Echoes of A New Tomorrow: Life after Revolution in the Commonwealth of Britain

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1964: Annus Mirabilis

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6Venre3.jpg



1964: ANNUS MIRABILIS

DAVID WIDGERY
NEW PARTISAN REVIEW, 1974


So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-four
(If we’re still keeping score) –
Between the end of the cinema ban
And the threat of nuclear war.
“Annus Mirabilis”
Philip Larkin, 1967




Nineteen sixty-four, twenty years before Orwell’s fateful imagined future, came as the high noon of the Bevanite revision. Accordingly, with perfect mathematical logic, we might look back on it as the high point of that strange post-script to the Mosley era. Was it, as Larkin suggested, the great and premature climax of the Sixties, after which everything in that decade felt like a fading after-image? Or is this just the conclusion of those bitter in the knowledge of what followed?


Let’s suppose Larkin is right. How does he build his case? The argument rests almost entirely upon one fact: sexual liberation – the momentous defrosting of tightly guarded British values about Puritanism and morality that had survived the revolution unscathed. Larkin says that Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-four, and perhaps he is right. Mosleyism had been an austere beast. For all of its borderline fascistic veneration of youth, energy, action, masculinity, and so on ad nauseam, it remained a sexless cult. Love-making did not exist; sex was for making babies, and there would be no great revolution in our private lives. In Mosley’s Britain, the liberated woman could work, if she did not have any childcare responsibilities, but this more or less marked the outer limit of her liberation. (The Communists of the 1930s had tried without success to bring in wages for housework, but they were kicked out of power before their plans could come to fruition.)



1974 WIDGERY.png

David Widgery, revolutionary polemicist and general practitioner.


Therefore what a shock to the system awaited in January 1964, when Britain saw the (partial) decriminalisation of homosexual relations between men. This was but another milestone in the wider campaign to liberalise the penal code, undertaken by Domestic Secretary David Lewis starting the previous autumn with the statutory abolition of capital punishment. It continued over the spring and summer with the relaxation of laws surrounding divorce and abortion, which would have been far more scandalous had their smooth transition into fact not been overseen by the defiantly reformist Lewis, who would brook no hindrance in his quest to put ‘clear red water’ between the new government and the last. Revision of the absurdly outdated apparatus of domestic Britain allowed an easy win when options like economic revival and political overhaul seemed less appealing, or required a stronger stomach.


Not that Bevan’s government didn’t try. 1963 had seen reasonable foundations laid for the overall revisionist project in the form of economic and industrial reforms. In May 1963 Bevan’s wife Jennie Lee became the director of the new Office for Economic Coordination – somewhat inexplicably renamed from the old Office for Economic Planning, perhaps to suggest a lighter touch where a lighter touch may or may not have actually been found. The following month, new Employment Secretary Michael Foot was able to take the credit for reforms to labour law actually drawn up under the stewardship of his predecessor Annie Maxton. The tight leash forced onto the unions in 1950 was loosened a little, with the strike ballot requirement in key industries reduced to a simple majority from the previous two-thirds. This allowed soft Bevanite TUC boss George Woodcock to claim a mollifying victory, championing progress on the issue of worker rights while doing nothing to touch the outstanding dispute of the past decade: the persistence and proliferation of managerialism in British industry.



1967 WOODCOCK.jpg

George Woodcock, General Secretary of the TUC (1959–66). Eyebrows wilder than his policies.


In broader terms, this was a problem that the Bevanite project fast encountered once in power. Their dispute with Mosley had been for the most part characterised by arguments over political and social freedoms. Bevanism was a fundamentally liberal movement, which is no great problem in itself – but it remained trapped by the notion that it was something more revolutionary. Aneurin Bevan was near enough the only British premier since 1934 who could lay claim to having been a bona fide revolutionary, yet finally coming to power more than three decades after the revolution he was forced to confront the fact that, below the illiberal surface, there was little he could find wrong with the structure of the Commonwealth as he inherited it.


By the same score, this reality defined the limits of the Bevan government’s sustainability, engaged as it was in the project of converting that which it found favourable from the opposition movement of the previous decade into the workings of the state. Hence Socialist Youth found a form of rebirth in Dick Crossman’s education reforms, which augmented the national curriculum to include the sort of humanist lessons in practical citizenship that had previously been provided by the former organisation. Elsewhere, the old liberal socialist dream of open-access education was given a fillip towards reality by the promise of more extramural teaching for workers under the banner of the new ‘Open University’, the flagship policy within the Education Secretariat’s push for a renovation of higher education in the Commonwealth. Accompanying this was a physical renovation of the Commonwealth’s social service infrastructure, with expansion and modernisation works slated in schools, hospitals and care homes across the country. Veteran Health Secretary Edith Summerskill was tasked with overseeing the construction of twenty brand new general hospitals – a mere five having been built since 1945. Meanwhile campaigning nurse Edith Ramsay’s report into nursing practice and education standards pointed towards a shift in priorities for British science and technology, which would henceforth reduce its interest in useful-for-their-own-sake grand projects in favour of increased resources for socially useful disciplines like medical research.



1950s SUMMERSKILL.jpg

Dr. Edith Summerskill, Health Secretary (1961–7).


