George Arliss is a long forgotten figure. But in the 1930s he meant a lot to British movie audiences, so much in fact one poll made him the most popular film star of 1934, knocking Clark Gable into second place. Arliss was, however, an unlikely star – in his sixties, he had a stoop and bad teeth – but his screen persona clearly resonated with cinema audiences.
Thanks to the 1929 Hollywood movie Disraeli, Arliss was a transatlantic star. It won him an OscarRead More
Beneath the calm surface of British politics, lurking in the imaginations of some of our leading writers, terrible things have happened. In this Radio 4 Archive Hour documentary produced by Jane Ashley I examine these dystopian visions which have gripped creative and public imaginations in novels and dramas since the end of the second world war.
British democracy has come under threat time and again in fictions from 1984 to V for Vendetta, by way of Dr Who, The Prisoner, A Very British Coup, Edge of Darkness and others.
Britons have been oppressed by authoritarian governments, suffered alien subjugation, beenRead More
During the 1980s Benn was not alone on the left and centre-left in looking at Labour’s first majority administration through rose-tinted glasses. The more Margaret Thatcher dismantled a post-war ‘consensus’ largely cast in the image of Clement Attlee’s government, the better 1945 looked. Benn’s
Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins has turned his gracious attentions to the state of higher education in an opinion piece. His views on the balance between teaching and research have been greeted frostily at campuses across the country.
Jenkins' article is significant inasmuch as he often reflects what might be called the “establishment consensus”. He is often known as the man who took a leading role in promoting the famously successful Millenium Dome, for example. Although, to be fair, he did also argue that the London Olympics would be a disaster.
His views on how universities should respond to the government’s hiking of tuition fees to up toRead More
When Harold Wilson sat down after a speech opening the 1963 Labour conference debate on science, he probably didn't realise he had just delivered one of post-war British politics' most cited pieces of rhetoric. He just wanted to win a general election.
Contemporaries hailed Wilson's invocation of the promise of "the scientific and technological revolution" and of the need for government to plan Britain's response to "the white heat of technological change" as outlining a new vision of socialism. Many historians have also subsequently praised the Labour leader's evocation of a spirit of optimism in a Britain emerging from austerity intoRead More
Compared with other countries - their revolutions, assassinations and coups - British politics can look rather dull.
Nowadays, when Britons have a political "revolt" it rarely gets bloodier than a few MPs voting against their party whip.
Yet, despite its apparently calm surface, since the 1940s many of the country's leading authors have imagined the many ways in which British democracy could go wrong. Their fictions depict a Britain of the near future populated by dictatorships, coups and conspiracies. And, despite their grim storylines, such dystopias have often been extremely popular.
These tales were, of course, written to entertain. But many were explicitly produced to warn peopleRead More
How we imagine politics is sometimes as important as how it really is – if the latter can ever be determined, that is. Indeed according to Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities, one of the most basic political concepts, the nation state, had to be first imagined before it could exist in reality. It is also generally accepted that while fiction can rarely over-turn strongly held points of view, it canreinforce existing opinions and subtly reframe how people think about a subject. At the very least fictions give us an insight into how people feel about political issues.
We now live in an era in which many talk of the death of the nation state and its supersession by globalisation and supranational bodies, probably the most important of which is the European Union.Read More
The general election of 1945 is one of the key turning points of modern British history. Labour won a thumping Commons majority and used it to introduce the welfare state, nationalise key industries and guarantee full employment. You have to have a heart of stone – or be an implacable Thatcherite – not to feel that there was something wonderful, heroic even, about that moment.
According to Ken Loach's documentary The Spirit of '45, an election held nearly 70 years ago remains relevant to a world in which the free market is triumphant. As he says: "It's time to put back on the agenda the importance of public ownership and public good, the value of working together collaboratively, not in competition." A key part of his argument is that as the British people onceRead More