When Henry Kissinger took office as National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon in 1969, he was told to avoid live press conferences like the plague because ordinary Americans would be horrified by his thick Germanic accent. Even two years into Nixon’s first term, most people had never heard Kissinger speak. Only gradually was the rule relaxed, with the result that his voice quickly became the stuff of international parody. In the Inspector Clouseau comedy The Pink Panther Strikes Again, for instance (released in 1976, by which time Nixon had given way to Gerald Ford), a character credited only as ‘Secretary of State’ speaks with an accent so guttural it is hard to make out a word he is saying. Ever since, a comedian has only to don a pair of glasses and affect a heavy Germanic accent, and everyone of a certain generation will know whom he is lampooning.
Kissinger has sometimes been accused of overplaying his accent for dramatic effect, not least because it supposedly makes him sound like his great hero, the Austrian statesman Prince Metternich. In fact, it has probably done him more harm than good. When his policy of détente came under intense