps - and I'm no pessimist - we really are in a crueler world these days.

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