Tomorrow's world today

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Indy Lifestyle Online
When I was a kid, persuading your parents to please, please let you watch Tomorrow's World was the canniest way to guarantee a ringside seat for Top of The Pops, which came on immediately afterwards. I don't think there were many grown-ups labouring under the misapprehension that their children were more interested in fibre-optic technology than in the Wombles' chart position, but, by colluding with their devious offspring, at least they themselves might get to watch Pan's People or that nice Demis Roussos.

The programme makers established a tradition of involving children in TW, taking their cameras into Britain's classrooms and asking the pupils to describe their vision of the future.

This scenario will be familiar to almost every child of the post-nuclear age. "What will life be like in the Year 2000?" wins the Enid Blyton award for Most Predictable Essay Title of the 1970s. But we all loved the idea of scripting our own destiny, and those of us blessed with an active imagination would not miss an opportunity to unleash it.

Most kids fell into one of two categories: the Tomorrow People and the Doom Mongers. The former envisaged a bright future based on the outlandish storylines and one-dimensional characters underpinning so many childrens' TV dramas of the time. Silver jumpsuits, teletransportation and a world in which parental intervention was inexplicably absent inspired many a fertile young mind. The Doom Mongers were born with more neuroses than Woody Allen (not unlike the child in his film Radio Days who becomes terminally despondent upon learning that the universe is expanding and may explode as a result). Add to that their perpetual anxiety over Russia, a sudden outbreak of rabies or the threat of nuclear holocaust, and it's a wonder these over-sensitive types ever got any homework done.

In TW's 1966 report from a Home Counties primary school, several such children voiced their concerns about post-millenial Britain (or The Future, as it was ambiguously referred to by the uncertain masses.)

"I think the sun will burn out," warbled one frightened ninny, whose shoulders were as over-burdened by two enormous bunches of hair as they were by her dread of the future. "Or perhaps there'll be another Ice Age." Thirty years on, time has shown that - happily for her - this girl clearly possessed no burgeoning talent for climatography. But somehow you suspect that her formative angst stayed with her until she discovered Prozac.

Some of her classmates adopted a less helpless attitude towards a world spinning out of control. "Automation will put people out of work - and something has to be done about it," barked one eight-year-old cherub with all the unflinching conviction of Jeremy Paxman. "There will be too many people and a lack of jobs. If I weren't a biologist, that's what I'd do - temper the population problem in some way."

OK sonny, you're spot-on and there's a future for you as international marketing director of Durex products. In the meantime, go and torture your sister or break a few windows with your catapult, why don't you? Kids!

Tomorrow's World is off-air this week, but returns to BBC1 on 20 May at 7.30, with Philippa Forrester's report on the use of animatronic puppets in the new West End production of Dr Dolittle.

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