Beyond The Timelock

The post-war, pre-Thatcher Britain is lost. A bizarre world, locked in a secure time-vault never to be released, due to our shame of turning a blind eye to disc jockeys, TV presenters, and children’s authors. Coming-of-age books set in a fantasy Edwardian time, or the struggles of an upper class family adjusting to the New Jerusalem.

A time shot on 16mm film, capturing the essence of a past no longer seen; that point in the broadcast where it switches from OB to videotape, the difference between outside and in. Year Zero Estates springing up in harsh, beautiful concrete; a man in a donkey jacket bringing a Government to its knees. The three-day week somehow merged in consciousness with the Winter of Discontent, and we are not allowed to separate them; a past retconned away by May 3rd 1979 and St. Francis of Assisi. Time-locked, a decade of failure. But it wasn’t. Not really.

A world where Bowie lived alongside Lieutenant Pigeon, of decline even as the most advanced passenger jet plane ever built flies from British shores. British Rail invents the tilting train and sells it off to European dreams. System X a gleam in engineers’ eyes, unaware that it will form the backbone for a million fascists and their Twitter handles.

You can catch it in glimpses in YouTube. People uploading the past, the old adverts, Jack Regan brutalizing people in London, odd thirty-five minute documentaries about a day in a British Rail station, snatches of QED, the countless different users uploading the ‘Protect and Survive’ broadcast, laughing at how weird it was to be afraid of nuclear war. Degraded VHS copies of a world gone, lasting until the watchful eye of the algorithm zaps them on behalf of BBC Worldwide.

The Moors and the Ripper; Yorkshire in blood. Mud with their puppet show, The Likely Lads joking about schoolgirls. Tony Benn in the streets, Harold Wilson shaking with fear under the sheets.

It’s not my world. I grew up firmly in the new world, the one created that tossed all this aside. But you can’t destroy it utterly. Old books remain, songs get played on the radio, and the BBC had repeat slots to fill after all. Those Children Film Foundation films that got broadcast on a Friday afternoon - tales of factories, magical t-shirts, and boys who turned yellow, set in a bizarre time that never was. Jennifer Agutter dressing herself as she starts counting.

The Owl Service; a Britain haunted by its loss of Empire and collapse in standing, examining its old myths before Falklands tossed them all aside and gave us back the image of Britannia. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. Even if it was an illusion. rejoice on the old HP.

The odd series that pop up here and there - the clash of the Minders from ITV with the Boys from Hooky Street on BBC1. Shelley and Citizen Smith falling in to promote the alternative view. The insanity of Q, a show that started everything from Monty Python to sm:TV Live. “What are we going to do now?” a nation cries as the three-day week bites and Brexit looms. And our racism brushed under the carpet, from the Pakistani Dalek to the Black and White Minstrel Show. Curry And Chips. Bird recording as Idi Amin. Have I Got New For You lacerating the Government whilst creating Boris The Legend.

But all gone. The plays. The conspiracies, the intrigue. Guardians. The Donati Conspiracy. 1990. The 70s fear of a Labour Government while Knale digs deep in a cave to find objects from our forgotten past that will kill us all. The man from Granada Reports that sneaks out to bring punk to the nation. Everybody taking the piss out of Morrissey. Dennis Potter picking at his psoriasis scabs as he writes another play with sexual intrigue coming to the fore.

The Internet gathers around on a Thursday evening to watch repeats of Top of The Pops from 30 years previous. And how we laugh. But it’s really a wake, held every week to shared memories of ‘Oh God do you remember what Carl did the next day at school? And how Miss Jones from 6N had actually been to the Blitz?’ A church to a music world that we destroyed via T1 lines, fast Fourier transforms and everybody else waiting to share their bundles of maths to the world. We let them come in, we talked to each other as we set the music world on fire and let everything burn.

Our past colonized by Americans in the final twist of the knife, our own history subsumed as their history overtakes our own. Their music becomes our music, their games become our games, their television becomes ours. But it wasn’t like that. Not really. America was a foreign land. America could never have created the KLF. Nor New Order. Or The Day Today.

The old world is lost. But if you step into the Alexandra Road Estate, you can get a glimpse of a world that we imagined. A world that could have been something different. But instead we chose Thatcher. We chose nationalism, and we chose Brexit.

But in that brief period of time, we believed in a better way.