Friday, 11 August 2006

Patrick Allen

Patrick Allen died this week.

So what? Big deal? He was a C movie actor who found belated fame (at the age of 78) as a voice over artist for E4. One might argue that he was made as it were post-apocalyptically famous and that these voice overs were his ultimate acts of irony.

But there was more to him than this. In 1975 he took on some voice overs for a series of animations made by Richard Taylor Cartoons. These animations were to be the tv and radio broadcasts for when the tv people, along with the government, had headed down to the shelters before a nuclear war. They were called "Protect and Survive". There was no irony intended, or needed, for many thousands of people could have protected and survived, using its advice - enough, at least, to provide the labour to start again. It did not, and never intended to, mean that everyone or anyone could survive. In fact, the deaths of most listeners are encoded in the broadcasts if you listen carefully enough; it is the suburbanites that the films are aimed at (damn that ammunition for socialists!).

Patrick Allen would have been, probably, the last voice you ever heard, had there been a nuclear war between 1975 and 1983. The Protect and Survive series of PIFs, classified for quite a while (though obviously made available for the Threads team to use) would have been broadcast on TV and radio in the run up to a nuclear war. His brilliantly deep but never heavy nor not too RP (less so than Peter Jones, whose voice would have given us an ironic world war III) voice was perfect to tell Britain what to do in the event of the unthinkable.

He was the end of the world.

"If, however, you have had a body in the house for more than five days, and if it is safe to go outside, then you should bury the body for the time being in a trench, or cover it with earth, and mark the spot of the burial." [Casualties]

Casualties, and especially this passage, would probably, because of its extreme pessimism (ie realism) have been the very last broadcast before the alarm. I mean, given that most of it would have been on a cycle, the last one to go to air before the final unchanged cycle began on a loop, would have been "Casualties". This may have been as late as the day before a strike; Threads suggests no more than two hours before. It is surely a piece of post-modern irony inherent in the world itself that in 1986 the piss-poor tv series "Casualty" started, and was a huge success.

RIP Patrick Allen, RIP the C20, RIP the Cold War.

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