You Have Been Watching …

In which The Author finds yet another security leak from the future

I won’t recap the plot of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in detail. If you haven’t read it (and why not?), it’s set in a totalitarian Britain, where every aspect of society is dominated by the shadowy Big Brother. The story’s protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth, where he and his colleagues literally rewrite history to conform with the Party’s ideology. (Orwell had worked for the BBC, so he’d probably learned a trick or two about news management.)
To cut a fairly short story even shorter: every home has a ‘telescreen’ which broadcasts the Party line day and night. It also acts as a two-way channel, allowing the state to monitor the activities of the citizens:
Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
Anyway, here in free and democratic Britain, the telescreens are slowly becoming ubiquitous. I’m in Thereisnospoon in Aberdare at the moment. When Tim Martin first launched his revolutionary pub idea, one of his USPs was ‘no jukeboxes, no televisions’. But, of course, the punters wanted to watch soccer, or the Six Nations, or the Test matches, or royal weddings, and eventually the company caved in and installed TV sets.
Which would be all very well if they were only switched on for sporting events and royal weddings. But they aren’t. They’re permanently tuned to the increasingly misnamed BBC News channel. Even with the sound off (most of the time), we’re treated to inaccurately subtitled versions of whatever Winston Smith Laura Kuenssberg has decided is newsworthy on any given day.
And that’s just the start.
Get on a bendy bus in Cardiff city centre to travel down to the Bay, and there are telescreens there, too. Amazingly enough, they’re also tuned to the BBC News channel.
Back in the city centre, there are at least two massive screens in the middle of the shopping precinct. There’s one in Queen Street, just opposite the Friary, and another next to St David’s Hall, facing onto Waterstones. Guess what they show, day and night.
A few years ago I was on a river taxi (possibly in Bristol), and that was also showing the BBC News.
In fact, it’s becoming a refreshing change to call in for a pint somewhere that isn’t showing the British Brainwashing Corporation’s take on things.
Before I sign off: for the benefit of you who live in the rest of the world, Plaid Cymru won the Rhondda constituency in Thursday’s elections. Ms Kuenssberg, and Steve Richards on Radio 4’s The Week in the Westminster Bubble, seem to have omitted to mention this historic result in the one-party state. Now you know …
(Who needs the telescreen, eh?)
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