Books

The greatest speeches never made

Words can change the world, or provide an ever-echoing record of a world changed. Master of letters and speech compiler Shaun Usher offers a glimpse of the monumental moments that never were

There are lots of books of speeches out but they all seem to be something like: ‘100 speeches that changed the course of history’. It’s not often you see speeches that have been scribbled on a piece of paper and never read, or speeches that changed just one person’s life.

When I was doing this book I was thinking, if a speech was never delivered is it still a speech? I never found an answer and I think that’s the wrong question to be asking. I think it’s important to be appreciating as many of these documents as possible.

I do think about all the speeches that aren’t allowed to be made that we’ll never know about.

President Nixon:  ‘In event of Moon Disaster’

Nixon_moon1
Nixon_moon2

Shaun Usher: This was the speech that was never made by President Nixon, to be read should Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not come back from the Moon. It would have changed everything. That’s what I found interesting, these alternative timelines which show you a world that could have been.

But I do actually think it’s an incredible speech as well, had it been made. It’s beautifully written, I love the title: in event of moon disaster, I love the end, where it says the president should telephone each of the widows-to-be, which I find to be quite a fascinating phrase. I love the fact that you can see the original document itself, the paper on which it was typed, because it really puts you into that window in history.

The Queen: ‘In the event of World War Three’

Shaun Usher: This is quite an amazing thing to see – a speech to be read by the Queen if World War Three had started. I got a copy of the original document from the National Archives.

It’s quite similar in feeling to the Moon disaster speech, quite a chilling look at an alternative timeline. You can feel the tension as you read it, and it must be quite similar to what a speechwriter would have written.

Text of a Message to the Nation to be broadcast by Her Majesty The Queen at Noon on Friday 4 March 1983

When I spoke to you less than three months ago we were all enjoying the warmth and fellowship of a family Christmas. Our thoughts were concentrated on the strong links that bind each generation to the ones that came before and those that will follow. The horrors of war could not have seemed more remote as my family and I shared our Christmas joy with the growing family of the Commonwealth.

Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.

I have never forgotten the sorrow and pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father’s inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939. Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me.

We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology. But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength.

My husband and I share with families up and down the land the fear we feel for sons and daughters, husbands and brothers who have left our side to serve their country. My beloved son Andrew is at this moment in action with his unit and we pray continually for his safety and for the safety of all servicemen and women at home and overseas.

It is this close bond of family life that must be our greatest defence against the unknown. If families remain united and resolute, giving shelter to those living alone and unprotected, our country’s will to survive cannot be broken.

My message to you therefore is simple. Help those who cannot help themselves give comfort to the lonely and the homeless and let your family become the focus of hope and life to those who need it.

As we strive together to fight off the new evil let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be.

God Bless you all.

General Eisenhower: ‘If the D-Day invasions had failed’

dday_speeches

Shaun Usher: It was a sign of weakness to be thinking about losing so it shows another side of him that he took time to scribble this on a piece of paper. It’s literally just been scribbled on a piece of paper and then stuck in his pocket.

It’s not a poetic speech but that’s one of the appeals of it. It wasn’t this eloquent script of a couple of pages, this is the one message he wanted to get out there.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

[He mistakenly dated it July instead of June]

Speeches of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher, is out now (Hutchinson, £25)

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