But all was not well in Nye Bevan’s alliterative New Britain. The longer the government refused to admit to the awkward fact of its uneasy foundation – on a bedrock of social liberalism, manifest as a proactively conservative movement – the more space was given over in which tensions could grow. Larkin himself admits this; his poem ends by placing the year 1964 in context, between two stern reminders: both of a troubled past and a troubled future. Proceeding according to good Hegelian dialecticism, these contradictions within British society in the mid-Sixties foretold the nature of the society’s end. At home, the same liberalism that defrosted the state of public discourse encouraged a new mode of auto-critique – undeniably healthy for the permanent revolutionary, but fatal to the powerful. Moreover, any thaw worth its salt is liable, perhaps out of necessity, to promote dissent equally in all places. Thus the same largesse that encouraged the Partisans and tolerated the New Spectator also gave tacit blessing to darker voices like Enoch Powell, whose rise towards the end of the decade exposed the grim fault-lines plaguing the shifting boundaries of the cultural revolution.


While still insured against the worst abuses through a legal formation that proscribed “capitalist and imperialist political organisations” – a Communist-era law given new life after the expansion of the People’s Assembly announced in October 1964 – there was little to prevent siren voices reaching British shores where overt political organisation was not a factor. There is something of an inevitable irony in the fact that, just at the time the CBC was expanding to accommodate previously underground tastes and cultures, new oppositional media were starting to smuggle their dangerous foreign ideas into Britain from abroad. An increased US Army presence in Germany from 1962 not only brought Europe steadily closer to war as the decade continued, but by the end of 1964 had made its mark on European culture too. Radio Free Europe, the pompously named official radio station of the US forces stationed in Germany, broadcast a heady cocktail of American music and opinion whose reach could be felt quite conspicuously even outside of German borders. From its headquarters in Bonn, RFE could be picked up by anyone who happened to be surfing the airwaves in the middle of the decade as far away as London and Paris. Thus American rock ’n’ roll and rhythm ’n' blues wormed their way into the consciousness of a certain section of the youth impressed by the loudness and swagger of American music, and fed up with the jazz– and folk-based sound of the British underground. The American Invasion fomented a minor R&B craze in London around the turn of 1964/65, spearheaded by the virtuosic musicianship of groups like The Bluesbreakers and The Blues Incorporated, and leaving in its wake the brash white rebel blues as espoused by bands like The Rolling Stones. In France, this craze for all things transatlantic during les années americaines was expressed through the music of yé-yé, a detectably mocking term that unfavourably contrasted the quality of these new rockers’ output (“yeah! yeah!”) with the wit and lyricism of java and chanson.



The Rolling Stones pioneered the invasion of American R&B into the British underground.


Beyond the world of popular music, RFE also gave a platform to less benign influences. Strident opinion pieces and current affairs programming worked in concert with a choice light programming schedule to bring Western Europe the best in American propagandising. Most notorious no doubt, for its absurdity as well as its impact, was the programme Storytime, presented by the infamous Roald Dahl. Dahl, a naturalised American whose Norwegian family had quit Britain for Canada shortly after the revolution, came across as a real-life comic-book villain over the airwaves. Having achieved renown as a flying ace with the US Air Force during the Pacific War he had gone into diplomatic service, and eventually became a writer of some reputation. Working by day to convince the America First isolationists who populated post-war Washington of the evils of their creed, he was possessed by a belief that Europe had to be rescued from the penury of communism. By night he moonlighted as an author, writing both darkly mischievous children’s books and macabre, moralising adult tales that told of goulash syndicalism and capitalist plenty. These he slipped into Britain three times weekly, exacting his ex-pat’s revenge upon any who would listen.


In hindsight, Britain had enough spy-film villains at home to do without Dahl’s grim fantasies. Equally obsessed by what he saw as Britain’s great ‘decline’ during the 1960s was Enoch Powell, who most certainly did not agree that life had never been better than it was in nineteen sixty-four. Powell was a figure quite unlike Dahl, an obscure but freakishly brilliant classicist – not entirely of the mortal plane – who in 1938, at the age of 26, had become the youngest full professor in the Commonwealth. Powell had tolerated the Mosley years through gritted teeth, disagreeing with its economic ethos while broadly approving of its pro-British chauvinism. In the early Sixties he had come into the circle of Iain Macleod and the Social Democratic Initiative, centred on the New Spectator, but he broke with them after the formation of the African Syndicate in 1963. Unshakeably convinced of the moral imperative for British hegemony in the Third World, Powell was deeply disturbed by the Bevan government’s rejection of a ‘fourth empire’[1], believing that a British exit from Africa would signal the end of the Commonwealth’s status as a global power. Simultaneously, and somewhat paradoxically for an evangelising free marketeer, he despised the ‘Americanisation’ of the globe; Powell feared the possibility that the United States would claim the vacuum of control abdicated by the vacating British, annexing Africa of behalf of the American empire.



1965 ENOCH.jpg

Enoch.


