Anglo-American Speechwriting

This past Wednesday, I did my bit as a speechwriter for the cause of for Anglo-American relations.

The British Embassy invited me to speak to a meeting of press and public affairs officers from British consulates around the U.S. that the Embassy was hosting in Houston.

Only Britain’s ambassador in Washington gets a dedicated speechwriter. The British consuls in other American cities rely on their press and public affairs officers to write the occasional speech. So the Embassy wanted me to give a talk to these staffers and give them some practical tips on how to write better speeches.

There were about 40 participants present for this session.

In particular, I told them about Aristotle’s Rhetoric and the three main ways by which Aristotle said that a speaker could move an audience: ethos, logos and pathos.

Logos (logic) and pathos (emotion) are self-explanatory, but ethos is more elusive. Essentially, ethos means building a bond with the audience, so that the audience will trust the speaker and be receptive to the speaker’s message.

To illustrate, I gave two particularly appropriate examples, about 60 years apart, of how two very different British prime ministers used ethos when they addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

The first was Winston Churchill addressing Congress on December 26, 1941, just after America entered World War II.

Churchill reminded his audience that his mother had been American. And then he said: “I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own.”

(You can track down the video of Churchill’s speech on YouTube, and see for yourselves the laughter and the warm feelings that this personal remark generated.)

The second example was Tony Blair, addressing a joint session of Congress on July 17, 2003—after the U.S. and Britain had been allies in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Blair also shared something personal. He said: “My middle son was studying 18th century history and the American War of Independence, and he said to me the other day, ‘You know, Lord North, Dad, he was the British prime minister who lost us America. So just think, however many mistakes you’ll make, you’ll never make one that bad.’”

And how did I build my own bond with this audience?

I told them that I had been an Anglophile ever since I was a small boy enchanted by the King Arthur stories. I added that I studied in England when I was in college, that I have close friends there, and that I’ve been back to visit a number of times.

So, I said, I’m very proud to be asked to contribute—even in a very small way—to furthering Anglo-American relations.

I also took them by surprise by the way I opened my speech. I began with a reference to “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”—one of the less well known Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In this story, the great detective says this to an American visitor: “It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton. For I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”

To that I added: “Well, we have still not seen the quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.

“But that does not change the fact that Anglo-American relations are of vital importance—to Britain and America, and I daresay to the world at large.”

That got their attention.


Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston. Web site: Like this post? Share with your friends using the button below! Also be sure to like PunditWire on Facebook. 

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