Living in London in the late 1970s, I often whiled away a Sunday afternoon by going along to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.
It gave, and continues to give, fantastic enlightenment and entertainment.
The speakers aways varied from highly articulate, sensible speakers, to the passionate and the entertaining. Some had huge crowds enraptured for hours. Others spoke to thin air. There were a good share of rather bonkers people speaking.
But it was always fantastic and there was one speaker who was aways there and made the whole thing really special: Lord Soper (pictured above).
Donald Soper was a Methodist minister. A truly enrapturing speaker. Funny, passionate, mentally nimble. He railed against the policies of Mrs Thatcher, saying that they were inherently incompatible with Christianity. He was an ardent pacifist and anti-blood sports.
According to Wikipedia, “In 1959, when Soper was preaching in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley threw a bible at Soper’s head because Soper had questioned the literal truth of the bible.”
Maybe this incident was at the back of his mind when he gave a marvellous response to a heckler that I witnessed. Lord Soper was particularly brilliant at dealing with hecklers. “Give them plenty of rope and let them hang themselves” seemed to be his approach. If someone started shouting back at him he would stop talking and cup his hand around one of his ears to show that he was listening intently to what they said and gave them plenty of time to say their piece. I remember one heckler who went through this procedure and quoted several passages from the Bible at Lord Soper, arguing that he was heretical.
After that audience member had finished, Lord Soper smiled and said very emphatically:
Our friend here has just demonstrated, once again, that there is nothing more dangerous than the Bible in the hands of an idiot.
– But he said it in such a good natured way that the response was only uproarious laughter from the audience and the collapse of a stout party – the heckler.
There are a couple of BBC sound recordings of Donald Soper speaking in Hyde Park here.
In one of the recordings, a woman asks Soper, during a discussion about the evil of poverty:
Woman: Have you ever lived in poverty?
Woman: Well then you can’t speak to us about poverty. You’re the cause of the problem.
Soper: Do you agree that poverty is an evil thing?
Soper: Then why do you want me to live in it?
Loud laughter from the audience.
Have you any memories of particularly inspiring speakers? Please share them in the comments field below.