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One of the things that most intrigued me when I was a kid was outer space. I was completely gripped by anything that even remotely alluded to it. Could this have been an unconscious desire to escape the real world, to flee the ever-present adult rule that at the time, much to my distaste, controlled most of my life?

Who knows? But I clearly recall the enthralment I had for the notion - unconscious to most people, so it seemed (and still seems) - that we lived on a microscopic oasis that floated in an unbelievably vast ocean of space which by any reckonings was infinite in all directions. Why this so captured my imagination, I cannot say. But it still does, and the reason still eludes me.

What went on out there, away from the banal activities around me on this tiny grain of sand where I lived, was hugely more interesting to me than anything I could possibly experience in my immediate setting. And so, by degrees, I became one of those pestering little brats who insist on asking impossible questions, questions that adults loathe more than anything – because they either have to THINK or else admit ignorance. (Usually they do neither, and instead smack the kid round the head and tell them to sod off).

Kids (like I was) are inclined to ask things like: Where does space end? How did the universe begin? Why does the Earth exist? And most obvious and annoying of all, the now well exhausted: What’s the meaning of life?

I imagine a drama in which someone dies, and after a long suffering life they confront God and shout in the loudest, most raucous, angry voice they can muster: “Come on, you bastard! Out With It. You’ve HAD your little JOKE! WHAT’S THE MEANING OF LIFE?” And God, who sits there on this colossal gold-plated commode (looking down for someone else to crap on - see Jung’s masterpiece ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’), shrugs indifferently, and says: “Don’t ask me chum. How the hell should I know? I only make things.” Then, after dropping another huge turd that hurtles towards the next victim, adds, “For your information, I didn’t ask to be brought into existence either!” (The scenario ends, inevitably, with a far bigger turd zooming down from nowhere and obliterating God).

Returning to my point, though, I didn’t persist long. Not after the hostile reactions that came at me in the form of feigned incomprehension, bored indifference or as a last resort: being completely ignored. All these responses are tough for an inquisitive kid. But that didn’t quell my enthusiasm. It kept me quiet though; after all, who wants to be ignored?

Then one day, soon after my dad bought our first television – this must have been 1958 or thereabouts – I discovered a TV-show where not only did the presenter actually talk about outer space, but outer space was the very subject of the programme. What a turn up! And to make it all the more amazing, the presenter himself was a weirdo eccentric; this was instantly obvious just from the way he spoke - quite apart from the curious way he eyed the camera (kind of leaning forward and half-squinting one eye as if trying to see right down into the lens). So, I hardly need say, here was my first hero.

Eventually, when I was about 15, this guy stood for parliament and was obliged to declare to the world his unsavoury political views. It was a big surprise to me that he was a fascist, and believed in draconian laws and punishments – most notably: capital punishment.

At the time, although my political ken was either dormant or non-existent, I considered myself very much a pacifist and was opposed to any punishment, corporal or capital, but the latter above all. (Probably this had to do with my own sufferings that resulted from failing to toe the line at school.) So any thought of him as a hero was immediately scotched. True, he was probably more liberal than most MPs of the time, but in revealing his views he got his comeuppance and was permanently rejected.

Maybe he had taken it all lightly, because his regular TV broadcasts about space continued all through this. Even so, they were only once a month, which wasn’t much considering it was the sole programme concerning the entire reality which exists outside this microscopic grain of sand we call Earth. To my knowledge, no-one I knew was in the least aware, let alone interested, in what was ‘Out There’. Talk about narcissism and self-obsession! Obviously, this was a programme for pariahs, misfits, outsiders, for those curious individuals NOT immersed to the exclusion of all else in their immediate social field, but who wished instead (or also) to look beyond themselves, to see further than the constricting petty little sphere of life in which they were inescapably trapped (physically, at least).

But despite its rarity, the programme was better than nothing; and nothing was the previous status quo, so who was complaining? And hero or not, this oddball host was a natural: quirky, fast, a brilliant ad libber, engaging personality, exceptional command of his subject - in good solid layman’s terms too… who wouldn’t continue undeterred to follow his show?

I’m sure you all know who I’m talking about here. But in case you haven’t twigged, I’ll tell you. It was, who else, the notorious and popular amateur astronomer: Patrick Moore.

But no sooner had he toppled from my favour, than Isaac Asimov stepped onto the podium. Zooming into view as a new world prophet, his stature would remain forever untainted (as has proved to be). Not only did this hero explore wondrous new concepts: sociological as well as scientific and technological issues formerly undreamt of - but everything he examined and wrote about stirred my imagination… both fiction and non-fiction alike. I devoured his books – especially the fiction – like mythical monsters devour small children.

