Posts Tagged ‘ITV’

Starmer’s Plans for the Health Service: Some Good Promises, but More Privatisation?

January 15, 2023

This is the sequel to my post earlier today speculating on whether Starmer is planning to privatise the health service even further. I based that on his interview on the Beeb this morning, where he said he wanted to use private enterprise to clear the backlog, and that his reforms may include a greater use of private healthcare companies. I caught more of this on the ITV evening news, and while some of it looked good, it still included private healthcare companies. He laid out his plans for reforming the NHS in today’s Torygraph, which is a warning from the start. From the choice of paper it’s clear that he’s aiming at Tory voters rather than traditional Labour. Which, by previous experience of the way he and the Blairites generally side-line traditional Labour supporters and members, is what you would expect. According to ITV, he promised to recruit more NHS staff. This is good, but so blindingly obvious that the Tories have also been making the same promise over the past few years. They’ve repeatedly broken it, and working for our health service is now so bad that a large proportion of them are planning to leave. This leaves questions of how Starmer is planning to persuade more people to work for it and retain them. The report said nothing about Starmer promising them better wages or reducing the workload. He also promised to make doctors NHS employees. This is excellent. Pro-NHS groups like We Own It have said that doctors should be NHS employees in order to avoid the privatisation and sale of GP surgeries to the private healthcare giants. These have enhanced their corporate profits by closing those surgeries they deem unprofitable and sacking staff. The result is that many patients find themselves without a doctor, and the remaining doctors and staff have poorer working conditions. But hey, you gotta keep that tax money rolling in for the private healthcare firmes!

And then there’s the bit that worries me. Starmer has said he wants to make better use of private healthcare, but is still concerned to keep it free at the point of delivery. This says very strongly to me that he’s going to privatise more of the NHS and outsource services to the private sector. And as I’ve kept saying, this is one of the problems with the health service. Privatisation had resulted in poorer services and massively increasing bureaucracy and administration costs. Starmer has said he wants to cut down on the bureaucracy, which is more Tory cant. He could, if he renationalised the NHS. But he obviously doesn’t want to do that.

Among the people responding to Starmer’s proposals was someone from the NHS unions, who said that it wasn’t true that they were against change. They just wanted to see everything costed. The fact that Starmer hasn’t done that, or at least, not in the article he wrote for the Torygraph, suggests to me that he really won’t increase funding, or perhaps not by the amount necessary. With the exception of the proposal to make doctors state employees, his reforms come across very much as something the Tories would also say, while also crossing two fingers behind their backs. He did make a fourth commitment, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten it.

I want the Tories out, but I do not want Starmer to carry on with their policies, as the Blairites have done in the past. And I think that if he gets the chance, he’ll ditch the promise to make the doctors employees of the state. It’s socialist, and he hates socialism and socialists.

Morecambe and Wise as Tweety and Sylvester

January 14, 2023

Sufferin’ succotash! Here’s something that I hope will cheer you up this gloomy, Tory-ridden January. One of the funniest sketches I remember Morecambe and Wise doing was from their 1979 ITV Christmas show, in which they performed ‘Real Life Cartoons’, taking the parts of the Warner Brothers cartoon characters. It was so funny I fell out of my chair laughing. In this clip, from Garypleace’s channel on YouTube, the two comic giants take the parts of Tweety and Sylvester. Ernie is Tweety-Pie while Eric is Sylvester being blown up, shot and otherwise struck by the canary. All while singing, ‘I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat a-Cweeping up on Me’. Enjoy!

Sketch of SF star David Rappoport

November 29, 2022

David Rappoport is probably a little obscure as an entry in a list of great comic actors. I think he was a graduate of Bristol university’s drama school. He was certainly well known among the local theatre community in Bristol, having his own berth on the Old Profanity Showboat on the local docks. He was one of the O-men in a BBC children’s show but achieved stardom as the leader of a gang of time-travelling dwarves in the Terry Gilliam SF film Time Bandits. So, I’ve drawn him as that character, Randall. After this, I remember him turning up in Channel 4 series in the late 80’s-early 90s as an uptight British businessman, complete with suit and bowler hat, who gradually learns to unwind as he tours America. He was to play the villainous galactic businessman, Fajo, who attempts to steal Data to add to his collection of purloined artifacts in the Star Trek: Next Generation episode The Most Toys. Sadly, he committed suicide before the episode was made, so his role had to be taken by another actor. That’s a pity. Quite apart from the tragedy of Rappoport’s death, I think he would have been brilliant. There are pictures of the makeup he would have appeared in as well as, I think, clips of him in the part on YouTube.

