Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Baxter Prophecy

Raymond Baxter: Gentleman. Prophet.

Back in 1980 or 1981 – I can't remember to be honest, and the year isn't hugely important anyway – our school was visited by one of the gods of British television: Raymond Baxter.

The host of BBC1's Tomorrow's World, the name inspired awe in teenagers of a certain geek level and made Thursday nights (TW and Top of the Pops) the highlight of the week. The only problem for me was that the former fighter pilot turned affable old-school television presenter would only be addressing the Sixth Form. I was not in the Sixth Form. Disappointment loomed.

"Good news, Coleman," said my tutor Mr Delaney, "They're letting one person from each middle school group go to the talk. Do you want to go?"

"Shit, yes, sir!"

"Beg pardon?"

"I said 'yes sir'."

Everybody called Mr Delaney 'Donkey'. We only called him this because on our first day he told everybody that his nickname was 'Donkey' (after the Val Doonican song), and we were forbidden ON PAIN OF DEATH of every uttering the D-word in his presence. So, in an early manifestation of the Streisand Effect, even other teachers called him Donkey, often to his face.

"Shit, yes, sir!"

"You'll have to dress up, though," he warned me. Sixth-formers at Piggott had to wear a suit to school, and I was going through a phase of scruffy jumper and school tie knotted to the size of Mike Tyson's fist. "Have you got a school blazer?"

I did not have a school blazer, but my brother did, so come the day of the Baxter visit it was dressed up like a proper toff for the first and only time in my entire secondary school career. And like a proper toff and a swat I planted myself in the front row in the sixth form block, pad at the ready to take notes for my report on the great man's speech. Think Will from The Inbetweeners, briefcase wanker.

And so Baxter arrived to much glad-handing from teachers who were pleased to have caught such a prestigious scalp, who had travelled al the way from his home about two miles away. Two miles! Celebrities in our midst! (We also had singer Mary Hopkin living in a house behind a huge hedge down our road, and Kenny Everett across the fields and down by the river, but to have Raymond Baxter too, well...)

And then he spoke. At length.

I, for one, was hoping for jolly japes about the making of Tomorrow's World and how he might have snapped off Judith Hann's hair after freezing it in liquid nitrogen for a laugh*. Or winding up James Burke behind the scenes with the latest in high-tech killer robots**. Or perhaps rollocking tales of his time as a WWII fighter pilot, giving Jerry at damn good thrashing in his daring raids on V-2 sites***. Or...


Instead he told us about a future where resources were running short, our country – North Sea Oil exhausted – becoming dependent on other producers while science scrabbled for alternative sources, as governments and business clung grimly to the oil and gas they know and love. All this at a time when man-made pollution and population expansion would cause climactic and food supply crises.

"Perhaps not in my lifetime, but possibly in yours," he intoned gravely, to a quiet room.

Boring, this young teen thought to himself, slamming shut his notepad with hardly a word written.

But I still went and did the celebrity thing, because that's what you do. I got his autograph, told him I was in the Scouts, and he urged me to use my bright young future to work towards solving the future problems that he had spoken about.

So far, I haven't.

Raymond Baxter was, in fact, one of the first famous people I had ever met, and I was a bit overawed by the whole experience. He he remains one of a growing list of well-known people I have encountered that prove "Never meet your heroes" to be the complete rubbish that it truly is. Douglas Adams, Lenny Henry, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Norden, Spike Milligan - take a bow if you're still breathing enough to do so. 

"So," said Donkey the next day, "Was it any good? What did he say?"

"He said we're all going to die, sir."

But he was right. So very, very right. I should have listened.

* He never did this
** Nor this
*** But he certainly did this


TRT said...

You dressed like a paddle designed to kill flying insects?

isolator42 said...

I'm rather jealous that you have met Douglas Adams.
Make that *insanely* jealous...

Do you have a story about that meeting? :)

Alistair Coleman said...


I went into a book shop.

Douglas Adams was there signing books.

He signed one for me.

I said thank you.


Flaxen Saxon said...

Indeed. You should never meet your hero’s. And certainly not twice. My hero was Mr Johnson my mathematics teacher. He taught me the beauty of the infinitesimal calculus. Apparently Newton and Leibnitz fell out over who discovered it first. My money is on Newton. Although we use Leibnitz’s notation. Interesting that the two greatest intellects ever, happened to be contemporary. After I left school (Tipton Secondary Modern), we went our separate ways. Then when I turned 21 I came across him once again in the local pub. He was pissed. Later I came across him in the local park sucking off another man. That explains why he never married. I don’t have a problem with homosexuality and could care less about folk’s sexuality. It was just tawdry. My hero no more.