The Prisoner: Hammer Into Anvil

I have, over the past few months, been reacquainting myself with The Prisoner. This was a TV series, originally screened in the late 60s and repeated in the early 1990s which is when I first encountered it. I enjoyed it at the time and am now catching up yet again on DVD.

The series stars Patrick McGoohan as a spy who, after resigning for unexplained reasons, is kidnapped and transported to an isolated island community known only as The Village. This location is secured by a panoply of surveillance systems and hosts a population in which no-one uses names. All residents are assigned numbers — seemingly at random — which make it impossible to determine whether any individual is an inmate or a guard.

All of this is overseen by Number Two, a position filled by someone different each episode (which, I know, contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph — but there it is) who seeks both to extract information from the protagonist, Number Six, and possibly to recruit him into whatever mysterious organisation he represents.

Overall the series combines several genres in a manner that is surreal, often paranoid and devastatingly effective. The stand-alone episodes can be a bit variable from one to the next, but at their best they really are superb.

Which brings us to Hammer Into Anvil.

This episode opens with a sadistic Number Two (played by Patrick Cargill) driving another inmate to suicide. Number Six informs Number Two that he will answer for this and thus begins Number Six’s campaign to destroy his adversary.

What makes this episode so memorable is that rather than fighting against the system, as Number Six usually does, he instead manipulates it in order to turn the panopticon against itself. What’s more, he does this in a manner that is both playful and transparent. It is clear from the outset what Number Six is doing, but Number Two’s increasing paranoia, combined with his endless search for an underlying meaning — even when none exists — blinds him to the obvious.

This is the first episode in which Number Six demonstrates a sense of humour as well as being the first in which he is able to enact a retribution.

I still have five more episodes to watch, including the two-part finale, but Hammer Into Anvil is a definite high point of the series.

Five Things #24

In Fortune’s Final Hand Adam-Troy Castro envisages a casino in which memories can be gambled and asks how much of you would still be you if your memories once belonged to someone else.

Rich Pelley talks to David Jason and Brian Cosgrove about Danger Mouse.

Renewable energy still has a long way to go. Wednesday was Belgium’s Grey Day, the day when notionally the country’s green electricity production is used up.

Klaus Sieg visits Sirplus, a chain of German supermarkets selling expired yogurt, mislabled jam and weird potatoes.

Chris Grey argues Brexiters need to stop campaigning and start governing.

He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy

Terry Jones died yesterday at the age of 77.

I remember, many years ago, reading Starship Titaninic, a spin-off from The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy which Jones agreed to write on condition that he could do so in the nude. Or so Douglas Adams claims in the introduction to the novel.

Terry Jones is, of course, best remembered for being part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and as the director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, in which he also played Brian’s mum.

This, for my money, is one of the funniest films ever made — if not the funniest. So here is the highlight of a film full of highlights.

Il Mandaloriano

We don’t have Disney+ and we don’t have any intention on signing up to a streaming service anytime soon. Consequently, I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars spin-off series The Mandalorian.

But if it was anything like this spaghetti-western inspired trailer, I would change my tune in an instant.

Five Things #7: Better late than never

This post has taken quite a bit longer to complete than I expected, so apologies in advance if a couple of the below links feel a bit stale. They’re still worth reading, though.

“Hence gradually the onion skins have been peeled away until the fetid heart of [Brexit] is exposed: not a policy but an undeliverable fantasy composed of lies and articulated in the language of spite, contempt and hate.” — Chris Grey on the Supreme Court judgment and its aftermath.

On a related note, Nick Barlow points out that democracy is a process, not an event.

I loved Spitting Image back in the day and was delighted to hear that the satirical puppet show is making a a comeback. Adam J Smith and Jo Waugh take this opportunity to point out that there has been a problem inherent in British caricature for 300 years.

Ben Orlin explains why 1 isn’t a prime number.

And Wumo explains the stock market:

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The Day Today

I’m a bit late to this but, last week The Day Today turned 25. This was a remarkably prescient parody of TV news and current affairs programmes of the time. There were only six episodes, the first of which was transmitted on 19th January 1994.

