November 13, 2019
It is hard to imagine that hearing the word “fuck” used in a casual conversation would shock many people these days. We hear it so much — on TV, in films, on the bus, in the playground — that is has become little more than an annoyance of constant repetition. However there was a time, in my remembrance, when the word carried real freight.
Fifty-four years ago today, on 13 November 1965, I was part of the audience for a BBC late-night satirical show called BBC-3. On the show was the renowned theatre critic and public intellectual Kenneth Tynan. In an answer to a question about sex in plays, he said: “I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word ‘fuck’ would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden.”
This was quickly recognized as the first deliberate use of the word on the BBC and the event became a weekend sensation for the more lurid media. In 1988, Paul Johnson called the moment, Tynans’s “masterpiece of calculated self-publicity.”
Times have changed.
November 12, 2019
You probably have to be my age to recall the excitement caused by the spread of vending machines in the early 1960s. This 4-minute Pathe newsreel from 1964 is evocative of the times.
It was hard to argue against the convenience such devices would bring us. Harold Wilson’s 1963 speech about how the “white heat” of “scientific revolution” was to be Britain’s route to the future fed into the delusion — shared by almost everyone — that technology and automation were invincible. I am concerned that many in my generation (and, worse, some much younger) are still enmeshed in the myths spun by Branson, Musk, and many other profiteers that technology is the key to the world’s problems.
I know I am not the only one who believes that mutual aid and cooperation will always outweigh technology; I hope that the eco-crisis movement will not be suckerewd into following mega-projects once again.
November 10, 2019
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Sesame Street – a program that changed an entire genre of entertainment. It came along too late for me (although getting really stoned and watching the colourful characters bounce around had its moments) but my kids sure loved it and were taught by it.
One of the reasons it worked so well was also a source of controversy. The show was originally banned for screening on the PBS station in Mississippi because of its “highly [racially] integrated cast of children” which “the [local] commission members felt … Mississippi was not yet ready for.”
It is a wonder these days that a TV show so acutely focused on the good and happy side of life could survive fifty years in the marketplace.
CNN has a good gallery of early Sesame Street photographs.
November 9, 2019
Thirty years ago today: It was 9th November 1989 and I was watching TV, watching the news from Berlin. And soon a dozen people are hacking at the Wall from both sides and the party has begun and CNN’s cameras bring this extraordinary and historic wish-fulfillment into the living rooms of the world, and my living room in particular that November night.
And within moments, it seemed, there were thousands singing and candles blazing. And even though I was in Vancouver at the time, my heart was with them because at heart I was and remain a Londoner. And Berlin is VERY close to home to Londoners, especially to those who had spent decades watching people die as they tried to go over and under and around the Wall. And I wept openly and for days when the Wall came down.
It was a day of ultimate possibilities because here was an impossibility happening in front of our tear-misty TV-mediated eyes.
November 3, 2019
Way back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s, I was taught a simple lesson: people who talked to themselves out loud on the street were, as my mother explained clearly and explicitly, “a little touched” and were to be avoided or at least grumbled at.
Now, of course, they are just as likely to be talking to their broker on their hands-free mobile phone. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
I’m easily confused.
October 29, 2019
Fifty years ago today, the very first connection was made on Arpanet, the precursor to the internet:
That was on my 20th birthday, I was in Yugoslavia, working on a contract, oblivious to that particular history being made. I probably got drunk on bottled beer and slivovic that night but, luckily, there were no smart phones with cameras then to capture me at my worst.
I remember 1969 being a swell year, and I am glad to share it with the internet,