1984, Scotch on the Rocks, V for Vendetta — there’s a longstanding tradition in British fiction of authors imagining the ways in which British democracy could go wrong.
This preoccupation and its effect on readers, viewers and politics is the subject of a new documentary for BBC Radio 4 — Very British Dystopias — from The University of Nottingham’s Professor Steven Fielding.
The hour-long documentary will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 15 June at 8pm.
Professor Fielding, from the School of Politics and International Relations, believes that the depiction of political dystopias on television and in books had — and continues to have — a real impact on British people.
He said: “These tales were, of course, written to entertain. But many were explicitly produced to warn people what might happen if they didn’t take appropriate action. Fiction is a very powerful way of transmitting ideas, especially to those who would never dream of listening to a politician’s speech or reading a think tank policy document.”
Douglas Hurd’s Scotch on the Rocks
Lord Douglas Hurd’s 1973 novel Scotch on the Rocks, for example, was inspired by the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party during the late 1960s and depicts a nationalist insurrection organised by the fringes of the party and armed by the Soviet Union. Lord Hurd was working for Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath at the time and Professor Fielding believes this undoubtedly influenced public perceptions regarding the SNP.
Professor Fielding produced the documentary — which includes an interview with Lord Hurd — to dispel the myth that British politics is ‘boring’.
Influencing the political debate
He said: “It started off from the proposition that most people think British politics is pretty boring — that nothing really happens; we don’t have revolutions and we don’t have coups and we don’t have assassinations and all that kind of exciting stuff. But there are these fears and people thinking things could go wrong, and then writing about it and influencing the political debate.
“The villains and victims might change, but such fictions each expose in their different ways a very real political issue: the gap that lies between representatives and the represented, something that is one of the most intractable problems of British democracy today as never before.”
Professor Fielding interviewed the authors of some of the greatest British dystopias for the documentary, including Sir David Hare, Frederick Forsyth and Lord Douglas Hurd. Starting with George Orwell’s 1984, the programme considers a range of novels and TV shows including A Very British Coup, The War Game, Fourth Protocol and V for Vendetta.
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