“I think heckling is something the people of Britain can well be proud of…” – Joseph Strick, documentary film maker, 1966

HecklersA BBC documentary film caught priceless moments in the 1966 British election. Politicians mixed it up with vocal members of the electorate who have no compunction about joining in the debate from the audience in the time honored tradition of “heckling”.

Harold WilsonThere’s a marked contrast with the recent “Tea Party” interruptions in the US. Back in 1966 Britain, the dialog, however robust and vocal, involves a shared understanding of the rules of the game between the speaker, the heckler and the audience. Save for the anarchists, the protesters often relish engaging in dialog. Even when it becomes violent the policemen have smiles on their faces and let the protesters finish their cigarettes before bundling them into the police car. In the US it was mere confrontation, with none of the repartee displayed by heckler and speaker in some of the scenes in this fascinating documentary.

Combining the wit of a stand-up comedian with the vocal variety of a fairground barker, these British politicians show how effective public speakers can deal with interruptions by working the bond with the audience and appealing to their supporters, who intervene on behalf of the speaker to silence dissent.

It’s a long-gone world of duffel coats and briar pipes, when everyone seemed to be having a bad hair day.

Read the BBC blog and watch the fascinating 40 minute video.

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

U.S. politicians have the demeanor of stern school lecturers. I will talk–you will listen. Then I will leave. Funny how our cousins across the pond appear to have more “freedom” in their speech. It would be interesting to see if the witty dialogue actually lead to change, or if the opposition was just being tuned out more politely.

The question is, do you want to engage in a dialogue (even if it is, by nature, unequal) or do you intent to shut down (or to shout down) communication?

As an American I love watching the PM addressing the House of Commons and responding not just to the opposition’s questions but to their heckling. And when I’m in London (all too rarely) I enjoy wathcing people at Speakers Corner mount their soap boxes and hold forth on something they’re passionate about. The best ones are those who get a rise out of their listeners and who engage in a back-and forth exchange.

Bert Decker has a fascinating blog post on how Obama handles hecklers and groundrules everyone should know about.

Here’s an example of President Obama dealing with a heckler in the White House.

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>