I’m including him here as I think in some ways, he prepared the way for Warwick Davis, another small person, to become the star he has. Davis also appeared in SF, in this instance as the Ewok Wickit in the last of the original Star Wars trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. He was also in the Fantasy flick, Willow, with Val Kilmer. Davis then went on to appear in numerous TV shows, including as the torturer Tybon in the episode, ‘Scream, Satan, Scream’, of Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible, and as the telekinetic dwarf in the comedy horror series, Psychoville. He also guest-starred in a Matt Smith Dr. Who episode as the Emperor of the Galaxy. But Davis has also gone on to become a star in his own right, compering the ITV gameshow Tenable. Davis also toured Britain with his theatre company for similarly height-restricted actors, The Reduced Height Theatre Company. This was a well-deserved success, but unfortunately it didn’t appear in Bristol. Perhaps next time, eh?

Whether Rappoport would have enjoyed similar success had he lived we can never know. But he did have real presence and swagger in Time Bandits. My guess is that his emergence as a star possibly made it easier for Davis do so as well when he made it big rather later.

Incidentally, his costume in Time Bandits may have influenced the costume designers of a one of Duran Duran’s concert videos in the ’90s, as there are a couple of characters who appear in similar dress in .

Videos on the Great Space and SF Art of David A. Hardy

September 15, 2022

I’m a great fan of the astronomical and Science Fiction artist David A. Hardy. Hardy was interested in space from childhood and was particularly influenced by the pioneering American artist Charles Bonestell. Bonestell not only painted the various stars and planets, but also showed humans in space suits and spacecraft exploring these worlds. He worked for many years illustrating the many books on space with the late presenter of the Sky at Night, Patrick Moore, especially on the books The Challenge of the Stars, which came out in the 1950s, and its ’70s sequel, The New Challenge of the Stars. I always thought he just painted science fact, and was quite surprised to find that he also painted SF. These videos from YouTube show some of his really beautiful, amazing art, and there’s one from ITV’s local news for the Midlands in 2013 where he talks about his work and his inspiration.

The Fantastic Space Art of David A. Hardy, Part 1, from the Sci-Fi Art channel.

The Fantastic Space Art of David A. Hardy, Part 2, from the Sci-Fi Art channel

Fantasy and Sci Fi Art Collection David A. Hardy, v. 1, from Gorka’s channel.

Fantasy and Sci Fi Art collection 14 David A Hardy v2 from Gorka’s Channel

The above thumbnail is an illustration of one of the von Danikenesque theories of about the ‘wheels’ and creatures seen by the prophet Ezekiel. Von Daniken interpreted them as alien spacecraft.

And an item about him from ITV Central News, 2013, in which he talks about his work.

Saudi Arabia Plans 500 Metre Tall, 170 Km Long Mega-Skyscraper. Where’s Judge Dredd

July 27, 2022

Here’s a bit of light relief. Just this evening the internet news page put up a piece from Sky News, reporting that the Saudis are planning a massive megastructure called the Line. It’s going to be 170 km long by 1/2 km tall, for 9 million residents, all occupying separate communities. And their needs will be catered to by autonomous services, run by AI. The article begins

‘Revolution in civilisation’: Saudi Arabia previews 170km mirrored skyscraper offering ‘autonomous’ services

If it was the opening sequence of a science fiction movie, few would be surprised.

In a glossy video narrated by an American voiceover artist, Saudi Arabia has previewed The Line, a 170km long skyscraper standing 500m tall – higher than New York’s Empire State Building.

It is designed for nine million residents living in a “series of unique communities”.

Residents will have access to “all their daily needs” in “five-minute walk neighbourhoods”.

“Autonomous” services are being promised through the use of artificial intelligence, in what is being described as a “revolution in civilisation”.

The 200m wide linear structure, to be clad in mirrored glass, is the desert kingdom’s attempt to create a “healthier, more sustainable quality of life” with communities “organised in three dimensions” – as opposed to traditional cities which it says are “dysfunctional and polluted” and “ignore nature”.

Another video shows the resident of a grey urban jungle escaping to The Line, which is portrayed as an oasis.

To be built in the country’s northwest, it is planned to cover 34 square kilometres and travel from end to end is expected to take just 20 minutes.

There will be “no need for cars” and carbon emissions will be zero, the country said.

Energy and water supplies are described as “100% renewable”.

Inside, there will be a “year-round temperate micro climate with natural ventilation”.

The futuristic project is part of NEOM, a $500bn economic zone expected to be partly financed through a flotation expected in 2024.

NEOM was announced in 2017 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan which is intended to help diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil.’

