“My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, or in a comma, or back in time?” So says the voice of Sam Tyler, a 21st Century police officer, over the opening credits of the hit BBC TV drama series Life on Mars, first broadcast in January 2006. It ran to two series and was such a phenomenon it was followed up by another series, Ashes to Ashes, featuring another character, Alex Drake, this time thrown back to 1983 as the result of being shot in the line of duty.
Both meet the same characters “back then” and both suffer culture shock as they have to adapt not just to the more primitive policing methods but the customs and idiom of those very different times. Both series are packed with politically incorrect dialogue and assumptions as we follow the very un-PC Detective Inspector Gene Hunt and his team in their efforts to keep the streets safe.
You can sympathise with the main characters’ impatience with and attempts at correcting unreformed police officers who call a deaf boy a “spastic”, who regard WPCs as being there to make the tea and be leered at, who make gags at the expense of black people and homosexuals and who regard criminals as deserving of “a good kicking.” Thank goodness for most of us the world isn’t like that anymore. But is it any better?
If roles were reversed and DI Gene Hunt were to wake up in 2010 how would he faire? Of course, he wouldn’t last five minutes because in that time he would have broken just about every anti-discrimination law in the country, not to mention health and safety. But what would he think of a world where a question from a pensioner about immigration becomes an international news story?
Where we allow our society to be slowly colonised by Muslims at the same time as we are at war with Muslim countries and Muslims are becoming suicide bombers on our streets – and we are not even allowed to talk about it for fear of being labelled Islamophobic?
What would he think of the proliferation of mosques across the country when young Muslims are being radicalised in some of those same mosques? Of the rise in popularity of the BNP and the real and frankly frightening prospect of Nick Griffin getting a seat in the British parliament and all because no one else is prepared to talk about the problems of immigration and he cashes in on that fact?
What would Gene Hunt make of a Britain where our libel laws are so wacky that “libel tourism” has become a major problem and Eastern European as well as other criminals, businessmen and politicians are flocking to our shores to sue investigative journalists who are getting too close to the facts? Where a journalist is guilty until proven innocent? Where foreign criminals are enslaving girls and running them as sex slaves in our towns and streets?
What would he make of a country where broadcast news is no longer news but tittle-tattle and gossip. Where the cult of celebrity puts no-talent nobodies on the front pages of our newspapers? Where news broadcasters do pieces to camera while the main event goes on behind them because they believe their comment and opinion is more valuable than those of the people who actually run the country, its businesses and services?
What would Gene Hunt think of a country where we are policed at a distance by cameras and are now the most scrutinised society after China and Russia? Where teachers run the real risk of being physically attacked, maligned on social networking sites, accused of abuse and little or nothing to be done because we are currently in the grip of the cult of the child? Where having a baby is regarded by some as a career move and others as an occupational hazard? Where aborting a baby is considered so inconsequential that it is possible to do it in your lunch break, like going for a dump?
How would he faire in this brave new world where we are all so PC, not because it makes for a better world but because of some misplaced guilt over our patriarchal history of empire that makes us feel we have to be the world’s social worker and “understand” how hard it must be having been our victims? Where we are actually implicated in charges of torture along with our “special friends” and war allies? Where right and wrong are defined not by agreed standards of decency and morality but by who has the money to sue you if you don’t toe the line they draw and dare you to cross, those who cry, “its our world now so have a care how you walk in it or we will have you for dinner!”
There have always been problems and each generation must find its own way to deal with them but the one “solution” that must be avoided like the jaws of hell is the one that insists, like Basil Fawltey, “Don’t mention the war (or immigration, or abortion, or over-surveillance, or Islamification)!” If we can’t express our views, share our fears and hopes, declare our convictions and speak our minds without fear of retribution and the PC brigade then we are storing up problems that may explode in a reaction of violence that we neither want nor can fully realise until it is too late.
George Orwell said, “Liberty is the freedom to tell people what they don’t want to hear.” That liberty is in real danger in Britain and while we are all arguing terms on what terms we can use in public discourse and private conversation there are those with a very different agenda planning our future and that of our children. Maybe we need a Gene Hunt to share with us some well overdue home truths and perhaps it doesn’t matter too much in what terms as long as we face them.
Yes, it is a different world and in some ways the changes are welcome, but is it really a better world? I don’t think so.