Posts Tagged ‘Astronauts’

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Greedy and Litigious Child

May 4, 2018

This little video comes from I Am Incorrigible on YouTube. It’s from one of the breakfast TV shows, where they’re discussing the embarrassment caused to the Tories of the publication of a letter from the twelve-year old Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mogg had been interviewed by the BBC, and was demanding payment. If the Beeb wasn’t going to satisfy him, they’d get a letter from his solicitor.

And then they play the clip of the interview, and it’s really depressing. It’s audio only, I’m afraid, but nevertheless it shows what Mogg was like then. He states he likes money, and if he has it, he either invests it, or spends it on antique silverwork. He also wants to be the head of GEC. He aims to be the head of General Electric when he’s thirty, replacing Lord Weinstock. That is, unless Labour and Tony Benn nationalise it. But the Tories would then get back, and set everything to rights.

This might be a distortion, but it sounds very much like the young Rees-Mogg is driven by greed for money and corporate ambition. And he doesn’t seem to have any of the normal wishes and desires of boys of the same age. Quite a lot of kids have ambitions to be something really exciting, like sportsmen, or pop stars, TV celebrities or else go into the army. I don’t know, but I think some might still dream of being astronauts or engine drivers. Or inventors. I can remember wanting to be an astronomer or a great scientist, before I became more interested in history. As for spending money, a lot of ordinary children spent their allowances on pop records, comics, and sports kit.

To be the head of GEC is quite an ambition, but it’s dully adult. The young Rees-Mogg seems to have had all the usual childhood dreams crushed or smothered in him, so that his whole ambition is to be a corporate chief. And this is apart from his willingness to resort to litigation. Depressing.

Vox Political: Real Wages Fall by Ten Per Cent Under Tories

July 30, 2016

Mike also published a piece last week on a report published on Wednesday by the TUC, which found that while wages had grown in real terms across the EU between 2007 and 2015, they had fallen in Britain by 10.4%. The average rise in wages across the EU was 6.7 per cent. In Poland, wages had risen by 23 per cent. In Germany wages rose by nearly 14 per cent, and in France by 10.5 per cent. The only countries across the OECD which suffered a fall in wages were Portugal, Britain and Greece.

Mike’s article has two illustrations – one is a graph showing the rise in real wages in various countries, while another is a meme showing the massive pay rises enjoyed by other, very privileged groups, in Britain. Like Bankers, whose pay has risen by 35%, directors of FTSE 100 companies, 14%, and MPs, whose pay has gone up by 11%.

Mike makes the point that New Labour must share some of the blame for this, as not only was Peter Mandelson and his chums very relaxed about people making money, they were also extremely relaxed about wages stagnating. He makes the point that the crash his the poorest the hardest, and the austerity launched by the Tories has been punishing and impoverishing the poor to bail out the bankers and the rich. He also makes the point that Owen Smith’s solutions are just cosmetic, and won’t do anything without concrete proposals for the redistribution of the extra money gained through the ‘wealth tax’ he proposes.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/real-wages-in-the-uk-have-fallen-by-more-than-10-per-cent-under-tories/

Mike’s right about New Labour being very relaxed about wages stagnating. In fact, wage restraint has been a major part of the neoliberal consensus ever since Maggie Thatcher took power in 1979. Keynsianism tolerated high inflation – and in the 1970s at times the inflation rate in Britain was truly eye-watering – as it was coupled to an expanding economy. Both Labour and the Tories attempted to keep pay rises within certain boundaries nevertheless. Thatcher’s Monetarism was much harder towards inflation. It saw this it as the major obstacle to economic growth, and so demanded that it be ruthlessly cut, even if this meant shedding jobs on a truly massive scale, accompanied by a fall in real wages, and the dismantlement of various welfare programmes. It also meant abandoning the Keynsian commitment, pursued over 40 years, to full employment.

Robin Ramsay in a piece on his ‘News from the Bridge’ column in Lobster, made the point that when he was studying economics at Uni in the 1970s, Monetarism as an economic theory was so poorly regarded by his lecturers that they left it to the undergrads to work out what was wrong with it. Which shows you it was known even then to be totally rubbish and useless. He argues that it was adopted by the Tory party because it gave them a rationale for doing what they wanted to do on other grounds – destroy organised labour, dismantle the welfare state, including the Health Service, and grind the working class into poverty.

Now a number of economists are pointing out that, despite the emphasis by the Tories on wage restraint and very low inflation rates, the economy is not growing. I think Han Joon Chang is one of these in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The comparison with Greece is particularly chilling. Greece has been ruthlessly punished by the Troika with very harsh austerity policies, partly because the Greeks dared to defy the Eurozone authorities and elected Syriza, a radical anti-austerity party. Counterpunch has attacked the economic despoliation of the country by mainly German banks as a form of economic warfare. Greece was one of the countries that suffered from the effective collapse of the Eurozone. The result has been grinding mass poverty for its people. One recent programme on the country’s plight showed children picking rubbish off dumps to sale, just as they do in Developing Nations. The presenter looked on, aghast, and made the point that he had never seen this before in what was supposed to be a developed, European country.

Is this what New Labour and the Tories have in store for us? One of the books I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday was about how Britain would have a ‘third world’ economy by 2014. Clearly the book was written a little while ago, and the timing’s out, but nevertheless, the appearance of third world conditions in Britain is a real possibility. There are already 3.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands facing off poverty only because of food banks. I also remember how this was predicted on a BBC Horizon programme, entitled, ‘Icon Earth’, twenty years ago. The programme was about how the image of the Earth in space, taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, had affected global religious, political and economic perspectives. That image had stimulated people around the world to realise that everyone on Earth shared a common home. One result of this, so the programme claimed, was globalisation. It discussed the growing campaigns against migration from the developing world with an Indian anti-racism activist. She predicted that as globalisation progressed, pockets of the third world would appear in the first.