Yet even this was not enough for a living host of contradictions like Powell, and his ideas about foreign policy went further still. In its antithetical way, Powell’s schizophrenia struck at the heart of the Bevanite project’s frustrated attempts to construct a coherent diplomatic strategy. Fenner Brockway’s time as International Secretary before the 1963 election was marked by the resurgence of what might be called a genuinely disinterested internationalism in the British outlook for the first time since the Thirties. In 1964, a year after Brockway’s retirement, the British global sphere continued to reap the benefits of this idealism with the push for pan-African self-determination across the Eurosyndicalist sphere, and encouraging moves in Asia during the period leading up to the formation of the South Asian Community of Nations in 1965. By this point, the scheming Bob Boothby had taken up the role of International Secretary, complicating what might have otherwise been a simple transition from short– to long-leash paternalism. Far more than uneasy bedfellow Brockway, Boothby held little regard for the moral argument that Britain had to abandon its influence in the Third World. At the same time, events in Europe were increasingly drawing his attention closer to home. Nye Bevan’s personal crusade towards the implementation of an international nuclear test ban received a welcome boost following the landmark visit of Soviet First Deputy Premier Alexei Kosygin to Antibes in April 1964, where he met with Eurosyn leaders to discuss the strengthening of Soviet–Syndicalist ties in the face of mounting American interest in Europe. At the same time, the ambidextrous diplomats in Washington were keeping busy confronting Syndicalist and Communist interests in Latin America and South East Asia. As the Sixties ticked into their second half, with Larkin’s “threat of nuclear war” disconcertingly real in the public imagination, any idea of a general British retreat from its prior obligations around the globe looked hopelessly naïve.


In the face of this governmental crisis of purpose, it is not hard to grasp how Powell’s ideas could find a niche – albeit a small one in 1964. Their eventual course across the rest of the decade – from Edwardian colonial enthusiasm to out-and-out race-baiting – is well known, but outside of my immediate focus. For now, it suffices to say that his place in British society, anomalous perhaps, was not inexplicable. Underneath the excitement lay an anxious underbelly; the unthinkable is but the ugly cousin of free expression. Lifted up into power, the former opposition gifted its humanism to the state apparatus. In turn, it had to contend with new and ever more insidious modes of dissent. (Such is the central bargain of power.)


And what of Mr Larkin? Was life really never better than in nineteen sixty-four? I was only seventeen, so what the hell would I know. Certainly, Britain had yet to reach the point where the optimism of the post-Mosley age soured into a full-blown identity crisis. The Commonwealth was a country still coming up, creeping towards the brink of a comedown. Ten years on from the inflection point of the last decade, we can appreciate a new sense of equanimity: thankful for the lessons learnt in the comedown, when it came; hopeful we will not have to repeat it for some years to come.



______________________

1: This terminology follows a suggested historiography of the British Empire which holds that the First Empire was concentrated in North America; the Second in Asia and Africa; the Third in the attempt to build a bloc of dominions and protectorates after the Great War; and the Fourth in renewed efforts at British control over the autonomous colonies within the Syndicalist system.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Delightful bit of ephemera in the place I’m staying this weekend: a copy of the Daily Express from the end of the 1926 General Strike. Strange feeling, looking at it having spent a year and a half on Echoes, confronted with the fact that, in reality, this is how it all ended. No revolution, no real fanfare – just a snarky little comment from the Bishop of London, and a note that the theatres remain open.

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Bullfilter

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Good to see Charlie Macartney and Bill Woodfull (correct spelling) doing well against Essex, too. ;) There were some other pretty good batsmen around then, even before Bradman.
 

stnylan

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My goodness that is a lot of literary hate for Roald Dahl. One might almost call it a Dhal-like villainisation :D
 

DensleyBlair

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Good to see Charlie Macartney and Bill Woodfull (correct spelling) doing well against Essex, too. ;) There were some other pretty good batsmen around then, even before Bradman.

Not my forte at all, but even I can appreciate those are some pretty hefty batting scores. :D

My goodness that is a lot of literary hate for Roald Dahl. One might almost call it a Dhal-like villainisation :D

There is a nice bit of irony to it, yes. I have trouble with Dahl. I’ve read most of his stuff at one point or another, as is the way of things (maybe for the children’s stuff at least) but he seemed like such an unpleasant man that I find it hard not to imagine him as a slightly ridiculous Haw-Haw-like figure in this world.

I also have this idea that being forced to emigrate so young would have possibly aggravated the darker side of his psyche. It’s a heady cocktail for villainy. :D
 
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99KingHigh

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Into Southeast Asia next, and then a little Firing Line for me.
 

DensleyBlair

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DensleyBlair

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Today we encounter the point where not basing this saga on a whole playthrough really repays itself – plus interest. In the course of getting my life together a little bit, I finally got around to updating my laptop, which due to the unique way that Pdx services Victoria 2 for Mac now means that the game is completely unplayable. This is sad in the sense that I don’t know when I’ll next be able to play Vicky, but there’s a silver lining in that it may actually force me to start playing some of those other Pdx games I own…

Nothing changes here, of course, nor for the planned sequel. And outside of Echoes I do have a couple of games worth of notes that may well still birth future Vicky AARs. But it still does feel like a significant moment to me, somehow, no longer being able to play Vicky. Probably because this forum has been good to me over the years, and now I’m faced with the prospect of being able to count with one hand the number of potential future Vicky AARs I may yet write. (The lesson here is that I really need to learn HOI sharpish.)

