Nick Thomas Media Matter
Last week I closed by wondering whether the Prime Minister still has – still plays with, even – his toy Thunderbird bearing the legend “TB1”, and the more I think about it the more attractive the idea becomes. The puppet head that’s much too big for the body, the bulging eyes, the grandiose aspirations to international dogoodery...
Friends remind me that Mr Blair is five years my senior, and that, had he shared my enthusiasm for Thunderbirds even from its first appearance in 1965, he would still have been somewhat immature for his years. To this I reply: “Your point being?” And anyway, there was another element to the series that strikes a disturbing resonance down the decades, namely that even though it was British, its heroes, the Tracy family, were American. Lady Penelope, with her six-wheeler pink Rolls, was a supporting character.
For 20 years after World War Two the triumph of American propaganda among British children was complete. Not that we believed the US had won the war – we knew far too many of the real victors to swallow that one – but, for us, the present and the future were decidedly American. We loved westerns, we played cowboys and indians, we watched Hannah/Barbera cartoons. All the exciting new technology was coming from across the Pond, and all things and people American were automatically cool, to the extent that I had to be convinced at great length by my father that Roger Moore, the supercool “Saint”, was an Englishman.
So for Tracy Island, centre of International Rescue with its colossal miracle-working machines and its own space station, to be anything but the creation of Americans would be unthinkable. Who else would have the vision, let alone the money, for such an undertaking? The sad truth is that Gerry Anderson had to give his puppets American voices, not in order to reach the US market, but to make the whole concept plausible to English kids.
You can see where I’m going with this. Tony Blair is not a stupid man, and would not be one to fall under the personal spell of George W Bush, or even the clever and charming Bill Clinton, because of their personalities alone. But it is very clear that, unlike some of us, he never grew out of his starryeyed awe of the United States, its size, its wealth, above all its power. The man is positively tanned with reflected glory, and whatever one might think about the practical consequences of this, it is at least partly Gerry Anderson’s fault.
Now it seems that not just Downing Street but Parliament itself is to lose Tony Blair at the next election. This presents a problem for the hacks. Do we start to soft pedal in our work on the PM, do we ease up on the satire and the abuse in preparation for his apotheosis? Or do we give the smarmy soand-so as much boot as we can while we’ve still got the chance?
And, when the time comes, how will we write him up? The victor of three elections, reformer of his party, tamer of trade unions and socialist back-benchers, the man who made Labour electable and modernised British politics? Or megalomaniac, cynic and deceiver, the man who first destroyed Britain’s credibility and then its civil liberties? And which would be worse?
Of course, we might have to postpone the political obituary until Tony has finished being President of Europe, or SecretaryGeneral of the UN or whatever, but somehow I doubt it. He’s looking pretty tired, and he’s had one heart scare already, and he does have a family to consider. So I reckon he’ll just retire to some secret island, all kitted out with American money, where he can sit and play with his toy machines.