At first I felt rather sorry for George Entwistle, the former Director General of the BBC. His job was not an easy one and unhappily for him he had a face so patently decent and weak that he could easily have been a modern Archbishop of Canterbury. Then I read the transcript of his interview with John Humphrys in the wake of the counter-revelations about the BBC’s supposed revelations about Lord McAlpine.
Again, I instinctively sympathised with Mr Entwistle because of John Humphreys’ relentlessly self-righteous questioning. But then I read his answer to the question, ‘So you heard about it the following day and then what did you do?’
‘I made inquiries as to find out why what had happened on Twitter had happened because it seemed to me that the events surrounding the film in terms of what happened on Twitter were an important part in understanding how this thing had achieved a scale and created a noise around potential identification that was clearly surprising.‘
Of course, impromptu speech rarely emerges in polished periods (unless you are Isaiah Berlin, whom Michael Oakeshott once memorably introduced to an audience as ‘the Paganini of thought,’ a backhanded compliment second only in brilliance to Disraeli’s exclamation on being served champagne at the end of a public banquet, ‘Thank God for something warm at last!’). But Mr Entwistle’s hideous verbiage was not a mere lapse: his masterfully inarticulate mangling of what I presume is his mother tongue was the explanation of his ascent as a manager in the BBC.
Contrary to what you might think, it is not at all easy to talk like Mr Entwistle; in fact it is a definite skill, the key to success in the modern British bureaucracy. Unless you can speak fluent gibberish like his you will get nowhere within it; you will remain on the lower rungs, collecting bins or sweeping the floors and saying things that people can understand.
If you think it is easy to talk like this, just try it! Yes, try to talk like Mr Entwistle! I think you will find that, however hard you try to prevent it, meaning will keep creeping back into your words. It is only by sitting through many ring-fenced meetings with blue-skies thinking that you eventually will get the hang of it.
I am sure there must be a vacancy for Mr Entwistle somewhere in the NHS, perhaps in Strategic Planning or in Equalities and Diversity.
First published in Salisbury Review.
Posted on 11/24/2012 10:59 AM by Theodore Dalrymple