the padded brown envelope was the vidchip in the familiar protective
Perspex casing. On the front was a yellow post-it note. He recognised
Bill Patterson's scrawled handwriting at once because it was in his
familiar, flamboyant, purple ink.
the footage to go out tonight.
All approved by L.T.
emigrating to New Zealand.
Goodman shrugged. Bill wasn't the first to react like this. A lot of
those who'd worked with Luke had decided to get out now while the
going was good. He had a reputation for holding grudges and he had
just become a very powerful man.
didn't have to look at the piece. He could just hand it over to the
technician on his way out. Still, out of habit, he slid the neat
little package into the slot in the player where it connected with a
satisfying click. There was a moment's dislocation as the room was
filled with static and then the cueing information.
room went white and then was filled with tiny black snowdrops which
twitched madly for a fraction of a second and were gone.
programme titles here.
single line of black text bobbed in the middle of the room. The words
twitched, flicked their tail and flashed past Charles's ear, so close
he couldn't resist the urge to duck.
countdown. Three... two... one.
first figure appeared, it was a vox pop on a suburban street. A
48, a salesman.
short, chubby man in a cheap suit stood in the room, about six feet
from where Charles sat.
one thing I learned from my father was, always look out for number
one. It's been the one constant of my life and I always thought that
everyone else lived by the same rules - at least everyone who wasn't
too stupid to deserve everything they got.
can call it human nature. You can call it genetic. Hell you can call
it your Great Aunt Mable for all I care, mate. But I live my life
looking after myself and my family and expect everyone else to do the
same. And if that means that every now and then someone gets trampled
if they got in my road? Too bad.
what am I doing here? Looking after number one. Politicians take our
money and we get nothing back. It was time for a change."
21, a student.
looked like she came from the kind of family with no compunction
about burdening a child with a name like Cressida. Her blonde dreads
and a nose ring didn't disguise the twang of a well-bred Home
County's accent and a bearing that suggested growing up with gun
I was into Booker's work long before he became famous. Of course
everyone says that now, don't they?
with me it's true. Honestly! I must have sat through "Captain
Swing" a dozen times when it first came out. Have you seen it?
Most of the people here wouldn't even know that Booker was in that
one and the rest probably saw it after he became famous - when they
re-released it. But I saw it the first time and thought he was
gorgeous. I've been following him ever since. He's lovely.
when he started all this, well I was one of the first to join up.
He's really sexy."
had a spider's web tattoo peaking out from under the collar of a Nike
tee-shirt. His face was the colour of artificially smoked haddock and
he looked angry.
tell you the truth, mate, I don't know nothin' about politics or
anyfing. I mean I vote and that but, well, nuffing ever changes, does
it? And they're all the same, ain't they? At least that's what I
then Booker said that stuff and I fought to myself: 'He's right,
y'know.' That's what I fink.
I know it was only a show and that it was a script and all, I ain't
fick. But well, they seem so real these days, and anyway, all them
politicians have scriptwriters, don't they? What's the difference?"
was small, dressed very precisely and looked slightly worried about
being asked to give any kind of opinion, still she was angry enough
once she got started.
mother retired when she was sixty. But when I was forty they told me
I would have to work until I was sixty-five, then it went up to
seventy. Now they've told my company that it is illegal to give me my
pension until I'm 75 unless I can prove I'm senile or sick. It isn't
no I'm not exactly sure what Booker will do about it but he's got to
be better than the other lot. Like he said in his show: 'It isn't
right that the ordinary people have to pay.' Well I'm an ordinary
person. And it isn't right that I have to pay. Isn't that right?"
wiped his nose at the camera. He had dark hair that was just starting
to grow out of a particularly vicious crew cut. He looked straight
into the camera, grinning.
sister was watching it because she loves Booker. Everyone was talking
about it at school. And the same thing happened to my brother. Kind
of. So when I saw the march on the news, my mates and me, we came
down to watch.
Mom says that its time they gave someone ordinary a chance to run
think Booker is cool."
wore a black baseball cap with a message that had been blurred by the
technicians. Squinting Charles could just make out what looked like
the words "**** You Too!" in large white lettering.
'mericans have had an actor for President three or four times ain't
dey? Reagan 'n' Oprah 'n' Adam Sandler and dat oder one, ain't dey.
Course dey were elected and everyting, but what's the difference
loved his show. 'Specially when he chucked dem Brant brothers in
d'river. I hope dey don't stop de show just 'cos he's running dings
think dey will? Dat id be a shame."
for a moment the transmission fades to black. Then another caption.
