Philip Hensher: The Cameron dilemma for impressionists

Share
Related Topics

That thoughtful and accomplished comedian-impressionist, Alistair McGowan, has said he is quite unable to imitate David Cameron. After repeated attempts, "all that comes out is an upper-class whisper". It's true: has anyone succeeded in capturing Cameron's way of talking, or even in isolating any characteristic gestures? His voice doesn't sound "upper class" to me: it sounds neutral, relaxed, and middle class, like a BBC announcer from the 1970s. He is remarkably free of verbal or physical tics, as far as I can see; there is little on the surface to ridicule.

Compare the bundle of mannerisms of Gordon Brown: the bizarrely out-of-sync smile and the chewing on air. Or Peter Mandelson's manner of speaking, the cooing of a man who was once told that if you want to get people to listen, you lower, not raise your voice. Or Ann Widdecombe, or Boris Johnson, or John Prescott, or Tony Blair, or Ken Livingstone, or William Hague, or Lembit Opik, or Kenneth Clarke; all well-loved bundles of interestingly unique appearance and what used to be called an inimitable way of speaking, by which was meant "highly imitable".

What is it in people that makes them subject to the caricaturists', the impressionists' art? Some politicians are, some aren't. How the French caricaturists must have prayed for a Sarkozy victory in the last French election. The prospect of having to draw the well-made blandness of a Ségolène Royal for the next five years must have been a nightmare. Yet Sarkozy, with his interesting, rubbery face, his well-aired complex of high-heeled shoes and imperious vanity, practically drew his own caricatures, as do Vladimir Putin and those worrying bun-faced twins who appear to run Poland.

When a figure with this secretly ridiculous centre departs, it is a nerve-racking time. George W. Bush, memorably depicted as a knuckle-dragging ape by Steve Bell, also had the sort of voice which tempted everyone from the playground upwards to have a go. Obama, as far as I can see, is still defeating all such attempts. Similarly, Angela Merkel just doesn't seem very easy to translate into caricature, with her middle-of-the-road appearance.

In these cases, it's not necessarily to do with a nervousness about venturing away from white male politicians, or simply not wanting to imitate generally admirable figures. After all, comedians had no difficulty in imitating what, to us, are Nelson Mandela's highly recognisable tones, and both the admirers and the denigrators of Margaret Thatcher were very ready to take her off at a moment's notice.

No, it's something to do with a personality worn on the outside. I have a dear old friend who has such a characteristic style that the mere mention of his name sends his social circle off into lewd impersonations. And a politician who can make a mark on an electorate, or an impressionist, by his style is surely at an advantage. Or used to be. You notice that my list of politicians of interestingly unique manner is mostly made up of people who made their reputation in a previous political generation.

If David Miliband takes over as leader of the Labour Party, we will have three party leaders of respectable, well-scrubbed middle-class appearance, and a large group of cartoonists and impressionists holding their heads in their hands.

I more or less stopped going to Hollywood movies when I realised I was quite incapable of telling one blonde starlet from another – I just could not remember what Katherine Heigl or Scarlett Johansson looked like. And in the same way, the electorate's demand for soothing, well-spoken, convincingly middle-class but indistinguishable representatives may be reconcilable with the requirement for high-quality minds. What it doesn't do is turn up a face that Gillray could have worked with.

Letterman: a victim of the tyranny of byte-size blackmail

The talk-show host, David Letterman, detailed, live on his own television show, an appalling attempt to blackmail him out of $2m (£1.25m). The story involved – had to involve – Letterman explaining the basis of the blackmail, which basically added up to his own sexual misdemeanours with female members of his staff.

Most people over 40 will have been amazed at Letterman's decision to go as public as this. When someone is blackmailed over their own bad behaviour, the law goes to great lengths to protect the victim's name. Otherwise, it is concluded, the blackmailer has succeeded, and what the victim most feared has come to pass.

So why didn't Letterman go to the law, and let an anonymous blackmail trial run its natural course?

The reason is, of course, that these days, it would be completely impossible for someone of Letterman's status to remain anonymous for the entirety of a blackmail trial. The internet knows no contempt of court, no restriction of free speech, no binding orders. Letterman was probably right to conclude that, since the facts were going to become available anyway, he might as well be in charge of releasing them, as publicly as possible.

A blackmailer's threats are now more powerful than ever before, it appears; his victims, it seems, cannot do anything without acceding to their demands or releasing the damaging information on which the threat depends.

Sex abuse by women is not a numbers game

In the wake of the abuse case in Plymouth, in which a female nursery worker, Vanessa George, abused children and circulated images of the abuse to another woman, people have wondered how prevalent female abuse is.

Enter the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. It is a child-protection charity that deals with British female sex offenders. It claims that its research "confirms" that "up to 20 per cent" of "a conservative estimate of 320,000 suspected UK paedophiles" were women. That enables a headline shrieking that 64,000 women in the UK are "child-sex offenders".

More realistically, we can say that the figure of 320,000 is a casual estimate; that the figure of one abuser in five being a woman is impossible to verify. Compare these figures with the Government's figures showing 56 female abusers in custody and another 84 in the community. These include cases such as de facto consensual affairs between just-adult women and those just under the age of consent, which seem very far removed from the George case.

No doubt abuse is under-reported, and one case such as this is very shocking, but I find it impossible to believe 64,000 female abusers are roaming the country. It seems grossly irresponsible of foundations such as this to cite figures in this way. It adds greatly to the atmosphere of terror and excessive caution in which children are brought up.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions