TED Talks Competition

The TED Talks Competition, held between MCM and MCUK, sets both schools off on an internal competition to find the two best ten-minute lectures given by members of the Upper School. These are recorded and the four recordings are judged independently, with prizes being awarded to 1st place (£500), 2nd place (£250) and =3rd place (£125).

This year’s competition has had a fascinating and ground-breaking first instalment, with three diverse and beguiling heats, throwing up wondrous issues such as the role of Nudge Theory in our socio-economic life, whether Noah was mad, the impact of fake news, the psychology of fashion, whether video games are art, whether Trump is Forrest Gump, and whether or not one can be certain one lives in a culture or a cult.

In all, ten students gave lectures, watched by an intimate, yet enthralled, audience in the august surroundings of the Garnett Room, as the high-hanging moon dripped through the windows and the hush descended upon Court. Outside, the last frenzied scurryings of students, febrile in their Pavlovian response to the call of the bells, lest they tarry a second longer than wise and defer the onset of another evening’s academic fervour, chained to the bureau, ravenous for knowledge and guarding jealously to their breasts with hoops of steel their oft prayed-for ambitions; within the Garnett Room, all poise and silver-tongued exposition: Mephistopheles to our Dr Faustus. We were there to judge, to ponder and to appraise, but within the vaulted hall of rhetoric, we were but prey to their enchantments: wooed with zeugma; played upon by polysyndeton and caressed by the euphoria of aphorism.

Amidst the hue and cry of it all, a moment of true significance and courage. Our finest were joined by a lone scout from afar. Nathan Stratford, a brave and impressive young man from Swindon Academy, entered the fray, giving us a wonderful insight into the workings of the firefighting service. To speak formally to one’s peers requires fortitude; to speak in a school one has never seen, to a crowd one doesn’t know, and to do so as the pioneer, the diamond-tipped drill-bit of your school’s academic endeavour? That, that requires fiftytude! Congratulations to Nathan, and we look forward to many years of entries from our partners in Swindon.

After three heats, we arrived at the gala final. Harmony Allen (NC L6), Jess Reeve (NC L6), Theo Dixon (BH L6) and Lena Barton (MM L6)spoke with tremendous poise and each brought a little magic to the evening: Harmony was reposed and effortless in her clear, relaxed and original investigation of her upbringing. Some fascinating cultural insights and some family photos plucked from the “You’ll regret that later” file cajoled us into a lotus-eater dream of cults, cultures and neo-Nazi nightmares. Jess Reeve was forensic, elegant and scalpel sharp in her evisceration of the workings of Nudge Theory, while Theo Dixon’s techno-wizardry, though more Ron than Hermione, explored an area that opened eyes, challenged prejudices and made me realise just how much I look like the sickly, pasty, runt brother of God of War! Last up was Lena Barton, who threatened us with nuclear holocaust in a jar, but it turned out it was just coffee. Those of us who teach Remove bottom set were quite prepared to take the nuclear holocaust on the chin, but the relief was palpable for those less practiced in stemming Armageddon. She then proceeded to beguile and weave a tantalising spell of lies and deceit, fake news and manipulation. Smiles of recognition of her intelligent ruse lit up the faces of the audience, while those of who teach the Remove just recognised the lies and deceit!

It remained only for the judges to deliberate. The judges, who had been to all three heats and the final, were expertly chaired by Mr Wilmett, and were Mrs Jerstice, Mrs Woodford and our special guest, Mr Barot, formerly Deputy Head (Academic) here, and now Headmaster of Bristol Grammar School. After a brief discussion, Mr Barot delivered the verdict that Lena Barton and Harmony Allen would continue to the next stage, and they are guaranteed a cash prize, as well as eternal glory, of course! My heartfelt thanks to the judges, who were tremendous value and evinced the wisdom of Solomon. A small drinks reception for all competitors and guest followed by delicious meal in the Common Room Dining Room rounded off a magical evening, made all the more so by the presence of Marlborough’s Peter Ustinov, Mr Martin Evans, whose predilection for tall tales, splendid half-truths and whose sheer joy in the role of raconteur has made him the very seasoning of a fine meal.

My thanks to all involved, and especially to the contestants who bravely sent that first email and took a step into the unknown.

Steve Clayton

Competitors: Ella Hall (MM L6), Lena Barton (MM L6), Theo Dixon (BH L6), Sam Bucks (CO L6), Harmony Allen (NC L6), Jess Reeve (NC L6), Ollie Gardner (PR U6), Nathan Stratford (Swindon Academy), Sophie Elvin (NC L6) and Ben Place (C1 L6)

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