One line of white text floats in the darkness of the room.
Street, 7:30, 26/12/22
had cut in a scene from Booker's show soap opera, East Street.
crowded courtroom of the Old Bailey, Harry Coyle (played by Booker
Hale) is in the dock for murder.
honour, I just have to say this. I admit I killed them Brant
brothers, but they deserved it. I'm just an ordinary man and I've
done everything I can to make it in this world. But them Brants, they
was crooks and it ain't right that they should be able to steal my
money just because they had the contract for the tax collection. I
was just doing what any honest man would.
is still a free country.
courtroom fades. Another member of the public appears.
is good-looking. He has a deep tan and a gold earring. He smiles
broadly revealing even white teeth.
Nah! I don't think we was manipulated. We was just doing what we'd
all wanted to do for years.
set us free."
37, mother and homemaker.
has a baby tucked under one arm, a pushchair full of shopping in
front of her and two older children clinging to her long floral skirt
as she speaks. A small, silver Christian fish badge is prominent on
the collar of her Barbour.
it started when the police were ordered to stop us going across the
could see Big Ben but there was this huge cordon of policemen in riot
gear across the bridge and, in front of them, about thirty or forty
more on horses. We could see that we wouldn't be let past so we just
stopped. I had my little girl with me and I started to get worried
for her. The atmosphere was very tense.
from behind me, I don't know who started it, but someone started
chanting. Soon everyone in the crowd started. Thousands of people,
hundreds of thousands.
Coyle! Harry Coyle! Everyone chanted."
is pretty. She has long, jet black hair and dark brown eyes. Charles
gets distracted for a moment before she starts to speak in an
unappealing high-pitched whine.
was right at the front, yeah.
No, no one organised it, did they? No I just got there first.
when the chanting started, you could see right away the effect on the
police. 'Harry Coyle!' Over and over again. A lot of the coppers
obviously sympathised. When the first one dropped his shield and
walked away... wow! You could hear the cheering and celebrating
spread back along the march. It was weird. It went on forever.
a couple of minutes about ninety percent of the police had called it
a day. A lot of them just came over and stood in the front rows with
us. Even the ones with horses.
horses drop shit everywhere, don't they?"
Street, 7:30, 26/12/22
sentencing. The courtroom is crowded, the judge has put on his black
another clip from the soap opera. Charles sighed, he'd seen this clip
a thousand times over the last few weeks He stood up and walked
across to the little bar he kept stocked in a filing cabinet drawer.
He poured himself a large Laphroaig, gulped it down in one slug,
grimacing, and then poured himself another, even larger drink. On his
way back to his desk he walked through the image of the judge.
Howard Coyle, you have admitted murdering two servants of the crown.
Whatever your motives and whatever one might think of those two
servants, the penalty is clear. I have no option but to sentence you
to be taken from this place to prison and thence to a place of
execution where you will be free to choose the means, from those set
down in law, of your own death.
up: Mary Coyle, pulling a gun from her bag.
throws a gun to Harry and reaches into her bag for another. Harry
catches the gun and slides a bullet into the chamber with a
Your Honour, but I've got no intention of dying today, tomorrow or
shoots the judge, once in the head and once in the heart. The crowd
gasps. Two guards make a move to draw their weapons, but stop as
dozens of people in the courtroom pull out guns and cock them. The
policemen put down their weapons gingerly. Harry looks straight into
the camera and smiles, blowing the smoke from his gun's barrel.
think its time we took our country back.
40, police traffic manager.
has cut her hair into a sensible short brown bob. Her clothes are
practical rather than attractive and her shoes are comfortable black
about an hour of the end of East Street the main roads into central
London were at gridlock. I'd never seen anything like it before. But
I really knew something big was happening when, about 9:30 in the
evening people just got out of their cars and walked. They just got
out and walked. Some of them must have walked ten miles to get into
Westminster. They were still coming in at noon the next day, long
after the whole thing was cut and dried. They just wanted to be near
I said, I've never seen anything like it and I don't suppose I ever
Pimlott, 55, former Prime Minister.
is shocked. He'd met Pimlott more than once but the man looked like
he'd aged thirty years in a few weeks. There were grey streaks in his
hair where none had been before and his face was etched deep with
lines. If Pimlott had slept for an hour since all this had happened
Charles would have been surprised. The man might not have been much
of a politician but Charles felt a pang of pity for him now.
whole country went mad. This is Great Britain for God's sake. We
don't have revolutions.
mean I like East Street as much as the next person, though I didn't
see that episode myself at the time. I watched a recording later of
course. At the time I was at a summit in Helsinki.
know as well as anyone else that we were going through hard times. I
felt it too - just as much as you or the man in the street - and of
course I wasn't happy.
madness and I fear the people and the country will live to regret it.
course the real power behind it all is Torpey. Watch that boy. He's
very clever. Very dangerous."
