Examining the extraordinary role of HG Wells in the creation of the nuclear bomb 70 years ago – how a simple, devastating idea led to the world we know today.
In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, Wells imagined bombs that destroy civilisation and lead to a new world order. But his “atomic bombs” – a name he conceived – are grenades that keep on exploding.
How did this idea become a reality?
The very talented (and sunniest, most charming fellow) Simon Guerrier asked me to provide a few voices for this documentary presented by Samira Ahmed and co-produced by another talented and charming Guerrier (there must be something in the family porridge), Simon’s brother Tom.
It’s quite an eclectic array from Yours Truly but hopefully they don’t all sound like me – and if they do I hope it doesn’t detract from what is a fascinating documentary which can be heard here until early August.
Well, what a treat that was. I arrived in Heathrow in good time and immediately bumped into a couple of Chicago bound fellow thespians : the always immaculate and charming Nigel Fairs and the whirlwind of fun that is Laura Doddington. Before long I was chatting to Leela and Winston Churchill in the departure lounge (i.e. the wonderful Louise Jameson, a truly classy lady, and Ian McNeice who I’d not met before and is charming and clearly chuffed to bits with his Doctor Who association). Rob Shearman sat next to me on the flight and we anticipated getting our hands of physical copies of Running Through Corridors before he fell asleep and took both armrests with him. I didn’t sleep for more than about twenty minutes, but Tony Lee popped over for a chat and made the last hour fly by.
And so we were in Chicago. As ever people made us feel very welcome and it was nice to see so many folks I only ever hook up with in the USA. We were really looked after by a charming and hospitable team of people and I can’t thank Gene, Jennifer, Tara, Ruth-Ann, Anne, Dennis and everybody else enough.
We had a Thanksgiving Buffet in which enough food to sate an entire nation (and probably sink a couple) was laid on, but America’s uncertainty with the natural appeal of the humble vegetable meant that each of them had been augmented in some way (generally involving drenching their honest healthiness with some sort of spoonful of death): cauliflower and broccoli gratin was especially successful, and the asparagus with hollandaise was scrummy, but sweet potatoes never have, and never will, require the addition of marshmallows. Is everyone in this nation pregnant? It seems odd to contrive a way to turn every single foodstuff into a sweet – even the bread and butter was (sweet)corn bread and maple (syrup) butter! I half expected to have pizza with spangles or shepherds pie studded with M & Ms the next day. I’m not saying it wasn’t delicious, but I’m not 100 per cent certain in was sane. Thanks are due to the lovely Karen Baldwin for organising us into a big party of barrel stomached Brits abroad. Yum, yum.
On Friday I woke ridiculously early and meandered about pointlessly (which is a neat summation of my 36 years on this planet actually). Rob and I did a pretty well attended panel (considering it was the first one in the big room on the first day) with our patient and genial publisher Lars Pearson who had proudly showed us the books when he arrived. There’s a brilliant bonus inside thanks to Katy Shuttleworth of a little running stick man at the top corner of each page who becomes a piece of animation if you quickly flip the pages – a neat, witty touch, very well rendered. Of course, having scrutinised the final text over and over again with a mircroscope, typos flew out of the page as soon as I read them, but that’s always the way. There aren’t too many, it’s just one always notices and dwells on the little niggles. It’s a handsome looking thing and I think it reads well.
We signed a few autographs for the very first people to buy the thing, which was great, and then I was chock-a-block with other panels including something called Toby Hadoke: One-on-One which I feared would be a literal description of the turnout. In my quest to be involved in the worst attended panel of the event I think I won – we started with three but by the end there were nine (including a baby, but I’m including the baby, all right?). I had a bet with Simon Guerrier (a delightful bear of a man whose wife Debbie was along for the trip too, which was good news because she’s lovely) that he’d get more than me on his One-on-One, and he tripled my paltry attendance. I love spending time with Simon as he’s jolly and always a good sounding board for ideas (and is full of interesting nuggets that he pops into conversation with a big grin) so why I only see him in a different continent when we live in the same city I’ve no idea.
Was that the day of the theatre panel? I think it was – where Ian, Frazer, Laura, Louise and about three thousand other people (it was a hefty panel – didn’t need me on it) were terribly kind not do be insulted having an oik like me, whose mimsy CV would be crushed to death by the first page of each of theirs, included amongst them discussing a life on the stage. Nick Briggs had a host of funny stories that he dealt out with apolmb and it turned out to be rather fun all told (but I really shouldn’t have been on it!). I did a Brian Blessed anecdote.
Later that night I was enjoying the fine company of Frazer Hines (this man should be on the after dinner speaking circuit – he’s full of stories, brilliantly told, and his enthusiasm for Doctor Who is wonderful to behold) and Lisa Bowerman (who is as much of an actor’s geek as I am, would you believe?) and got very grumpy having to be dragged away to do a thing called a Liars Panel. This is where the entire panel (of two) has to regale the questioners with witty answers that have no basis in fact, to hilarious effect. What actually happened was that Tony Lee regaled the questioners with witty answers that had no basis in fact, to hilarious effect and got loads of laughs and I spent the whole hour not having a clue what was going on and ended up doing jokes only myself and Lisa (whose atten dance to show solidarity I appreciated) could possibly understand. I even got dissed by someone in the front row who brazenly told Tony he “counted” because he’d written for Doctor Who (unlike me!). Charming. Then it was back to the bar and much needed buckets of booze. I worried that my response to the thing might have come across as disdain for Tony rather than my own bafflement at how the thing was supposed to work, but I think I made that clear to him afterwards. He’s a natural at these things and it’s obvious why he’s such a favourite at events like this.
It’s always a bit weird for me before I’ve done Moths as most people aren’t really sure what I’m doing there ; everyone was very friendly though, and I finally got to see my book in the flesh (or rather, paper). And I had breakfast with Jamie off of Doctor Who.
By the end of Friday, my arm was completely bruised by the amount I’d had to keep pinching myself.
NEXT TIME (I shall not be so lenient):
My wife arrives, Moths is performed, and Nicholas Briggs cries.