1984: Year of Orwellian dystopia


The advent of 1984 quite naturally led to plenty of talk surrounding George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, 1984 – which, of course, was actually written decades earlier (in 1948) and first published in 1949. Orwell’s prescient tale of Big Brother, the Ministry of Truth, ‘Doublethink’, ‘Newspeak’, Room 101 and State control has even more resonance today, having entered popular culture and the collective psyche over several decades. In fact, in some quarters, it has come to be regarded more as a work of prophecy than actual fiction! During 1984 itself, there were many films, TV dramas and newspaper/magazine articles on the theme of Orwellian dystopia.

In many ways 1984 was indeed dystopian. In that twelve months alone, the unimaginable total of 1 million people died from famine in Ethiopia – leading directly to the Live Aid events of the following year (see next blog). In December 1984, Live Aid’s precursor, Band Aid, also led by Sir Bob Geldof, launched the charity single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ in support of famine relief.

The miner’s strike (which lasted into 1985) officially began in March 1984. By its end, a way of life and an entire industry in the North of England lay in ruins. It was also reputedly the most violent and bitter industrial dispute of the UK in the 20th century – with the police and miners having vicious running battles seemingly every week.

In April the comedian Tommy Cooper suffered a heart attack and died during a live TV appearance. During the same month, WPC Yvonne Fletcher, was shot dead on duty while policing a demonstration outside the Libyan Embassy in London’s St James’s Square. The shot came, sniper style, from within the Libyan Embassy itself. Controversially, the killer was allowed to leave the Embassy with other Embassy staff under the law of ‘diplomatic immunity’. To this day, nobody has ever been convicted of the murder – and a poignant memorial still stands in St James’s Square.

In October the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference in what was known in those days as a ‘spectacular’. I still remember a bad taste joke doing the rounds among my university pals at the time: What do you call a man with a hotel on his head? Norman Tebbit.

1984 was also the year in which crack cocaine first appeared on the streets –originating in Los Angeles and then crossing the Atlantic (in the way these things inevitably do)

Moving away from dystopian events – 1984 was the year in which the first ever Apple Mac computer was released. Who would have thought that 27 years later the company would have even greater cash reserves than the entire US government?! Oh, to have been an investor!

There was a Euro football tournament in June – Euro 84. It was held in France – and won by France; the Gallic hosts beating Spain 2-0 in the final. England – featuring such luminaries as Terry Butcher and Phil Neal – failed to even qualify!

The music in 1984 was largely OK – although I was actually more involved with playing music myself (as a drummer in the bands Dr Smack and The Frozen Turkeys and the Secret Purple Monkeys – with whom I played gigs at the Anarchist Bookshop in Brixton’s Railton Road and a Miners’ Strike benefit gig at the Bonington Square Squatters’ Community in Vauxhall). Albums I bought that year included The Smiths’ eponymous debut LP, Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads and Tonight by David Bowie (in which Mr Jones channelled tracks from Iggy Pop’s earlier – and better – Lust For Life LP).

The biggest single of the year was ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (aka FGTH). Of course, banning it (which a po-faced BBC actually did) helped its popularity no end. FGTH then dominated the charts for the rest of the year.

The movies in 1984 were pretty so-so – and certainly not as good as the preceding year. The box office hits of 84 included Gremlins, Karate Kid and The Woman In Red. 1984 also introduced the world to Freddie Krueger when the first ever Nightmare On Elm Street slasher flick was released. Two films I saw that year that made an impression on me were Amadeus and The Killing Fields. Another famous movie release from 84 was This Is Spinal Tap. Can you believe I’ve never seen it? (I know, I’ll have to get the DVD sometime this century!)

OK then amigos, here’s a pic of yours truly in 1984. See you all in 1985 on the next blog post.

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