Simon Hoggart

Making history

Rivers of Blood (BBC2); Delia (BBC2); The Most Annoying Pop Moments ...  We Hate To Love (BBC3) 

Rivers of Blood (BBC2); Delia (BBC2); The Most Annoying Pop Moments …  We Hate To Love (BBC3) 

It was a fine week for nostalgic people of a certain age, like me. Rivers of Blood (BBC2, Saturday) was an excellent, and not entirely unsympathetic, filleting of Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech. Historical events shuttle back and forth in our minds: who remembers that it came two weeks after Martin Luther King was murdered? Only a few months earlier the Beatles had sung ‘All You Need Is Love’ to a worldwide audience — who must have been fairly bored since it is one of their dullest songs, its message both trite and inaccurate, as Enoch’s speech amply demonstrated. But ‘all you need is to recognise cultural antipathy’ would not have caught on.

I never thought Powell was mad, though many of his colleagues did. ‘The trouble with Enoch’s train of thought is that it never slows down for the buffers,’ one of Edward Heath’s ministers told me. I thought he was extraordinarily self-conscious, which is not the same as being self-aware. I was once waiting with him in a television green room. Someone told an anecdote about George Thomas, who was then Speaker. Enoch interrupted. ‘That cannot be true, since his mother had already died when it happened.’

‘There you go, spoiling a good story!’ the teller cheerily complained.

‘But I have not spoiled it,’ said Powell, ‘because the next time you tell it, you can add, “And then Enoch said…” and you will have a much better story.’ He seemed to be hovering above the room, watching himself, continuously assessing his role in history and people’s memories. His intervention in the first 1974 election — he urged people to vote Labour, since that party had promised a referendum on the Common Market — helped Harold Wilson to win by a small margin.

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