Anyway, as I say, nothing changes here. As @99KingHigh mentioned, he’s working on an Indochinese update that will be up in the near future. In the meantime, I have ready to go a look at Cold War geopolitical and technological battles through the lens of British sci-fi. If anyone is particularly interested in reading that sooner rather than later, let me know and I can get it up while we wait on ‘Nam.

Oh, and do remember to vote in the ACAs. Four days to go to get your ballots in if you haven’t yet. :)
 

El Pip

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The American update - the country continues to be really racist, trouble is brewing, then a fairly forgettable President died so everyone burst into tears. Did I miss anything? I know the book's author tried to convince us otherwise, but it looks a lot like claiming credit for things that were going to happen anyway while dodging the big issues. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh because from a modern perspective it just seems such a clear cut issue and I remain baffled as to how the situation carried on for so long.


Onto the New Partisan Review (on which note, how bad must the original Partisan Review have been for this new one to survive?). Some fine revolutionary vanguard thinking I see, "The people are idiots and must be protected from ideas we don't like by banning them." It does not exactly scream confidence from anyone in charge that they have to muzzle the opposition, after all they've had decades to 'educate the working class', if they've not done the job by now maybe the problem is not the people but the ideas? Don't worry, I know that's the wrong sort of thinking - Bevan's liberalism only extends to things that will never threaten his power.

Applying the solid rule that if a revolutionary Marxist hates it, it's probably a good thing, I am saddened we did not get more from Roald Dahl who sounds great fun in this timeline. Long may his broadcasts continue.

Excellent picture of George Woodcock, as you say incredible Healey-esque eyebrows and the perfect bland expression for a sell out and state stooge. I imagine he even kept a straight face when saying workers might even be allowed to strike, which is more than I would be able to do under the circumstances.

*Cut To*
Bevan's Thugs from earlier using their election rigging skills to start stuffing strike-vote ballot boxes, to preserve the purity of the election naturally.
 
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DensleyBlair

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The American update - the country continues to be really racist, trouble is brewing, then a fairly forgettable President died so everyone burst into tears. Did I miss anything? I know the book's author tried to convince us otherwise, but it looks a lot like claiming credit for things that were going to happen anyway while dodging the big issues. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh because from a modern perspective it just seems such a clear cut issue and I remain baffled as to how the situation carried on for so long.

America is in the shit. So at least some things remain normal.

Onto the New Partisan Review (on which note, how bad must the original Partisan Review have been for this new one to survive?). Some fine revolutionary vanguard thinking I see, "The people are idiots and must be protected from ideas we don't like by banning them." It does not exactly scream confidence from anyone in charge that they have to muzzle the opposition, after all they've had decades to 'educate the working class', if they've not done the job by now maybe the problem is not the people but the ideas?

Fight! Fight! Fight!

No wait, that's @TheButterflyComposer's line…

I think (?) this is a classic Pipian compliment (??) in that if you can get so worked up about it ten I must be getting the characterisation right. What I will say is that Bevan &co have actually been unbanning things. Unless you're inferring a critique of the liberalisation from Mr Widgery's tone, and it's his thinking that you're commenting on. Which I could see, even if predictably I'd say it's a touch uncharitable.

Don't worry, I know that's the wrong sort of thinking - Bevan's liberalism only extends to things that will never threaten his power.

Impressive to see that you and the NPR are, on this issue, in complete agreement.

Applying the solid rule that if a revolutionary Marxist hates it, it's probably a good thing, I am saddened we did not get more from Roald Dahl who sounds great fun in this timeline. Long may his broadcasts continue.

More Dahl can be arranged if that's what the people want. Maybe something for Volume II.

Excellent picture of George Woodcock, as you say incredible Healey-esque eyebrows and the perfect bland expression for a sell out and state stooge. I imagine he even kept a straight face when saying workers might even be allowed to strike, which is more than I would be able to do under the circumstances.

Sell-out business unions will be getting what's theirs in due course – although somehow I'm not confident you'll particularly enjoy the alternative.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Applying the solid rule that if a revolutionary Marxist hates it, it's probably a good thing, I am saddened we did not get more from Roald Dahl who sounds great fun in this timeline. Long may his broadcasts continue.

I agree. Managing to make his life more interesting than it already was is quite impressive.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

No wait, that's @TheButterflyComposer's line…

Yeah, doesn't really make sense to hear one of the two people in the pit yelling it.

More Dahl can be arranged if that's what the people want. Maybe something for Volume II.

Him and all the other mainstream writers of the post war years will have plenty to say. Even Tolkien might. C. S. Lewis definitely will.
 

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I think (?) this is a classic Pipian compliment (??) in that if you can get so worked up about it ten I must be getting the characterisation right. What I will say is that Bevan &co have actually been unbanning things.
It was the law banning 'Capitalist and Imperialist' organisations which I noticed, something I bet is still using an incredibly wide ranging and flexible definition of those terms. I'd also say Bevan hasn't been unbanning anything politically important, even if some long over due social reforms are finally happening.