She’s right. This has happened with Greece, and it is occurring in Britain, thanks to the Tories and New Labour. But unlike Greece, we cannot blame the EU. We never joined the Eurozone, and the deterioration in wages and conditions will occur because of Brexit. The cause of this stagnation ultimately is three and half decades and more of Thatcherism.

Conservatives Want Primary Schoolchildren to Be Taught To Work Not Live on Benefits

December 5, 2015

This is how desperate the Tories are to try to stop people claiming unemployment benefit. According to a couple of pieces in today’s I, the Tories want children in primary schools to be taught about work and careers in order to stop them claiming benefits. It says in the article on page two, Primary Children ‘to Attend Career Talks’ that

Ministers are considering proposals that would oblige children to attend careers talks before they finish primary school to help discourage them from claiming benefits in the future. The initiative will be particularly relevant in communities with high adult unemployment, but teaching unions feel careers talks at 11 could be “too much too soon”.

This was all outlined in a speech given by Sam Gyimah, the education and childcare minister, to the Westminster Employment Forum. The article, Children in Primary School ‘Should Learn about Work’, by Oliver Wright, gives further information, and begins

Primary school children are to be taught by the time they leave junior school at age 11 that “in the future they will work”, under new proposals being considered by ministers.

Information and talk about future careers will be included in the curriculum while at the same time teachers will be expected to act early make clear connections between reading, writing and arithmetic and decent jobs in the future. Ministers believe the new initiative will be particularly relevant in communities with high adult unemp0loyment as part of a wider effort to end the cycle of benefit dependency.

However, teaching unions have expressed some concern at the plan, qu4estioning whether careers talks at 11 are a case of “too much too soon”.

The newspaper also gives the criticisms of the proposal by Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT. The I states that she

said while she agreed that it was good for children to learn about work, she had concerns. “There is a danger of ‘too much too soon’ in what is proposed,” she said. “School should be a preparation for life, and there is no better means to achieve this than through a creative space in the curriculum for teachers to discuss issues about the outside world, including work.”

As if schoolchildren aren’t under enough pressure already to get good grades.

I also wonder where the Tories get their ideas from. Young children have always had some idea that they were going to work after leaving school, as well as generally idealistic dreams about the kind of jobs they want to do, like train drivers, scientists, police, firemen, hairdressers, pop stars, and, when the space programme was still glamorous, astronauts. I think some schools already do arrange for outsiders to come in to tell primary school children about the jobs they do. I do voluntary work at one of the local schools helping children with their reading. When I was going there the week before last, a number of children in the playground asked me if I was ‘the doctor’. I thought at first that they meant, The Doctor, and felt like saying that I might be ancient, but I’m not over a thousand years old, don’t come from a different planet, and, sadly, don’t have a TARDIS. It turns out that they meant an ordinary medical doctor. One was coming in that afternoon, along with other professionals, to tell them about the kind of work they did.

This isn’t just about preparing children for the world of work, though. It’s about getting them to internalise the Tory belief system that if you’re unemployed, then it’s all your fault. You should have studied harder at school. It also seems to be part of the belief that people are voluntarily unemployed, because they want to be scroungers. No matter how often that belief is attacked, how often it is refuted, it still doesn’t get through their thick, brutal heads. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they still believe that the majority of people on the dole are there because they want to be there, because they’re lazy, or feckless.

Now it strikes me that the most powerful disincentive to trying anything at school is simply the lack of available jobs when you leave. To some children it may well seem that there is no point in working as hard as possible, if it will do them absolutely no good in the end. And the incessant testing schoolchildren are made to go through could also act as a disincentive. If you’re told you’re no good at reading, or mathematics, at a young age, it might stop some children trying to improve if they somehow get the impression that this will never happen. The school at which my mother taught also used to test children regularly, but this was intended to be diagnostic only, to show where the children needed more work in order to improve.

This latest proposal by Gyimah and other, unnamed ‘ministers’, is all about getting children to internalise Tory ideology. That the state will not provide jobs or welfare benefits, and unemployment is due purely to personal failure, not their disastrous handling of the economy based on an economic theory that deliberately sets an unemployment rate at 6 per cent. It should be thrown out, along with them.

Dune: Towards the Still Suit

July 21, 2013

One of the most fascinating pieces in Frank Herbert’s SF epic, Dune, is the still suit. This is a suit composed of semi-permeable membranes that takes the body’s sweat and purifies it, supplying the wearer with drinking water. Thus clothed, he or she can survive weeks out in the dry wastes of the desert planet. It came closer to reality yesterday, when Swedish scientists created a device that can turn sweat from clothes into drinking water. The device spins the clothes to release the sweat, which it then filters, distils and purifies. The BBC’s report into it can be read here

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23360907

The machine was produced to provoke public awareness of the importance of drinking water in the developing world. It’s makers state that it will never be put into production, as there are better ways of purifying water, such as water purification pills. Nevertheless, if the purification process used could be combined with a type of garment permeated with channels to hold and circulate water, something like Dune’s stillsuit would be produced. Astronauts already where something similar in their water-cooled undergarment, which regulates their temperature during space walks. And if a stillsuit could be produced affordably, it would allow greater human exploration and exploitation of Earth’s deserts, like the Sahara, Namibian and Gobi.

Spacesuit

Astronaut’s watercooled undersuit

Source: Michael Freeman, Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979)

With that technology, we could be a small step closer to the time, when no-one should die for lack of water.