BBC FOUR TV: The Lost Decade

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"The Letter"

Post by Jim » Sun 30 Oct, 2005 15:39:57

I was just looking at The Letter again. In only the second paragraph, DW writes:

<< Yet our present monarch being just over 50, and in good health with a normal prospect of another 25 years of life, many people would lay heavy odds against his daughter, or any other member of his family, ever being crowned at Westminster. >>

Who'd have thought that only six years after this was written, Elizabeth would in fact be crowned? DW couldn't have known, but he loses points with the modern reader. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

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Post by Nick » Mon 31 Oct, 2005 01:47:29

I have a feeling that the rabid Voice Over inflicted on DW's Letter to prosperity was a none too subtle attempt at portraying him as a right wing political extremist. It's quite interesting to see how the media in general react to extremists from both left and right of the political spectrum. It seems to be more acceptable to be a left wing extremist rather than a right wing extremist. The classic example of this is the late Ewan Mcoll, who was a self confessed Stalinist, adopted the 'end justifies the means' stance of the pre 1950's CP, and resigned when they spilled the beans on Uncle Joe to fasten his allegiance to Mao. He then went on to write 'The first Time Ever I saw your Face', get a hit in the filthy Capitalist music charts accept a Grammy award and make a shed load of money. What does he get in the media? Numerous accolades and his work reviewed positively, a live broadcast of his last concert and a place in history. Every body conveniently forgetting to mention the fact that he wrote a song with a chorus that ran 'Stalin was a Good man, Stalin was a fine man' What does DW get? A comic book Nazi voice over to his letter that makes it virtually impossible to digest his meaning or point of view.
I don't think DW was any sort of extremist. I think he was inaccurate as Jim pointed out, and politically naïve. His naivety lay in the way he never seemed to grasp the fact that all forms of political upheaval result in somebody else getting their head blown off. When you are looking down a gun barrel it really doesn't matter weather a Nazi or a Stalinist is pulling the trigger, you are still just as dead. DW calls for us to lay down our lives for his idea of freedom, but does not make it clear who exactly we should be firing at and who exactly will be firing back. I can easily forgive him for all of this, and with a good heart. He was a lot more honest than plenty of champagne socialists who would sneer at his work. Jim rightly tells us that hindsight is a wonderful thing, however insight is even better, and honesty however naïve or misguided is better again.

Garry Holmes
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Letter to Posterity

Post by Garry Holmes » Sat 12 Nov, 2005 11:24:00

Righto, about that programme. The producers seemed to be desperate to fit it into the 'Missing Decade' series. The result of this was that undue importance was placed on the letter to posterity. As was pointed out in the discussion, DW was writing for what he suspected would be a far distant future, and he certainly had no intention of starting a right wing coup before he died. Actually, the meat of the letter reminded me of something, and after a little thought I realised what it was...1984. The entreaty to fight against the oppressive machine state comes straight out of Orwell's dystopian novel, which was not published until a year later. The arch tory and the arch socialist both reading from the same song sheet. Isn't posterity wonderful!
As to the letter revealing something about DW's political views that his readers would not have known...had whoever wrote that ever read any of his books? DW's political views are obvious to anyone who has read a handful of them. The weird voice that they used to read out the letter to posterity would have been more damaging if they had not had the very real voice of DW in all of those wonderful archive films (Can we see them all, please, BBC4?)
The discussion table was generally far more even handed than the general tone of the programme might have suggested. It was nice to see that most, if not all, of the people there were fans of DW. However, I would like to know how much his 'sales were declining during the sixties' and by how much. My impression was always that he did quite well until his death. Certainly, even in the early seventies his paperbacks were still finding their way into the bestseller charts. Can anyone clarify this?
Overall, then, a fairly good documentary. Much better than it might have been, and with many incidental pleasures along the way (DW agreeing that he had no literary style at all). Just a pity it wasn't on a bit longer!

Frank Linmarsh
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Post by Frank Linmarsh » Fri 31 Mar, 2006 12:47:28

Bit of a Johnny Come Lately but have only recently seen the programme which I thought was wonderful. The awful hectoring tone of the voice over seemed completely undercut by the archive footage of DW, a thoroughly charming self-deprecating man. (albeit with a dubious past) .The discussion seemed much more even handed than I expected. Overall I think it came over as pro DW - outselling everyone bar Agatha Christie for four decades? Brilliant!
It Begins

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