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Speeches That Shook the World

Wed Nov 6, 9-10pm, BBC4

Nothing stirs, or indeed chills the blood like a truly memorable speech. And even if Simon Armitage largely reckons with the usual suspects in this film (‘I Have A Dream’, ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches’, ‘Rivers of Blood’), his approach is thoughtful and involving. With the orations themselves so familiar, Armitage is at his most interesting when discussing process.

He explores dynamics, pitch and pacing with Charles Dance and meets Vincent Franklin (‘The Thick of It’s’ infuriating spin doctor Stewart Pearson on screen, but a speechwriter in real life) to learn about ‘the ladder of abstraction’ that all great speeches clamber up and down. He also considers bad speeches, from Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘Quiet Man’ farce to a couple of YouTubed best man disasters.

And there are good anecdotes too: Earl Spencer recalls a none-too-subtle attempt to vet the contents of his speech at his sister’s funeral at a rehearsal the day before. Fuelled by his usual curiousity about the nuances of human communication, Armitage is engaging company throughout; we’d recommend lending him your ears…