See the article by Andy Hayes athttps://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/revolution-in-civilisation-saudi-arabia-previews-170km-mirrored-skyscraper-offering-autonomous-services/ar-AAZZFXB?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=b5213d7d2e414ce0b7e4564c3eadcbb4

Okay, we’ve heard this stuff before Way back in the ’50s or 60s there were plans to construct a similar habitat, 50 miles or so long, stretching across America. There were also plans to enclose New York, or at least Manhattan beneath a giant geodesic dome. There have also been plans by the Japanese to build similar megastructures right out in Tokyo bay. These would also be ultra-high tech, and be built by robots, as shown in documentary about it on Channel 4 some time either in the ’90s or the early part of this century. And there were even plans to create an enclosed city in the Canadian arctic. This would shelter from the elements under a protective dome, in which its citizens would enjoy a mild climate despite the snow and ice floes outside. It would even have a moving artificial sun to give the illusion of daylight at temperate latitudes during the long, arctic winter.

The Lower Manhattan Expressway Project: a predecessor to Saudi Arabia’s the Line? From Reyner Banham, Megastructures: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Monacelli Press 2020) 19.

None of this was every built. They were far too ambitious, both financially and technologically. And I foresee that this will go the same way.

Which may not be a bad thing, as it really does remind me of various pieces of SF literature: Judge Dredd and J.G. Ballard’s dystopias, particularly High Rise.

In the long running 2000AD strip, Dredd is a member of the autocratic police force, the judges, trying to enforce law and order in Mega City 1. This is a gigantic city of massive tower blocks stretching across the entire east coast of America from the Canadian border down to Florida. On the other side of the continent is Mega City 2, while down south is Texas City. This hasn’t quite reached mega city status as it doesn’t have a billion inhabitants. Between them are the Cursed Earth, a radiation desert full of lawlessness, inhabited by mutants, created by the nuclear that destroyed America and democracy and which led to the rise of the judges. The city has a 95 per cent plus unemployment rate caused by massive automation. Crime is rampant with the judges trying to keep a lid on things.

It’s grim vision of the future but one with a sharp, satirical sense of humour. One of the strip’s writers and creators described Mega City One as a gigantic black comedy. Which it is, as the strip sent up contemporary pop music with inane rock bands like New Juves on the Block (a slight resemblance to New Kids on the Block, an ’80s band?), weird fashions, and totally bonkers game shows. In one of the very early Dredd strips, contestants were literally betting their lives. It’s satire, but the Russians nearly got there for real. After Communism fell, one of the Russian TV stations ran a game show in which contestants had to steal a car. For real. There were real cops chasing them. If the contestant escaped, the car was his. if they caught him, he really did go to the slammer. In another Dredd strip, they sent up World of Sport on ITV and some of the adverts then running on British television. The good lawman had landed on a planet inhabited by 12 different alien races, all of whom were at war, which was broadcast on their television as a form of entertainment. Among the adverts spoofed was one for the chocolate bar, Bounty. The real advert featured a group of young people running on to a desert isle while the voiceover announced ‘They came in search of paradise’. The parody advert had the same scene, but with aliens, followed by the line ‘they found – landmines’, accompanied by explosions and the slogan ‘protect your waterhole with Brax. Brax wipes them out – dead’. It was this sharp, satirical edge that has made Dredd and 2000AD one of the great British comics for nearly the last 50 years.

And added to all this mayhem and criminality, the occupants of the various mega blocks would develop block mania, a fanatical devotion to their own block, and start a war with the neighbouring blocks. Saudi Arabia’s the Line sounds like something of a trial run for all that craziness.

The future of urban civilisation? Dredd out looking for perps and muties from the cover of 2000AD Prog 409.

It also reminds me more than a little of Ballard’s works. Ballard was a member of Michael Moorcock’s team on the British SF magazine, New Worlds. This deliberately set out to break the established conventions of science fiction at the time. It was highly controversial, spurring a debate about its obscenity or otherwise in parliament in the 1970s. And Ballard was one of the writers shocking and provoking. His novellas were published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, but Weidenfeld didn’t read them and so had no idea of just what kind of a literary monster he was publishing. That is, he didn’t, until one day he was in New York and went browsing on one of the news stands. Flicking through one of the magazines he found a piece by Ballard entitled ‘I Want To F**k Ronald Reagan’. This was in the 60s, nearly two decades before the former actor became president. A shocked Weidenfeld then sent a telegram to his secretary and staff in London saying ‘Do not publish!’

