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.