* * * * * * *

Then, a few years later, another impressive scientist appeared on the horizon – this time a real hands-on one. He was not at first someone who struck me as a potential hero, but I followed his appearances on TV - for instance, his epic, if over-glamorised, presentation of the universe: ‘Cosmos’; and his outstanding Royal Institution lectures, as well as many appearances in documentaries on space exploration and related topics, and hero to me he became.

Who else could this be but Carl Sagan? And a significant contributor to many practical aspects of NASA’s work. But above all, his efforts to encourage greater social justice in his native country, the USA - where a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line and where illiteracy is rife, yet where billionaires thrive in their thousands - his tireless efforts to improve many aspects of his society, to entertainingly communicate his enthusiasm for science to the next generation, and above all to work tirelessly to discourage the huge absurd build-up of nuclear weapons in the world… all this, together with his books and films, forms a commendable epitaph to a man who loved people, loved space, nature, and everything genuinely good and worthwhile in the world. He even persuaded Mikhail Gorbachev (who probably needed no persuasion, because he was of like-mind) of the uselessness of nuclear weapons, and to begin disarming.

Sadly, little if anything remains of these efforts – save his books and space work - such is the unmitigated greed, stupidity and betrayal of politicians (and of those who elect them); since it is they, don’t we know it, who ultimately control these things.

Tragically, Sagan died before he was 60 of bone cancer. And his work was only beginning. Before he died I’d read three of his books, then two more after. I would recommend them all, but especially ‘Billions and Billions’ and ‘The Demon Haunted World’.

So who next? Well, Hesse featured, certainly, and soon after him came Dostoyevsky, then Camus. After him Kafka, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Henry Miller, Pirandello, Ouspensky, and should I include Colin Wilson? These, and others, who I stumbled on over subsequent years, were people whose work I much admired and cherish to this day, but to declare them my heroes would be a big overstatement. They were not – except maybe Miller, whose work continues to grip me (as I dip in and out) due to its ongoing relevance.

But how many heroes does a person need? Does one need any? Since I became interested in following various political activities around the world – by which is implied ‘business activities’ (ie, John Dewey: "Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business") – I have pondered over several individuals. Noam Chomsky first comes to mind for his brilliant articulation of political truths that for decades have been deliberately obscured by reactionary influences; under his analyses these become childishly self evident. I suppose the ability to simplify and clarify otherwise obscure issues is, as much as pure invention, a sign of true genius. After all, Einstein’s ‘Theory of Relativity’ was little more than the clear logical deduction of what followed from his childlike observations of reality. For instance, see the simple logic in Time Dilation.

Next though, for me, comes A S Neill for his remarkable insight into what forms the very source of all misery and war. He is responsible for much happiness where otherwise would be gloom. Then John Pilger for his relentless efforts to keep the world informed of the most heinous activities of politicians, especially those of the West who pretend to champion freedom while actually doing the opposite. And Robert Fisk, who daily risks his neck to bring us truth from where no-one else seems capable of working.

The list goes on…

I could skirt through many worthy candidates for the role of MY hero, assessing their work, achievements and so on, and how it relates to what I personally regard as supremely worthwhile and important. Besides this – as what I’ve written above shows – heroes, for me, come and go as well as come to stay. They rise up and remain at a plateau, or else fade with time, then a new one leaps into view to briefly outshine the rest before settling onto another plateau, which may be higher, lower or the same as those favoured earlier.

But what precisely is a hero? What characteristics define that term? The OED says: 1a) a person noted or admired for courage, outstanding achievements, etc. (Newton, a hero of science). b) a great warrior. 2. the chief male character in a poem, play, story, etc.

For me, though, a hero is someone not only with exceptional abilities or has realized exceptional achievements, but who also does just what I would do if I were in possession of their skills. In other words, a hero to me is someone far more capable than myself, but crucially of like mind.




So on that basis, it would be true to say that my new hero today is Harold Pinter. His internationally recognised achievements as an outstanding writer – whether by subconscious default as he implies in his recent Nobel Prize acceptance speech, or by persistent and highly productive successful hard work, or more probably both – is one thing. But to use this recognition as a pedestal from which to voice to the world undisputed facts that few others would dare to voice – for fear of risking their media imbued reputation or inviting other reprisals from ‘The Establishment’ – is not only bold, noble and creditable, but immensely courageous too. And I don’t say this because someone might shoot him dead tomorrow on account of it – no, I say it because his words will go down in history for some while, and above all for me, they reflect precisely my own sentiments as things that needed saying NOW by someone who would be listened to by billions and above all believed: it is exactly what I would have said (or would like to have said) in the circumstances.

So instead of pronouncing timeless platitudes of wisdom by which to be remembered, Pinter used this unique opportunity to alert the world, before it’s too late, to the greatest danger that has ever existed for humanity: the devastating impact on the world of a brutal, rapacious corporate system that has been growing and becoming increasingly lethal since the end of WW2.