Unless you're inferring a critique of the liberalisation from Mr Widgery's tone, and it's his thinking that you're commenting on. Which I could see, even if predictably I'd say it's a touch uncharitable.
Why not both? Bevan can be carrying out insincere and (politically) unimportant reforms and I can dislike Widgery's thinking. There is much to dislike in the New Britain so I don't feel myself constrained.

More Dahl can be arranged if that's what the people want. Maybe something for Volume II.
Something to look forward to. I also support seeing how New Britain will insult and demean Lewis and Tolkien, as they desperately try to avoid admitting the expats are producing work that is far more enjoyable than any of the regime-approved socially realistic dross being churned out. Should be fun.

Sell-out business unions will be getting what's theirs in due course – although somehow I'm not confident you'll particularly enjoy the alternative.
Of course.
DYAEiOu.gif
If I actually liked anything that was happening in this story then something would have gone badly wrong in the writing process.
 

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Something to look forward to. I also support seeing how New Britain will insult and demean Lewis and Tolkien, as they desperately try to avoid admitting the expats are producing work that is far more enjoyable than any of the regime-approved socially realistic dross being churned out. Should be fun.

And they're all monarchist, deeply religious and very Conservative. Oh dear.

New Britain had Orwell I guess, but he's dead now, and was driven underground long before then. Alan Moore will be coming in soon though (hopefully???) so even more uncomfortable graphic novels taking down authoritarian governments.
 

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It was the law banning 'Capitalist and Imperialist' organisations which I noticed, something I bet is still using an incredibly wide ranging and flexible definition of those terms. I'd also say Bevan hasn't been unbanning anything politically important, even if some long over due social reforms are finally happening.

Ah, that old chestnut. It isn't Bevan's specifically, dating right the way back to 1929, but yes it still remains on the books. Of course, Mosley did capitalism and imperialism for over thirty years, so the worst thing is that it's just plain hypocritical. (No one would ever admit that, of course…)

I agree. Managing to make his life more interesting than it already was is quite impressive.

Probably something to do with being a glamorous expat, rather than just an unpleasant man writing from home.

Him and all the other mainstream writers of the post war years will have plenty to say. Even Tolkien might. C. S. Lewis definitely will.
Something to look forward to. I also support seeing how New Britain will insult and demean Lewis and Tolkien, as they desperately try to avoid admitting the expats are producing work that is far more enjoyable than any of the regime-approved socially realistic dross being churned out. Should be fun.
And they're all monarchist, deeply religious and very Conservative. Oh dear.

Well, neither of them will still be teaching at Oxbridge. I suppose if Lewis kept quiet about politics he could probably do something in the Church.

New Britain had Orwell I guess, but he's dead now, and was driven underground long before then. Alan Moore will be coming in soon though (hopefully???) so even more uncomfortable graphic novels taking down authoritarian governments.

Alan Moore will be good to have around. And then a bit later we'll have Iain Banks, who will probably be very big. Ballard is obviously around, having been featured before. Moving into the Seventies I dare say Richard Adams and Watership Down will be important. I've not decided what to do with Anthony Burgess yet, but I have a few plans for where he might go.

I certainly don't think it's the case that Britain ITTL had Orwell and no-one else. Aside from the most obvious reactionaries, the British literary tradition should remain as vital as ever. If anything, after '64 things should probably get more diverse.

Seeing as we're on the subject already, I've might put up the sci-fi update this afternoon. You can all have some fun with Arthur C. Clarke.
 
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Monitor: Cold War sci-fi special (1964)

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6Venre3.jpg



MONITOR
OCTOBER 1964
CBC Two



LASKI: Good evening and welcome to Monitor. I’m Marghanita Laski.

For as long as we have trained our eyes upwards, space has fascinated mankind. From the earliest yers of Antiquity to the breakthroughs of modern science, the world beyond our own planet Earth has captivated not just astronomers and physicists, but poets, composers, film-makers – and, yes, politicians.

Seven years ago, man’s relationship with space became infinitely more intimate, when Soviet scientists succeed in their mission to send an artificial satellite – the cheerfully named Sputnik – into orbit around the Earth. In the years that followed, American and European scientists responded with satellite missions of their own. Today, the heavens expand above us as the newest frontier in the deadly war of one-upmanship grinding on between the world powers. In hushed tones, some among us begin to speak of the next great coup for a global power: a successful attempt to land a manned mission on the surface of the Moon.

This heady cocktail, of open-hearted scientific optimism and cold political calculation, is enough to spark inspiration in any artist. While tensions mount on the ground, a bold cadre of pioneers in music, film and literature have begun to set their sights on the extraterrestrial. Tonight, our correspondents will be exploring some of this new body of work, as well as speaking to the artists behind it.

We start tonight with an author who has been at the vanguard of scientific fiction for almost thirty years. His new book, released this month, explores themes of hope and anxiety through the lens of life on a lunar base. Literary editor Jonathan Miller talks to Arthur C. Clarke.



1964 MARGHANITA LASKI.jpg

Marghanita Laski.


MILLER: Thank you, Marghanita.

My guest tonight, Arthur C. Clarke, is no stranger to the idea of life beyond our planet. An energetic populariser of science in general, and of its potential for the improvement of human society in particular, Mr Clarke remains committed to a utopian ‘Space Age’ awaiting the human race in an enlightened future.

