Charles Kennedy – TV virtuoso.

Posted by Ivan Rendall on Saturday, 6 June 2015 in Blogging

Charles Kennedy

For all the wrong reasons we have been widely reminded of Charles Kennedy’s sobriquet,  “chatshowcharlie” this week. Well, nothing wrong with that is there. Being good on television is, after all, what most politicians aspire to be. But the absurdly derisive undertone in the nickname hints at timidity, at a fear of coming second in the trials of political natural selection.

Charles Kennedy was more relaxed than any other politician, more entertaining than most television presenters, funnier than most comedians and above all, happily truthful and original. He happily courted unpopularity, then harvested the popularity that went with being on the right side of most arguments which irked lesser folks in the process. He was good on TV because he was on top of what he was saying, never labouring under the self-inflicted burden of confused meaning.

Charles Kennedy had a brain the size of a car park and he used it without apparent effort. Invisible intellectual sharpness made producers of edgy, tricky or live TV,  confident. And he made audiences happy: they had a friend in genius, a one-man, witty Wikipedia, as a university Rector or a Cheshire Cat he could inform, educate, entertain, amuse and make people smile, all at once.

With Charles Kennedy, life was safe and secure; people believed him, and when he came on TV people wanted to hear what he had to say. He was engaging, not electronic wallpaper, and he appealed across class, nationality and status. That is why producers and presenters loved having him on their shows. Without him on TV politics will be more uncertain. But as this week’s shock to the system slowly fades, and as the talent is lost from our screens, the smile will linger.

Two BBC programmes marked his passing with compilations. All too briefly they reminded me that rounded and gentle people do still exist in politics. There were tears before bedtime as Andrew Neil on This Week and Jack Dee on Have I got News for You? captured the awkward national mood of sadness, loss and celebration.

“Night, Night, Charlie, don’t let the angels bite!” said Andrew Neil, having described Charles Kennedy warmly as part of his team.

“Here’s a friend who always had the right attitude even when he didn’t have one!” said Jack Dee, one of the few men more laid back than Charles Kennedy, as he introduced the clips.

The last HIGNFY clip demonstrated just what a terrifying nemesis in the brainpower department Charles could be. Having tried to escape the skewering Kennedy wit on the fate of bankers, Jeremy Clarkson had tried vainly to disengage by claiming not to understand Charles’s pronunciation of the word “Tory.” The more Kennedy persisted, the more Clarkson parried, parroting, with increasing lameness: “I don’t understand, I don’t understand…”

It was the truth. He genuinely didn’t understand, and with perfect timing, Kennedy administered the coup de grace to great applause:

“ Don’t worry Jeremy, most people watching this in Scotland can’t understand voting Tory either!”

Great stuff. Great mind. Great public servant. Gentle man.

Ivan Rendall

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