Torpey, 28, East Street producer.
shudders and his breath hisses through his teeth, shrinking back from
the sharp suited presence now dominating his room. Charles reacts to
Torpey like a startled cat. Pressing pause, Charles gets up from his
desk and walks around the young producer, getting close enough to
this safely neutered version of the man to see the point where the
resolution of the holographic projector fails and Torpey reveals
himself as just another construct of cleverly manipulated pixels.
Charles pokes the hologram as if double-checking that it is really
bastard, aren't you Torpey? But will this little country of ours be
enough for you, eh? What's next, Torpey? What next?"
was no reply. Charles swiped his fist at Torpey's face, but it just
slipped through, leaving no trace save a momentary flicker in the
sat down and checked the time on the player. It was almost finished.
He pressed play and Torpey sprang smoothly to life.
one could have predicted how the public would react, could they? It
was beyond belief.
we broadcast that episode. How long ago was it? Really? It seems more
like two years than two weeks. Since then I've had a dozen
sociologists write to me about the history of how products of popular
culture have helped change the law or change public attitudes in the
past. But no programme ever had an effect like East Street.
course some people said that it all happened because of the increased
impact of widecast technology. It makes everything seem more real.
But I like to think that a great team of artists - and dare I say
producers - combined to make a truly great piece of entertainment
that made people demand a better country.
course nothing would have happened if the people hadn't want change.
role? Booker has asked me to stay on as his personal advisor.
behind the throne? Me? No, Booker is very much his own man. And
thrones aren't his style. I just feel very proud to be lucky enough
to work with him and help him."
Hale, 37, Prime Minister designate.
wasn't any denying that Hale was a handsome bugger. Six foot four and
broad shouldered even without the slight, but to Charles obvious,
magnification applied by the programme-makers. It was, he'd been
assured by women, his eyes that got you first. Not since Paul Newman
had eyes so blue stared from a screen. But these eyes were soulful.
"My child abuse hell", the papers had screamed shortly
after his rise to fame. Here was a good father. An honest man. A man
who could understand your pain because he'd suffered too.
Hale was also a "man's man." This was a guy who other men
sink a dozen pints with, shovel in a curry and talk about football
until they all threw up. Hale was a 'fanatical Hammer' Charles had
been reliably informed by more than one love-struck male colleague.
was smiling. Hale was relaxed. He looked a million quid's worth of
star. But, if you didn't worry about it, he seemed to reassure the
audience, then neither would he. Let's have a chat.
course I was surprised. One day I'm an actor, thanking my lucky stars
to have been chosen to play such a big role in East Street, and the
next I'm Prime Minister. It's impossible.
just consider myself very lucky to have been given this opportunity
to serve my country. I never expected this but people have put their
trust in me in an extraordinary way. I just hope that I'm up to the
all want a fresh start. Of course I can't pretend to be an expert in
all the big issues but I expect my common sense approach to make a
big difference. I've got some very good advisors who already have a
lot of great ideas.
course we have had to suspend Parliament until we can elect a new set
of people to replace those old politicians. I expect we'll be able to
do that soon but we don't see any immediate rush. After all the
people have shown us very clearly what they want, haven't they?
Street. Well that still goes on and there are a lot of plot points to
be tied up. Of course I'll be busy but I'm confident I can combine
both roles so, as soon as things settle down, I'll be back. It's a
great show and people love it."
hit the switch on the remote just as the timecode faded and the room
started to fill with static. That was it. He ejected the vidchip from
the player and slipped it back in the envelope. Give it to Judy on
your way out, Charles thought, she can pass it to the technicians for
was going to be a hell of a price to pay for Luke Torpey's ambition
and Charles had decided that he didn't want to be one of those left
with the bill. He walked to the door, picked up his bags and looked
back at his office.
any luck I might be on the same flight as Bill," he muttered.
"Good drinker Bill. Might help pass the time."
locked his office for the last time and headed for the airport.