Ballard was also responsible for the novel Crash, about a secret society of perverts who get their jollies from car accidents. This was filmed in the ’90s by the Canadian film director, David Cronenberg, to the massive outrage of the Heil, which immediately started a campaign to have it banned. In the end it flopped, but nevertheless did get critical acclaim from some parts of the SF community.

Much of Ballard’s fiction takes place in enclosed, ultra-modern communities. There, life has become so anodyne and boring that the corporate powers running these communities deliberately stage murders, violent crime and rape in order to stimulate their bored drones and give them something to live for. One of these dystopian novellas was High Rise, about a cutting edge skyscraper. In it, the rich lived at the top, and the poor lower down at the bottom. However, civilisation begins to break down so that society in the tower block takes on the class antagonism of outside society. This leads to real, physical class conflict and violence. It was filmed a few years ago, but I’m not sure how many people saw it.

Trailer for the film High Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston with Jeremy Irons and based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. From the StudioCanal channel on YouTube.

In real life, Ballard was boringly normal. He stayed at home, writing and caring for his wife, while taking his children to school. Despite his grim fiction, he was horrified by the war in Bosnia and the dangerous way the conflict promoted psychopathic violence as people struggled to survive. Visitors were often surprised by the fact that he wasn’t what Private Eye used to call ‘a wild-eyed dement’ straight from one of his novels.

Ballard, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away a few years ago. He gained critical acclaim for his novel Empire of the Sun, based on his experiences as a child growing up in a Japanese POW camp following their capture of Shanghai. It was filmed by Steven Spielberg. and garnered a number of Oscars, just as the previous film adaptation of his work, Crash, didn’t.

But I’ve got a feeling that if the Line is ever built, it’s going to be far more like Mega City 1 and High Rise than any other SF utopia.

And the desert in which the Line is set even looks a bit like Dredd’s Cursed Earth.

So, can we expect crime, violence, mutants, block wars and perps getting thirty years in an iso-cube? And will Saudi Arabia suffer the attentions of the Dark Judges – Fear, Fire, Death and Mortis – come to kill everyone on Earth. Because all crime is committed by the living.

We Own It Tear Apart Boris’ NHS Funding Bill

September 9, 2021

Mike’s already put up an excellent piece ripping apart Johnson’s proposal to raise National Insurance to pay for increased funding for the NHS and social care. And Mike and so many others are pointing out, this is actually a disastrous tax on the poor, while once again the rich are protected from the taxman.

I got the following email from We Own It yesterday evening. They point out that £36 billion may sound a lot, but the NHS will still be dangerously underfunded. Furthermore Johnson’s plan does nothing to reverse the disastrous privatisation of the health service and so much of that money will find its way into the pockets of shareholders. Here’s the email.

“£36 billion for the NHS and reforming social care – that sounds like a plan from Boris Johnson. Or does it?

Putting aside the major issue of whether a National Insurance tax is a fair way of increasing funding (it isn’t), here are four reasons why Boris Johnson’s plan isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

1) Our NHS has been underfunded for a decade, and this new funding isn’t anywhere near enough. As we said in the Mirror yesterday, ‘Since 2010 our NHS has lost 20,000 beds, more than 100 A&Es and it’s short of 90,000 staff. This Government has been underfunding the NHS for 10 years. We have to fund our NHS at the level of countries like Germany.’

2) £36 billion over three years sounds like a lot, but in terms of the NHS budget of around £140 billion a year (and especially given how budgets have been squeezed for 10 years) it isn’t actually that much, especially to cover health and social care. For example, the government handed out £37 billion for Serco and Sitel’s privatised Test and Trace operation, it failed badly and the government didn’t even blink – let alone set up a new tax to cover the cost.

3) The organisations representing NHS trusts said they needed £10 billion this year, in the next six months, to tackle waiting lists and cover Covid costs. Instead the government has offered them £5.4 billion. (The new money and tax won’t kick in until April 2022.) This means waiting lists will continue to be an ongoing issue. Many of you have shared your stories about how this affects you and some of these have been published in the Evening Standard and the Mirror – read more of your stories here.

4) Boris Johnson’s plan does nothing to stop public money leaking out of the system into shareholders pockets. In our NHS, the new Health and Care Bill would mean more privatisation. And social care – both care homes and care work (where carers visit people in their homes) – is largely privatised and outsourced. A plan for social care should involve bringing it into public ownership so it can work for people not profit.

Together with you, we did our best to make the call for NHS funding as loud and clear as possible – the photos from our weekend protest are everywhere! (See the Times, the IndependentITV and lots of local newspapers..)

But in the last few days Johnson has done his best to reframe the narrative on NHS and social care funding. He’s turned the conversation into one about tax, instead of about what these public services need.