His latest novel, however, titled 1991 and published this month, is not afraid to contemplate the darker realities of spatial politics. Set in the near future, only recently removed from the resolution of the Cold War, the world of 1991 is not unlike our own. Behind the optimism of such wondrous innovations as ‘satellite television’ and personal computers, the uneasy global political truce troubles a joint ‘peace mission’ to the Moon by the Americans and the Europeans. When a French scientist and a British cosmonaut encounter a strange object in a neutral lunar sea, the whole peace effort is thrown into jeopardy.

Mr. Clarke, first of all, good evening.

CLARKE: Good evening Jonathan.

MILLER: The tone of your latest book is sometimes uneasy, but it never feels overtly pessimistic. Do you remain optimistic about the future?

CLARKE: Yes, on the whole I do. Recent political developments across the globe, from Indonesia to Cuba, to Germany, have pushed our species to the brink of total war of a kind not seen since the dawn of the present century – though likely far worse even than that. With a great many recent technological developments focused within the realm of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, there is – rightly, I think – some degree of concern about the direction in which we, as a species, are heading. Our development at this point seems almost totally annexed to the causes of warfare and division.

Yet our present anxiety, I think, is fuelled primarily by one thing: nationalism. Frankly, this has always been the case. There has been no war – certainly within recent history – that has not, ultimately, been over some question of nationalism. We may dress it up however we like, in ideological struggles, in disputes over trade or access to resources, but the common denominator remains the same.

But in a world that is coming for the first time to recognise itself, fully, within the expanse of space, I maintain a faith that these forms of nationalism are on the decline. It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.



1964 CLARKE.jpg

Arthur C. Clarke.


MILLER: How would you square this optimism with the fact that the present taste for space exploration seems undeniably linked with nationalist tendencies? Surely if space were truly the great equaliser, the global powers would not all feel the need to launch their own satellites?

CLARKE: When the Soviet Union launched their Sputnik satellite, I was at a conference of astronautical authorities and enthusiasts in Barcelona. We had all gone back to our hotel rooms for the evening when some journalists came to find us to ask for authoritative comment. I was thrilled; our dreams and predictions had become a reality!

But, you are right: we cannot escape the fact that the Russians launched Sputnik as a display of their scientific prowess. Similarly, the Europeans responded with Galileo in 1960 in order to save face – although it seemed then as if the Soviets would have the full run of space to themselves, as it was clear that they were years ahead of the rest of the world.

Now of course it’s more of a three-way race, and the macho rivalry between the world powers looks like it will propel mankind to even greater heights. The great shame of it is that this is not a stable base on which to found a space programme, and if you are not making all of these technological advances for some greater purpose than doing it to get the better of your rivals, it is not hard to imagine that all it will take is one distraction on Earth and the whole thing will evaporate. This is why I think it is vital that space exploration is divorced from political struggles as a matter of some urgency. Only then will it become truly sustainable.

MILLER: In your book, there seems to be something of a moral aspect to the fact that these, if you like, nationalist disputes, have been transported onto the Moon. Even in the context of a joint peace-mission there is some friction between the various parties – most notably after the European party discover the alien object. Was the book in any way written as a cautionary tale?

CLARKE: I would not say that any of my writings on space are first and foremost concerned with cautioning. Above all, I hope to promote the cause of space exploration as a possibility that is within our reach, and so I would not wish to warn anybody off it.

That being said, undeniably during the writing of this book I was influenced by present anxieties about the role of space within the Cold War. Following the launch of Galileo I, the European Space Research Agency were making bold declaration that within five years we would put a European astronaut in space. But four years later, there is little sign of a European manned mission, while in the same time the Soviets have made seven manned flights! Only last week we witnessed the first Voskhod mission that took a whole crew of cosmonauts into orbit!

After Chairman Mosley’s retirement, I worry that it will become the prevalent view that the British space programme was just set up to flatter his machismo. Chairman Bevan has hardly made mention of astronautics after Galileo, and with the French preoccupied by their own struggles it feels as if European space exploration may be lost in the deserts of Algeria.

If my book cautions against against anything, I think it would be against letting the politics of Earth muddy the extraterrestrial realm. But it is not pessimistic. Although the cosmonauts’ discovery threatens to jeopardise the mission, ultimately the various parties are able to move past their disputes. I would say that there is hopeful symbolism in the fact that, as of yet, flags do not wave in the vacuum of space.

MILLER: Arthur C. Clarke, thank you.

LASKI: Another artist to treat the theme of nuclear anxieties in recent weeks has been American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, whose latest film, Fun and Games, hit cinemas a fortnight ago. Unusual for having been produced in Britain, film editor Wolf Mankowitz examines this singular response to the Cold War.





MANKOWITZ: Fun and Games; or, The Delicate Balance of Terror is a fittingly contradictory name for one of the most contradictory films to have been produced in Britain in years. For his latest feature, American director Stanley Kubrick teamed up with fellow ex-pat Terry Southern to create an absurdist epic for anxious times. Iconoclastic, satirical and bitterly morbid, Fun and Games may at first encounter sound like a confused mess of sensibilities. Nothing could be further from the truth; I doubt whether we shall ever see a more fitting eulogy to the nuclear age.

