United Nations

By Hoggart, Simon | The Spectator, October 23, 2010 | Go to article overview

United Nations


Hoggart, Simon, The Spectator


There have been the usual moans about the BBC spending £100,000 on coverage of the Chilean miners. I suppose the figure includes wages that would have been paid whether the people were in South America or Shepherds Bush, and, if accurate (I suspect the real cost was much more), it strikes me as minuscule - around two-thirds of one penny for every person in the country, an astounding bargain.

There are some events which, in Bagehot's phrase, 'rivet' the world, both in his sense of binding us together and in the more modern usage of being utterly fascinating; 9/11 is the most obvious example.

Other, slightly lesser occasions include the release of Nelson Mandela and the Royal Wedding. These become the milestones of our lives, an experience shared with people in every corner of the globe. The notion that the BBC should have cut corners in order to save the cost of about ten minutes of peak time drama is ridiculous. The coverage was superb - far better than the other channels - and it illustrated once again how fortunate we are in this country to have a BBC at all.

Of course, the greatest of all world television occasions was the moon landing of 1969. People still talk about Neil Armstrong's flub: 'one small step for man' instead of 'a man'. At the time, the landing, and the fact that we could see it live, if in grainy black-and-white, seemed astounding, world-changing. I recall an otherwise sane friend saying that it would mean the end of all war, since earthly rivalries would seem terminally trivial. Now, more than two decades after the last man walked on the moon, going there seems as dated as flared trousers and Slade records. For that reason, the landing was an apt frame for the adaptation of H.G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon (Tuesday, BBC4) in which a small boy meets an old man at a fair who claims that he visited the moon back in Edward VII's day.

In the glory days of science fiction all you needed for space travel was a magic antigravity material, a box shaped like a bathing hut, and a sturdy tweed suit. (By comparison with Wells's yarn the average Jules Verne yarn could have served as a Nasa handbook. ) The First Men was a great influence on C.S. Lewis - it was meant to be a satire on war and imperialism, though this was missing from the TV show - and also a template for all those Star Trek episodes in which the crew land on planets where the atmosphere is the same as Earth's and the inhabitants conveniently speak English. …

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