Katy Guest: Grow up with the triffids and you'll fear GM

Do old movies hold the key to modern decisions?
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The Independent Online

Is it possible to guess a person's politics by finding out which movies they watched when they were growing up as impressionable young teens? Possibly. Who else are Network Rail bosses but grown-up young nerds who watched Trevor Howard being snatched away from a tremulous Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter and vowed never to let the trains run on time again? How many members of the modern Conservative Party have secretly modelled themselves on a character in Brideshead Revisited? (It was probably Aloysius, in the case of Boris Johnson.) And do we really think that the stockbrokers, mortgage lenders and hedge-fund managers who have buggered up Britain during the credit crisis learned absolutely nothing from Charlie Sheen in Wall Street?

Back in the mid-1990s, when the debate about genetic modification of plants started in earnest in Commons corridors and at editorial conferences all over the world, those with instinctive views split into two distinct camps: those who had seen The Day of the Triffids, and those who hadn't. The BBC's classic adaptation, based on John Wyndham's 1951 novel, was first screened in 1981 – making those who were terrified by the rampaging, rubber three-legged plants the first time around the perfect vintage to be making decisions now about whether killer corn should be allowed to run riot in Scotland, whipping innocent scientists around the face with its leathery talons and upping roots to take over the world. Fine for people who hadn't seen the series, or read the book, to talk about feeding the needy with silos of fresh green veg; the rest of us were sharpening our secateurs and running like hell from meteor storms. Just ask Lembit Opik, the meteor-phobic Liberal Democrat MP – he was no doubt a keen viewer of the series, at home in Bangor, aged 16.

There is something very clever, then, about the timing of the announcement that the BBC is about to adapt the novel for our screens again. Patrick Harbinson (ER and Law & Order) and Julie Gardner (part of the team that revived Doctor Who) are bringing back the triffids in high-definition, to be screened as part of a two-part series on BBC1 next year.

In the novel, the man-eating plants are dispersed in seed form as part of a disastrous bio-terrorism experiment propagated by sinister Russians. They are farmed by greedy Westerners who see them as a cheap and plentiful source of fuel. Critics of the scheme are dismissed as naysayers and hippies by the ignorant oligarchs who reap the cash crop. Until, that is, a cataclysmic event makes human beings vulnerable. Before long, our hero, Bill Masen, is staggering through a devastated London, trying to save a group of broken men and women as civilisation collapses around him. Starving wretches claw at tinned food with their fingernails. It is much like Lidl, a year into the credit crunch.

Whoever is behind this latest re-adaptation must be an anti-GM green with ambivalent feelings about big business and a desire to expose sinister Russians, because, make no mistake, high-definition triffids are all it will take to mobilise the world. Has an eco-warrior spook been pulling strings at the BBC? Now, that could make a film.