Michael Holroyd: Might it be possible to overestimate the wisdom of Roy Jenkins?

Share
Related Topics

My chief anxiety following the shock – the very agreeable shock – of being elected President of the Royal Society of Literature seven years ago centred on one special task that lay ahead of me: the task of making speeches. I am attached to the written word which people assured me was quite a different language from the spoken word. My apprehension was made all the greater by the fact that my predecessor was Roy Jenkins, one of the best speech makers in the country. How on earth could I come near his performances?

I am a believer in magic and so, in the hope that our late president would assist me from beyond the grave, I focussed my initial AGM speech on Roy Jenkins himself, hoping to borrow something of his skill and fluency. I prepared my spontaneous effects – a rousing joke here, a hidden apercu there – very cautiously. Within a few months I had completed my slender script and tried it out before a mirror, stop-watch in hand, very well aware that an audience of writers must not be kept away too long from its drinks. It was, I later thought, a good demonstration of Einstein's theory of relativity. Though only a few minutes had passed according to my watch, I looked several years older afterwards.

And now I am several years older and giving my last presidential address, I decided to look back at the addresses Roy Jenkins himself gave during his years as president. What I discovered came as a great shock to me.

The speeches he gave that I remembered so well, those eloquent and witty addresses: they never existed. He rose to his feet, he stood in front of us; we applauded and thanked him and then he thanked us. A more polite and engaging affair you could not imagine.

The only address he actually made was a pun about authors concealing their addresses in reference books – a symbolic pun, I now see, about his concealed addresses to us. What he did redoubles my belief in magic. He gave us, I now see, a wonderfully surreal performance that left us all believing we had heard something of compelling eloquence and conviction, something that stiffened our sinews and summoned up the blood.

Taken from a speech by Sir Michael Holroyd at the Royal Society of Literature's annual general meeting at King's College, London

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales / Account Manager

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales / Account Manager is re...

Ashdown Group: Application Developer - C#.Net, ASP.Net - Cambridgeshire

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Software Application Developer (C# & ASP.Net, SQL S...

Recruitment Genius: Payroll Officer - Part Time

£12047 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Part Time Payroll Officer required for t...

Recruitment Genius: Event Management and Marketing Admin Support

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd champion the young and hold a cabinet meeting on top of Ben Nevis

Bear Grylls
 

i Editor's Letter: The five reasons why I vote

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot