Fantasy Speakers’ Corner

Inspired by the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, this was intended to be a blog-post featuring world-famous speeches but it soon became clear that archive footage of such speeches is very rare indeed. Fortunately, however, Jisc MediaHub features many world-famous speakers from the 20th and 21st centuries, so I have assembled a selection of some of them, imagining them at a “Fantasy Speakers’ Corner. We start early in the 20th century, when many events were filmed without sound.

Here is Trotsky speaking at the Kremlin, when he was still in favour with the regime.


Large Communist Demonstration in Moscow. Leon Trotsky speaks at Kremlin, 1922 (Gaumont Graphic)

The ETV collection is a fascinating historical resource from an Eastern perspective. Footage from the Soviet archives shows Lenin in a number of films, such as Leading the People: Together with the People – a “documentary tracing the history of the Russian Revolution and the role of the people in the USSR and other socialist countries in working to achieve a Communist society during the 20th century”.


Leading the People: Together with the People ( Educational and Television Films Ltd)

Between the two world wars, there are numerous British clips of Lloyd George in action, this one showing him in rousing form , speaking to 40,000 electors in Rochdale Town Hall Square in 1923.


Rousing Speech in Lancashire (Gaumont Graphic)

And Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour premier, is seen making a speech in Wolverhampton in 1924 from a car, surrounded by crowds.


Prime Minister in the Midlands (Gaumont Graphic)

Jennie Lee, the youngest MP in the House of Commons in 1929, opposed MacDonald, but continued in politics, becoming arts minister in the 1964 Labour government and helping to establish the Open University.


Arts White Paper. Jennie Lee interviewed about plans to develop the Arts in England. (ITV News)

In the Second World War, Frank Capra’s propaganda film, Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike, designed to persuade the US to join the Allies, brilliantly demonstrates Adolf Hitler’s terrifying oratory.


Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike. (Imperial War Museum)

Winston Churchill’s leadership inspired Britain to resist the Nazi menace and some of his most famous speeches are represented in this moving tribute to him.


Tribute to Sir Winston Churchill. (Gaumont British News)

After the war, the first hint of a potential thaw in relations between East and West was the death of Stalin, whose moustachioed figure embodied the Eastern threat in the Cold War but whose Georgian accent denied him universal appeal in the USSR.


Death of Stalin. (Gaumont British News)

The hopes of the West in the 1960s were embodied by two US figures, JF Kennedy and Martin Luther King, seen here promoting racial equality at an event in London in 1964.


Negro Equality. An address from Martin Luther King, on the subject of black and white equality, to an audience of mainly white people. (ITV News)

Some of King’s dreams were realised across the Atlantic in South Africa, where apartheid was abolished and Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the republic.


Nelson Mandela Visits UK. (ITN)

Lenin’s image still loomed large in the USSR, even as Mikhail Gorbachev instituted his perestroika reforms, as can be seen in this photo of Gorbachev addressing the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in Moscow, 1986.


General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (Getty Images)

20 years after the astonishing election that brought him to power in Poland, Lech Walesa reflected on the optimism and disappointments of the latter years of the 20th century in an interview with AP.

And no-one could deny that one of the defining political figures of that era was Margaret Thatcher, who led reform of the Western economies and staunchly supported leaders such as Gorbachev and Walesa in the East.


USSR: Thatcher/Gorbachev talks. (Channel 4 News)

Britain again played a major political and military role in the world in the early years of the 21st century, led by the charismatic Tony Blair, who often employed an understated, almost conversational rhetorical style, as when he called on the US and Europe to bury their differences over Iraq in 2004.


Blair calls on US and Europe to bury differences on Iraq. (AP Archive)

Who would be in your Fantasy Speakers Corner? Take a browse around Jisc MediaHub and share your favourites here in the Comments.

Eric Hobsbawm: Marxist Historian

Following the recent death of the eminent Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, we thought this would be an ideal opportunity to celebrate his achievements and highlight the resources of our ETV Collection, which is unique in its coverage of the history of the British Labour Movement as well as the influence of Communism.

Although he spent most of his life in Britain, Eric Hobsbawm was born in Egypt to Jewish parents in 1917. Far away in Russia  a revolution was beginning, the reverberations of which would be felt globally, as documented in ETV’s Chronicle of October 1917.

Chronicle of October 1917 : ETV Films Ltd

In his autobiography Hobsbawm said

I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world.

The  family moved to Vienna but by the time Hitler began his rise to power Hobsbawm had been orphaned and was living with his uncle in Berlin. They were moving to a country in the grip of significant political change: ‘How to Make Cannon Fodder’ is an account of the rise of Nazism in Germany at this time and its focus on the country’s youth.

How To Make Cannon Fodder : ETV Ltd 1963

As a result of his experiences in Berlin, Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party at the age of 14;

Anybody who saw Hitler’s rise happen first hand could not have helped but be shaped by it, politically. That boy is still somewhere inside, always will be..

He moved with his uncle to London  in 1933 and as a gangly teenage boy had to adapt to a new language and culture. He clearly managed this with some success and went on to win a scholarship to Cambridge where he made many communist friends. Here he would eventually gain his PhD, after a break in his studies during the war which he spent as a sapper on the home front. This experience gave him an opportunity to meet and work alongside working class Britons.

In 1947  he began his long career as a history lecturer at Birkbeck College. By now he had determined his ongoing commitment to  radical socialism, which remained throughout the cold war, to the detriment of the progression of his academic career.

The Allies : ETV Films Ltd 1965

Hobsbawm considered himself part of the international communist movement, a position echoed in the work of ETV, a distribution company aiming to make the movement available through alternative newsreels. For instance  ’The Allies’ is a documentary film made by the DEFA Studio  (the state-owned film studio of the German Democratic Republic) which gives an account of how the successful military alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies in World War II led to the defeat of Germany. The film interprets these events from a Soviet perspective and stresses the huge price paid by Russia (20 million dead) to help bring an end to the Nazi regime.

Following his post-war research into the Fabians, Hobsbawm developed a great and continuing interest in the growth of the British Labour Movement. Many years later, in 1983, he supported Neil Kinnock’s controversial transformation of the British Labour Party  into what would eventually become known as ‘New Labour’.  A 1985 Channel 4 News Clip focusing on splits within the British Communist Party ( including an interview with Hobsbawm) goes on to discuss the resulting impact on the entire Labour Movement.

Fifty Fighting Years: ETV Films Ltd 1972

Fifty Fighting Years was made as a tribute to the journal ‘Labour Monthly’ and documents the struggles of the British Labour Movement from 1921-1971. The film was directed and produced by Stanley Forman, ETV’s founder and a contemporary of Hobsbawm, whose life also was strongly influenced by the Communist movement.

Hobsbawm’s views – political and historical – were formed by his reactions to the great conflicts of the 20th Century which he called ‘the most extraordinary and terrible century of human history’. His formidable reputation as a historian, however, was established mainly by his quartet of books  spanning  events from the French Revolution to the present day (The Age of RevolutionThe Age of CapitalThe Age of Empire and The Age of Extremes).

He believed world events are driven largely by economic and social forces rather than through the power of individual leaders. He said

Social injustice still needs to be denounced and fought….the world will not get better on its own.


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