Kubrick’s film was originally going to be made in the United States, financed by Columbia Pictures and filmed in California. In America, director Kubrick has developed a solid reputation over the past decade as a filmmaker of great merit, and after success with Spartacus in 1960 and Lolita two years later, he has acquired a rare status as a maverick who can deliver at the box office. But the experience of producing Lolita, in particular having to navigate America’s notorious censorship, soured Mr Kubrick to the Hollywood system, and after growing paranoid over further fears about being accused of being ‘pink’, he moved to Britain at the end of 1962.

America’s loss is our gain. A showpiece offering of what is newly possible in post-censorship Britain, Fun and Games presents a simple enough premise: on another planet, an alien intelligence – given devilish human form by Christopher Lee – oversees the production of a film of his own. Its subject? A cautionary tale, illustrating the demise of the human race: primitive galactic neighbours for millennia, until they blew themselves up.

Former Goon Peter Sellers takes centre stage, playing a minor menagerie of roles as an alien leading man, a paranoid scientific advisor, a brain-fried commander in the galactic navy, and a hologram representation of the last ever human being. This array of comedic roles works well as a foil for Lee’s austere portrayal of the commanding intelligence, whose appearance on screen always feels mildly sinister. As the action unfolds and the picture mounts to its blackly absurd climax, involving a farcical misrepresentation, one is left wondering what lesson exactly Lee’s alien wishes to draw from the parable of humanity’s nuclear Armageddon.

In the making of this film, the director reportedly applied research from over forty military and political texts on the present nuclear landscape. Kubrick, hardly the one-dimensional anti-war activist, dwells far less on the horror of war as on its absurdity. Originally, this film was to be played straight, a serious political thriller about the sequence of events leading to thermonuclear war. But such a scenario would hardly do. We live every day in the shadow of nuclear heat-death, and still we do very little; we hardly need reminding of its grim realities.

Thus comedy, not the morality play, is the medium of choice. And a good decision this was, too. Hectoring, we know, rarely works. Instead, when existence is tempered by the knowledge that one slip of the finger could annihilate all life on Earth, what is left to do but laugh at the nightmare?


Fun and Games, final scene (“We’ll Meet Again”)


LASKI: Fun and Games;, or The Delicate Balance of Terror, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee, is in cinemas now.

Of the many new television programmes to have arrived on our screens over the past year, few have made quite so bold an impression upon the imagination as Doctor Who. Ahead of the start of its second series, airing on CBC One at seven on Saturday evening, television editor Melvyn Bragg speaks to programme producer Verity Lambert.

BRAGG: Making the most of the British public’s newfound love for all things out of this world, Doctor Who has swept the Commonwealth to become a staple of Saturday night television viewing. Watched by around ten million people per week, there are seemingly few people who do not appreciate its appeal, blending elements of the spy thriller with the extra-terrestrial.

The programme follows its eponymous central character, “the Doctor”, a shipwrecked alien hiding in human form as a British school teacher, as he attempts to evade capture by a series of foreign governments agencies wishing to exploit his vast scientific and technological knowledge. At the same time, the Doctor has to contend with enemy aliens who have tracked him down to Earth.

With me this evening is producer Verity Lambert, who has been vital in developing the programme to the success it is today. Good evening, Miss Lambert.

LAMBERT: Good evening, Melvyn.

BRAGG: Have you been at all surprised by the great success Doctor Who has enjoyed over its first series?

LAMBERT: No, I cannot say that I have been, really. I’m pleased, of course. But I think all of us involved in the production of the programme were quite confident that it would be well received when we were developing it.

BRAGG: Some television writers and critics have attributed the programme’s success to its timely treatment of certain themes and attitudes that are very current, that is to say, which reflect certain aspects of our global political climate. Do you agree with this view?

LAMBERT: I think certainly there is a lot within the writing of Doctor Who that is relevant to the modern world, but I do not think that it is particularly intended as a reflection of our own circumstances – no more than any work of film or television has to reflect the times in which it was made. I think principally the programme’s success is down to the writers, the actors – in particular Leslie French, who is outstanding in the title role – and a certain generosity of spirit.



1963 LESLIE FRENCH FIRST DOCTOR.jpg

Leslie French.


BRAGG: Could you elaborate on that briefly?

LAMBERT: Well, the Doctor is someone who has been stranded on Earth but still tries to make the best of his situation while he waits to go home. And at the same time he has to guard against powerful agencies who have worked out who he is and want to use his knowledge for their own purposes. This is quite a vulnerable position to be in, and the Doctor is reliant not just on his own wits and intelligence but on the assistance of humans to keep his cover and stay safe. It is all about helping those in need, especially when they’re up against powerful enemies, but also being open to helping people whoever they might be. Imagine how you would react if a middle-aged schoolteacher told you he was an alien hiding from the government!

BRAGG: I think I’d probably think he were in need of some sort of evaluation.

LAMBERT: There you go then. It’s not an easy ask getting humanity to help stranded extra-terrestrials, just like that.