The repercussions of this horror are all engulfing, and are leading, as I see it, to a world reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and which at the same time is being plunged towards environmental catastrophe: a world where society fades into history, where poverty, squalor, lack of health care, zero education and chaos are the rule – together with more and fiercer hurricanes, deeper floods, longer droughts, more widespread famines, disease and untold other horrors. A world where bombs and terror are the norm, where natural disasters are frequent, and where any prospect of resolution or peace pales into oblivion. This created principally by US and UK politicians. The outlook is my own, not Pinter’s – though it may be his too, it was certainly Dennis Potter’s.

Somehow, though, perhaps like Pinter, I detect within myself an inexplicable optimism. This could be a delusion, a self-inflicted psychological trick like believing in God. But instead of theological faith I have faith that the lead taken in South America could spread, that the corporate monsters could be overcome; and even that with proper international systems future generations could adapt and survive well with climate change. Who knows? But these positive things can only happen with the help of people like Pinter who bring the bleak realism of our situation to the notice of billions – because it is billions who are needed to act. And perhaps it is precisely this last point which is responsible for that smidgen of optimism in my psyche:

"Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we inquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular."-- David Hume, Scottish philosopher and historian, "Of the First Principles of Government" 1758  

If you haven’t yet seen, heard or read Harold Pinter’s outstanding address to the Nobel Committee and The World - for posterity - then I urge you to follow the link below. You will not be disappointed. And it is, after all, for ALL TIME:

Art, Truth and Politics
By Harold Pinter
Click here for the text of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech + additional relevant material.




Just as a little experiment, yesterday - the day after Pinter’s speech was broadcast on More-4 and later on Ch-4 (the latter not revealed even on Ch-4 news, so I was lucky to discover this and make a quality recording) - I went into our local Ottakar’s bookshop to see which of Pinter’s works were available.

I could find none. Frankly, in the current political climate, this didn’t surprise me. Then, I reflected: since Pinter's name had been in the news several weeks back on account of being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, his works would have sold out. When I enquired, however, the cashier said, “Is that Pinter spelt pee, eye, en, tee, ee, are?”

“That’s right.” I said, mildly astonished. I wondered how frequently an Englishman receives the Nobel Prize for Literature. It can’t be often, but for all this particular store cared, so it seemed, it might as well be none, ever, because a moment later the cashier raised her head from the computer screen and said, “Sorry. We don’t stock anything by him.”

And there was me thinking business was alert to every opportunity for making dough. Hastings isn’t some Tory stronghold where intellectuals are thinner on the ground than millionaires - nor even mere playgoers (the place has several theatres). Surely a handful of ordinary people at least (the bookshop managers must realise) would be curious to know in detail why a playwright is awarded the top literary prize, and hence would wish to examine for themselves some of his work?

I continued on to W H Smiths – with the same result, though I was advised that they would gladly order for me anything that was in print – or that alternatively I might venture to look in again ‘in a few weeks’. No wonder, I mused, that book-sales are shifting from high street to internet.

And I suppose this is what comes of being at odds with the Establishment. Even business forgoes its primary function when a ‘subversive’, a ‘rebel’, a free-thinker, appears! For any business, I’m sure, nothing could possibly be more shocking, more threatening, more devastating than the concept of a free-thinker! How long, if it can happen, will it take ‘free-thinkers’ to conquer the lethal corporate menace? I’ll be around, if I’m lucky, for maybe another thirty years. Will I see it? Doubtful – even if it does happen.

Finally: Since the award was made, I have yet to hear or see – apart from fleeting news items - any mention of Harold Pinter, who is after all an Englishman, of his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, or any mention of his Nobel Prize speech, or his work, on BBC TV or Radio. But perhaps I haven’t been paying attention?

Either way, it goes without saying that the BBC is totally now in the editorial grip of BIG Business – ie, The Government (which, remember, was voted in by less than 20% of us – and most of those voters, I’d wager, were thoroughly ignorant of what the Labour Party actually stands for nowadays). In truth, we still in 2005 haven't had a Labour governemnet in the UK since 1979.

See also: Pilger on Pinter




The Art of Theater No. 3
Interviewed by Larry Bensky

Issue 39, Fall 1966


Do you think that the picture of personal threat which is sometimes presented on your stage is troubling in a larger sense, a political sense, or doesn’t this have any relevance?

I don’t feel myself threatened by any political body or activity at all. I like living in England. I don’t care about political structures—they don’t alarm me, but they cause a great deal of suffering to millions of people . . . I’ll tell you what I really think about politicians. The other night I watched some politicians on television talking about Vietnam. I wanted very much to burst through the screen with a flamethrower and burn their eyes out and their balls off and then inquire from them how they would assess this action from a political point of view.