Elsie is the shy and retiring bursary student from Friday's comments who did eventually stop me to say hello rather than have me shout out 'Is Elsie here?' to a packed Great Hall.
We had a fine old natter about all the events we'd enjoyed and Elsie, who lives in Devon and is studying English at the University of East Anglia, very kindly agreed to 'cover' the Roy event for me. I thought it would be good to hear a young person's view on one of our Elder Statesman because I'm developing a hopeless and possibly age-related bias, they are all impressing me immensely.
So a very warm dovegreyreader scribbles welcome to Elsie who I think you'll agree has done us proud, and my thanks to her for filing her insights so quickly and capably.
It was with an open mind and a sense of curiosity that I entered the Great Hall to take my place for Roy Hattersley’s scheduled talk, Borrowed Time. He’s a bit before my time, politics wise, but having recently finished Andrew Marr’s excellent A History of Modern Britain in which he is mentioned, I had felt a flicker of interest when I saw Roy Hattersley’s name down in the Way With Words program and so decided to go and see the man for myself. When my father dropped me off outside the Great Hall, I asked him whether or not he had any ideas about what questions I could possibly ask during the talk. He pondered for a moment and then said,
“Perhaps you could ask him what it was like to be represented by a tub of lard on Have I Got News For You?”
An incisive and probing question, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I felt perhaps it wasn’t quite in keeping with the tone of the event. However, I would rather like to know…
There was a brief flutter of tension as it was revealed that Mr Hattersley had not actually arrived by the time the talk was due to begin but happily he did turn up and was only a trifling ten minutes late, looking supremely unruffled (which, after he explained that he had just endured a lengthy six hour drive to be at the event, was impressive). He was given a speedily flattering introduction by Paul Brassley, who informed us that Roy Hattersley had once been described by Gore Vidal as a “journalist’s politican”, whether or not those two professions can ever be truly reconciled is another matter, but he is evidently well-regarded.
He began by outlining what he would be speaking to us about, namely the uneasy period between the first and second world wars, listing such crises as the armed rebellion in Ireland, the King’s abdication, general strikes and the mounting economic crisis. He was quick to stress, however, that it definitely wasn’t all doom and gloom.
There was also the entrance of the movies into England’s collective consciousness, the creation of the BBC and an increased popularity of Shakespeare, all of which sounds pretty darn wonderful. I suppose this country’s current economic climate (opening the papers, all you get is hysterical headlines screaming about we’re all going to go into meltdown or something, the end is nigh, etc etc) means that we may be all focusing on the ‘doom and gloom’ and it made me feel hopeful that we too might look back upon this period and try to remember the exciting things as well as the bad, such as winning the Olympic bid, more people going to the theatre than ever before, the huge literary output, the emergence of blogging…!
Anyway. Back to Roy Hattersley.
He was the youngest member of the Cabinet during the period of the abdication (this raised a comment whereby he suggested that the fact that Wallis Simpson was twice divorced was not an issue to the monarchy and government, rather it was because she was American that they objected, cue much laughter in the Hall), and was very much involved in the process of trying to reason with the future King. The then Prince of Wales tried to wangle it so that he could marry Ms Simpson with the provision that she would not become queen, but it was to no avail. As Roy Hattersley put it, it was perceived to be in danger of creating a constitutional crisis that the monarchy (and perhaps even the government to some extent) would not survive.
It was all very fascinating stuff. Roy Hattersley is an extremely competent and engaging speaker, proceeding to deliver his entire talk on his feet, in the middle of the stage, without any notes and without, it seemed, pause for breath. It’s exactly what you want from a speaker, someone who gives you the chance to absorb what he’s just said but then smoothly moving onto the next point. I kept repeatedly jumping at the realisation that I hadn’t been taking notes as I was so absorbed, which probably gave the people sat behind me the impression that I was falling asleep or very twitchy. I would like to reassure everyone that I was definitely neither.
The inevitable political question-what would his advice be to the current government?
He revealed that he has admiration for Gordon Brown, citing his dependable, honest and straightforward qualities as reasons. Roy Hattersley spoke of how he believes that Gordon Brown should aim to make these personality traits more obvious in his politics, and therefore win back more support. He explained what he personally thought the government should have done upon Tony Blair’s departure. No further extension of the 28 day detention period for terror suspects, slow withdrawal from Iraq, and the gradual reversal of privatisation.
Tricky aims, but I got the impression that Roy Hattersley has not yet given up hope in his party’s resurgence and ability to bounce back, which is heartening.
We were even treated to a little bit of spontaneous singing, which is always a bonus in my opinion. He has a great love for the music and musicals of the 1930’s and gave a rather dismissive view on modern pop music, which I think should be rectified.
Get in touch, Roy Hattersley, and I’ll try to change your mind!
Although it has to be said, he certainly knows his own.