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Very British Dystopias

Duration:
58 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 15 June 2013

Beneath the calm surface of British politics, lurking in the imaginations of some of our leading writers, terrible things have happened. Professor Steven Fielding examines these dystopian visions which have gripped creative and public imaginations in novels and dramas since the end of the second world war.

British democracy has come under threat time and again in fictions from 1984 to V for Vendetta, by way of Dr Who, The Prisoner, A Very British Coup, Edge of Darkness and others.

Britons have been oppressed by authoritarian governments, suffered alien subjugation, been threatened by extremist nationalists in Scotland, endured American-backed coups and faced Soviet attempts to install a Marxist-Leninist Prime Minister. The intelligence services have gone from hero to zero and back again, while more recently elected politicians themselves have threatened democracy.

Some of these stories have left a lasting legacy on our politics: references to 1984 have become part of our culture, and the iconic Guy Fawkes mask from the film V for Vendetta is worn as a symbol of resistance by protestors around the world. But why? And wherein lies the appeal of these visions of politics gone bad? Steven Fielding asks what the authors intended, and whether these visions make a useful contribution to the political process.

He shows how these imagined futures were rooted in the real concerns of times in which they were imagined. And at a time when the politics of Westminster is seen as increasingly irrelevant by many people, he asks what can dystopian visions achieve now?

Interviewees include authors Douglas Hurd, Chris Mullin, Frederick Forsyth and David Hare.

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham.

The producer is Jane Ashley.

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