Jude Rogers in the New Statesman sums it up best:

The Day Today distilled the news’ budding obsession with outrageous visuals. Jeremy Vine on Election Night. Alan Partridge getting caught up in his multi-pronged SoccerMeter mirrors. Doon MacKichan pulling gore-splattered percentages out of a dummy’s intestines, to show the NHS’ decline, was this idea’s natural endpoint.

Then the team skewered news theme tunes. “TV was getting obsessed with the potential of computer graphics, and how music could underpin them,” remembers co-composer Jonathan Whitehead. The theme they made together is the show’s spirit in a perfect 25-second blast, beginning with the sound of a bomb (a graphic of a globe exploding alongside it) before string swoops and percussive stabs make it even more histrionic. “News was all about appearing complicated, important and serious. So we thought
we’d see how far we could go.”

And this is all the excuse I need to post this clip of WAR in which Chris Morris’ Paxmanesque anchor starts out with a segment on a trade agreement and manages to start a war.

Whoops Apocalypse (the TV series)

In the mists of time (1982), LWT made a six-part TV series that addressed the prospect of nuclear war. As a farce. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks rewatching this series and it holds up remarkably well.

The series follows the events leading up to a nuclear war and the main focus is on US president, Johnny Cyclops, a former actor, remember) whose national security advisor is a fundamentalist known as The Deacon. The Deacon doesn’t so much advise the president as inform him what decisions ere made. And, for an unpopular president in an election year, there is much to decide.

The Middle East is similarly unstable with the recently deposed Shah of Iran expelled from France and, following a change of UK government, finds himself stranded on a cross-Channel ferry for most of the series.

The UK government deserves a mention. A far-left Labour party, led by a wonderfully delusional prime minister, has promised to leave the Common Market, denuclearise and quit NATO. Neutrality doesn’t pan out so well for them and the UK ends up joining the Warsaw Pact.

As for Russia, paranoid and oversensitive and determined to gain control of the Middle Eastern oil supply.

The main plot revolves around a new bomb, developed on the Deacon’s orders. The original name for this — the Johnny Cyclops Bomb — is vetoed by the president and it subsequently referred to as the Quark Bomb (Formerly Known As The Johnny Cyclops Bomb After The President of the Same Name). The Deacon arranges for one of these bombs to be stolen and passed to Lacrobat, an international arms smuggler, who is charged with getting it to the Shah’s supporters in Iran who would use it to return the Shah to power.

Everything goes horribly wrong.

Whoops Apocalypse could well be the blackest, most bitingly satirical TV series ever made. A series of increasingly absurd events leads, with grim inevitability to a deeply dark ending. It’s written by David Renwick and David Marshall and boasts a strikingly strong roster of comedy talent, including Alexi Sayle, John Cleese, Geoffrey Palmer and a very small part for a very young Rik Mayall and the above synopsis doesn’t come close to capturing the sheer insanity of the series. The jokes come so fast that I am going to have to watch it again to catch the jokes I missed through still laughing at the previous one.

Surprisingly, for a series set in the early 80s and which directly parodies political characters from that time, a lot of the caricatures still work today. Which probably says something about the extent to which the world hasn’t changed.

Wear you mushroom with pride.

How many balloons would it take to launch a flightless duck?

The kids and I were watching an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse the other day, and I found myself wondering how many helium-filled balloons it would take to get Daisy Duck airborne.

It all comes down to buoyancy, of course. Helium is lighter than air and the difference in relative weights will give us the lift needed to launch the duck.

The University of Hawaii’s Chemistry Department provides some handy gas constants:

Standard Temperature and Pressure = 20 degrees C and 760 mm Mercury

STP = 760 mm pressure and 20 C

Weight of air per liter at STP = 1.20 gr/l
Weight of helium per liter at STP = 0.18 gr/l
Net lift per liter of helium at STP = 1.03 gr/l

The volume of a sphere is (4/3)πr3, so a perfectly spherical balloon with a 30cm diameter would have a volume of 14137.166941154 cubic cm, or 14.137 litres. That gives us a lift of 14.56 grams.

The next question is: How much does Daisy Duck weigh?

I’m going to assume that she is a normal size for a duck and, being completely white, probably a pekin which, Wikipedia reveals, grows to a weight of between 3.6 and 5 kilos. Taking the mid-point gives me a weight of 4.3 kilos for Daisy. Or 4300 grams.

That means we would need 296 helium balloons to launch Daisy Duck.