One of Leighton Park’s greatest traditions, the competition was founded in 1914 by the school's first Chair of Governors, Jonathan Backhouse Hodgkin, a passionate educator. Hodgkin was determined to develop the boys' skills of public speaking and especially "thinking on their feet", and set up the outlines of the competition . Speakers must speak for 3 minutes uninterrupted, withstand 7 minutes of heckling whilst continuing and then sum up in a further 2 minutes. A panel of judges deliberates on the argument, delivery, management of heckling and the ability to sum up after the heckling. Old Leightonian Michael Foot described the competition once as "a number of boys being butchered to make a parents' holiday".
The list of topics of the speeches since the beginning of the competition puts a mirror up to the history and social changes of the UK. From "Now is the time to make peace" by Joseph Fryer in 1915, to Anglo-Egyptian relations (1951), the Euro (2001), the ordination of women (1989), nuclear deterrent (1959) to prison reform (2010). Not only this, but the Archivist uncovered some fascinating stories while researching the history of the competition: in 1955 Hollywood goddess Marlene Dietrich was on the judging panel; in 1943 the unfortunate Hugh Beesley fainted while competing and one of Britain's acknowledged greatest ever orators, Michael Foot only managed second place in 1931. Alice Hudson became the first of many female winners of the competition.
Find out more in the booklet created to celebrate the competition’s Centenary. Click here.
"It is a strong desire of my own that Leighton Park should train its sons to be able to speak in public with courage, power and modesty."
Charles Evans, Headmaster, 1914