So we have to keep getting the message out there.

Our NHS needs serious funding after years of cuts and the money is there – it’s a question of political will. We need to kick the private companies out of NHS structures and oppose the Health and Care Bill (Corporate Takeover Bill) that would give them a seat at the decision making table. There’s no point in a plan for social care that doesn’t look at how money is leaking out to private shareholders.

Sadly, our NHS won’t be fixed by Johnson’s plans, and neither will social care.

The fight for OUR public services, for people not profit, continues…we’ll be in touch soon with more actions you can take.

Solidarity – and thank you for everything you do.

Cat, Alice, Johnbosco, Matthew, Zana and Anna – the We Own It team

PS Tonight at 7pm, Keep Our NHS Public is holding a rally on how to protect our NHS from the Health and Care Bill (aka the Corporate Takeover Bill). Cat is speaking alongside actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, Michael Rosen and Jon Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary. Sign up here.

Johnson’s NHS funding bill looks to me like another piece of Tory deception. It looks like their increasing funding to the NHS while all the time carrying on with the same policies that will lead to its privatisation.

Clannad: Caisleain Oir

May 28, 2021

Here’s another bit of folk music I really like. Back in the 1990s I was into the Irish folk/folk rock group Clannad. They come from Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) in Donegal in Eire. They first came to prominence over this side of the Irish Sea in the 1980s with the haunting theme for the ITV drama, Harry’s Game, about a British secret agent who infiltrates the IRA in Ulster. They then followed this up with the theme and incidental music for another ITV series, Robin of Sherwood. This was a pagan reworking of the Robin Hood legend, with Robin and his outlaws worshipping an ancient woodland spirit, Herne the Hunter. The programme starred Michael Praed and then Jason Connery as Robin, and was hit Saturday evening TV. Even now, nearly 40 years later, I think it’s better than the later versions that came after it, even if it did mess with the legend by introducing the pagan mysticism.

The song’s in a mixture of English and Gaelic, and apparently the band have also sung in Latin and Mohican. Despite trying to teach myself the language back in the 1990s, I can’t speak Gaelic at all and really don’t know what the Gaelic lyrics means. I just like it because it’s a beautiful, haunting piece of music. ITV or Channel 4 also made a documentary about them back in the 1990s. This revealed that they’d got the nickname ‘the Gaeltacht hippies’, which sort of boggles the mind. Surely, hippiedom can’t be that unique in Irish Gaelic culture!

I found the video over on An Ghaoth Anair’s channel on YouTube, who also provides a bit more information about the band.

YouTube Trailer for New Series of Spitting Image

September 27, 2020

After over two decade’s absence, the satirical puppet show Spitting Image is coming back to TV. A new series is going to be screened by Britbox, the channel of past shows created by the Beeb and ITV. I found this trailer for the new series on YouTube and it shows that, like its predecessor, the show is very definitely not going to pull its punches sending up politicos, religious figures and other celebrities.

The trailer satirises Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Kanye West, the Pope, Gwynneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian and various sports stars, as well as Vladimir Putin. Warning: some of the humour is very coarse, such as the last sketch in which a naked Putin beats up Johnson and Trump, also naked, in a sauna. This contains full frontal puppet nudity. Which in itself is enough to boggle the mind.

Here it is, in it all its grotesque splendour and horror. Enjoy!

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

August 8, 2020

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘Spitting Image’ Returning on BritBox

August 5, 2020

I found this promising little snippet in today’s I for 5th August 2020. It seems that satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, will be returning to TV after nearly a quarter of a century. The article runs

Johnson’s ‘Spitting Image’ revealed

Boris Johnson, his chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the Duke of York feature among the latest Spitting Image puppets unveiled ahead of the show’s return;. The satirical series will air later this year on BritBox after running on ITV for 18 series between 1984 and 1996. Donald Trump, Beyonce, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Vladimir Putin will also feature prominently.

There were plans to bring it back a few years ago following a retrospective on the programme as long ago as 2004, I believe. Channel 4 looked into it, but turned it down because it would be too expensive. Health and Safety legislation also meant that the conditions in which the puppets were made back in the ’80s and ’90s, which did use dangerous chemicals, would be illegal and need to be improved. In the meantime, we briefly had Newzoids on ITV, which also mixed puppets and CGI to satirise politicos and celebs, but was obviously cheaper.

I thought, however, that Britbox was a streaming service for oldshows broadcast by the Beeb and ITV. This suggests that they aren’t just showing re-runs, but have commissioned new material. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

And to see if the new, revived Spitting Image is as vicious, incisive and hilarious at its previous incarnation.