The Revolution Will Be Televised

by

Martin McGrath

 

Inside 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.

Charles,
Here's the footage to go out tonight.
All approved by L.T.
I'm emigrating to New Zealand.
Goodbye.
Bill.

Charles 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.

Charles 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.

The room went white and then was filled with tiny black snowdrops which twitched madly for a fraction of a second and were gone.

Place programme titles here.

The 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.

"Bloody technicians."

A countdown. Three... two... one.

The first figure appeared, it was a vox pop on a suburban street. A caption read:

George, 48, a salesman.

A short, chubby man in a cheap suit stood in the room, about six feet from where Charles sat.

"The 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.

"You 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.

"So what am I doing here? Looking after number one. Politicians take our money and we get nothing back. It was time for a change."

Cressida, 21, a student.

Cressida 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 dogs.

"Well I was into Booker's work long before he became famous. Of course everyone says that now, don't they?

"But 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.

"So when he started all this, well I was one of the first to join up. He's really sexy."

Kyle, 42, unemployed.

Kyle 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.

"To 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 always fought.

"But then Booker said that stuff and I fought to myself: 'He's right, y'know.' That's what I fink.

"Course 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?"

Lucy, 65, accountant.

Lucy 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.

"My 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 fair.

"No, 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?"

Larry, 12, schoolboy.

Larry 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.

"My 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.

"My Mom says that its time they gave someone ordinary a chance to run things.

"I think Booker is cool."

Floyd, 34, cook.

Floyd 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.

"Dem '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 really?

"I 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 now.

"You think dey will? Dat id be a shame."

Just for a moment the transmission fades to black. Then another caption. One line of white text floats in the darkness of the room.

East Street, 7:30, 26/12/22

They had cut in a scene from Booker's show soap opera, East Street.

The crowded courtroom of the Old Bailey, Harry Coyle (played by Booker Hale) is in the dock for murder.

Harry Coyle:

Your 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.

This is still a free country.

#

The courtroom fades. Another member of the public appears.

Corrin, 29, builder.

Corrin is good-looking. He has a deep tan and a gold earring. He smiles broadly revealing even white teeth.

"Manipulated? Nah! I don't think we was manipulated. We was just doing what we'd all wanted to do for years.

"It set us free."

Juliet, 37, mother and homemaker.

Juliet 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.

"Well, it started when the police were ordered to stop us going across the bridge.

"We 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.

"Then 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.

"Harry Coyle! Harry Coyle! Everyone chanted."

Nas, 22, student.

Nas 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.

"I was right at the front, yeah.

"Organiser? No, no one organised it, did they? No I just got there first.

"Yeah, 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.

"Within 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.

"Them horses drop shit everywhere, don't they?"

East Street, 7:30, 26/12/22

The sentencing. The courtroom is crowded, the judge has put on his black cap.

It's 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.

Judge:

Harold 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.

Close up: Mary Coyle, pulling a gun from her bag.

Mary Coyle:

Harry, catch this!

She 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 satisfying click-clack.

Harry Coyle:

Sorry Your Honour, but I've got no intention of dying today, tomorrow or anytime soon.

Harry 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.

Harry Coyle:

I think its time we took our country back.


Geraldine, 40, police traffic manager.

Geraldine has cut her hair into a sensible short brown bob. Her clothes are practical rather than attractive and her shoes are comfortable black brogues.

"Within 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 the action.

"Like I said, I've never seen anything like it and I don't suppose I ever will again."

Gordon Pimlott, 55, former Prime Minister.

Charles 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.

"The whole country went mad. This is Great Britain for God's sake. We don't have revolutions.

"I 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.

"I 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.

"But an actor?

"From a soap?

"Its madness and I fear the people and the country will live to regret it.

"Of course the real power behind it all is Torpey. Watch that boy. He's very clever. Very dangerous."

Luke Torpey, 28, East Street producer.

Charles 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 insubstantial.

"Ambitious bastard, aren't you Torpey? But will this little country of ours be enough for you, eh? What's next, Torpey? What next?"

There 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 hologram.

Charles sat down and checked the time on the player. It was almost finished. He pressed play and Torpey sprang smoothly to life.

"No one could have predicted how the public would react, could they? It was beyond belief.

"Since 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.

"Of 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.

"Of course nothing would have happened if the people hadn't want change. That's obvious.

"My role? Booker has asked me to stay on as his personal advisor.

"Power 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."

Booker Hale, 37, Prime Minister designate.

There 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.

But 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.

Hale 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.

"Of 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.

"I 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 job.

"We 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.

"Of 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?

"East 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."

#

Charles 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 tonight's broadcast.

There 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.

"With any luck I might be on the same flight as Bill," he muttered. "Good drinker Bill. Might help pass the time."

Charles locked his office for the last time and headed for the airport.

END

 
 
Rate this Story
 
 
Martin McGrath is 33 and married to Moira and they are slowly starting to realise that it wasn't a joke and that she really is pregnant. Originally from Dungannon in Northern Ireland he now lives in Essex, England and is currently studying for a PhD at Nottingham Trent University. You can read another of his stories, "A banshee sang on Tottenham Court Road tube station" in the second issue of Fortean Bureau due online at www.forteanbureau.com in September.
 
 
: home : fiction
 

Copyright © 2002 Willowsoft Communications

Except where otherwise noted, content and design of this issue of THIS WAY UP : Speculative Fiction Online is copyright © 2000-2002 by Willowsoft Communications. Individual stories and articles remain the copyright of their respective authors. Stories and articles may be viewed on screen or printed out for private use only. Any other reproduction, except by express, written permission of the copyright owner is prohibited under international copyright laws.