BRAGG: Indeed it isn’t. So far this evening we’ve heard how other writers and filmmakers have responded to the new technological threats we live with in our daily lives, especially the nuclear threat and the politics of space exploration. I wonder, is there a conscious parallel between these sorts of ideas and the fact that the Doctor is targeted for his advanced technological knowledge? Is this in any way an allegory for the dangers of putting science into the wrong hands, as it were?

LAMBERT: I wouldn’t say it is a conscious allegorical feature, but I think in general terms the programme does give the message that we do have to be careful, as a society, with how we think about scientific advancement – and, more’s the point, who gains from it. It is implied that if the foreign agents ever capture the Doctor, they don’t have especially nice plans for what to do with his alien knowledge, so perhaps yes, in that sense there is something of a warning about the pursuit of knowledge for the wrong reasons.

But that being said, the Doctor himself is often successful at evading his pursuers thanks to his knowledge and his resourcefulness, so I think in the end the programme is very optimistic about the possibilities of new technology. It just requires a bit of sense about it, like anything really.

BRAGG: Verity Lambert, thank you.

LAMBERT: Thank you, Melvyn.

LASKI: Doctor Who returns for its second series at seven p.m. on Saturday, broadcasting on CBC One.

Now before we end tonight’s programme, we have time for a musical performance. Joe Meek is not a name, perhaps, that will be familiar to most viewers. Nevertheless, over the past decade, operating out of his home studio on the Holloway Road, he has built up an enviable reputation as one of the most innovative music producers of our time.

After years of writing and producing for other people, Meek has at last ventured into releasing music under his own name – and what a treat it is. Recorded over the past four years with his band The Blue Men, Joe Meek has created a space-age symphony, blending pioneering electronics with beat and folk influences to make sounds quite unlike anything else. Released as an LP under the name I Hear A New World, Meek’s music evokes an uncanny optimism for life beyond the human sphere. We leave you tonight with the title track. Good night.


“I Hear A New World” by Joe Meek and the Blue Men
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Probably something to do with being a glamorous expat, rather than just an unpleasant man writing from home.

He was a glamorous expert for years OTL as well. Only reason he went back to England was repeated health issues with close family members. He made a lot of millionaire and poltcial friends in amercia. Presumably is even more well-connected here, so not someone to dismiss. Especially since it seems he had the luck of the devil.

Well, neither of them will still be teaching at Oxbridge. I suppose if Lewis kept quiet about politics he could probably do something in the Church.

Lewis will not stay quiet. Not in his old age. Have you read his essays?

Moving into the Seventies I dare say Richard Adams and Watership Down will be important.

A bit of a toss up if he ever writes it down and it gets printed. It was not really his aim, nor ambition. But I can see it being a larger hit here than otl. Its very much the building of a society from square one, and quite communal communist in leanings.
 

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He was a glamorous expert for years OTL as well. Only reason he went back to England was repeated health issues with close family members. He made a lot of millionaire and poltcial friends in amercia. Presumably is even more well-connected here, so not someone to dismiss. Especially since it seems he had the luck of the devil.

Luck of the devil maybe in that all of the good in his life was offset by appalling tragedy. But yes, one way or another he'll have his impact here too.

Lewis will not stay quiet. Not in his old age. Have you read his essays?

Honestly, I've barely read his fiction. The period and the genre are black spots of mine.

A bit of a toss up if he ever writes it down and it gets printed. It was not really his aim, nor ambition. But I can see it being a larger hit here than otl. Its very much the building of a society from square one, and quite communal communist in leanings.

I always read it as a nice anti-authoritarian tale, although the gender politics could do with a bit of work for it to be truly emancipatory.
 
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Honestly, I've barely read his fiction. The period and the genre are black spots of mine.

Some YouTuber did animated reading of extracts at some point. Maybe a good starting point. But yeah...theisist extraordinaire, as one might expect

I always read it as a nice anti-authoritarian tale, although the gender politics could do with a bit of work for it to be truly emancipatory.

In the rabbits case, the female aspect was rather incidental. They just so happened to not have any living females with them after the trek to Watership Down, then they had to get breeding stock for the place to survive. Hazenflie ended up cheif rabbit of ezrafe in the end I think?
 
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In the rabbits case, the female aspect was rather incidental. They just so happened to not have any living females with them after the trek to Watership Down, then they had to get breeding stock for the place to survive. Hazenflie ended up cheif rabbit of ezrafe in the end I think?

It’s been a while since I’ve read/seen it, but I seem to remember there’s a little bit of “we need to get ourselves some baby machines” when they first set up the Down. I know some feminist critics had a problem with it on the basis that rabbits are matriarchal, so the whole patriarchal society was a very obvious importation with the anthropomorphism.

But it doesn’t overrule the general thrust. Still a great story.
 

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It’s been a while since I’ve read/seen it, but I seem to remember there’s a little bit of “we need to get ourselves some baby machines” when they first set up the Down. I know some feminist critics had a problem with it on the basis that rabbits are matriarchal, so the whole patriarchal society was a very obvious importation with the anthropomorphism.

But it doesn’t overrule the general thrust. Still a great story.

The breeding stock thing is problematic. The resistance in the fscist Warren was headed by female rabbits and was about reproductive rights initially, and then they ended up running the place with help from the Down Warren. Patriarchal by default culture however (the god and the rabbit legend founder are both male) is definitely anthropomorphism.