What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

September 2022 | 8,200 words | Contents | They say…

Digest: He hated the first screenplay but loved the second one – and the special effects he saw.

Dystopia: Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles | Warner Bros

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick’s notes for proposed Sheep film, 1968

More options: from Berman to Blade Runner

SelecTV Guide article: early screenplay

Interview: Hollywood, novelisation, screenplays

Dick’s letter praises production

Dick enthuses after seeing shots at studio


The end bit


A personal opinion

Blade Runner 2049 was crap


Versions of Blade Runner

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Why I wrote this post

In the 70s – I’m now in my 70s – I read one of Dick’s sci-fi books and was hooked. I avidly read them all, in no particular order. (Or most of them, anyway.)

As novels – as stories – Dick’s books are probably flawed, but I love the humour, humanity and genius imagination in his writing.

After my 70s binge, I continued to be – casually – fascinated by the man and his ideas. Then recently, in a local charity bookshop, I came across and bought a wonderful book: The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, compiled and introduced by author Lawrence Sutin.

(I’ve since also discovered Sutin’s excellent authorised biography, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick.)

Reading Shifting Realities, I was struck by an article Dick had written for a magazine, SelecTV Guide, about the Blade Runner screenplay he’d read. As a fan of the film, I was intrigued by his anger at Ridley Scott.

I posted about it on Facebook, then started this post. I hope it’s a useful contribution to the huge amount of stuff out there about the fascinating Philip K Dick.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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We want to know

Genius sci-fi writer Philip K Dick sadly died young(ish) in 1982 (aged 53, from strokes and heart failure) shortly before the release of Ridley Scott‘s film Blade Runner, adapted from Dick’s book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (hereon abbreviated as Sheep).

Fans, like me, of the book and the film, aware of the great differences between the two, may anxiously wonder what the famously obsessive Dick knew about the film-in-progress – and what he thought of it.

This post is what I’ve found out about Dick’s views on:

  • Pre-Blade Runner options for Sheep
  • An early screenplay for Blade Runner
  • Hollywood – good and bad
  • The screenplay rewrite
  • The pre-release shots he saw.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick’s notes for proposed Sheep film, 1968

Grace Slick as Rachael!

In 1968, Dick’s recently published Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was optioned by film producer Bertram Berman. Dick sent Berman some notes (1) on how the book might be made into a film.

In his notes to Berman, Dick analysed the possibilities with enthusiasm. He discussed changing the story and ditching parts of it. He analysed the characters and how their characteristics and relationships might be altered.

He wanted Deckard’s darkness and violence to be emphasised. He examined at length the philosophy of sex with an android.

He made casting suggestions: Gregory Peck as Deckard – and Grace Slick as Rachael!


Berman apparently didn’t respond, and his option expired in the 1970s. His indifference poignantly mismatched Dick’s confident eagerness.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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More options: from Berman to Blade Runner

‘Shall I beat you up here or at my apartment?’

After Berman’s option (see above) lapsed, Sheep was optioned by Herb Jaffe, and then by Hampton Fancher. Fancher’s screenplay was optioned by producer Michael Deeley and eventually filmed as Blade Runner.

Herb Jaffe

In the early 70s, producer Herb Jaffe optioned Sheep. Wikipedia says Dick was unimpressed with the screenplay by Jaffe’s son, Robert. Dick said:

    ‘Jaffe’s screenplay was so terribly done … Robert flew down to Santa Ana to speak with me about the project. And the first thing I said to him when he got off the plane was, ‘Shall I beat you up here at the airport, or shall I beat you up back at my apartment?’

    Wiki ref: Future Noir by Paul Sammon (7)

Dick’s bark was evidently worse than his bite. In an interview (11), he said of Robert and his screenplay:

    It was really bad news, but we remain­ed very close friends after that and they finally let their option drop.

Hampton Fancher – background

Before getting the rights to Sheep and working on Blade Runner, Hampton Fancher was a film actor and would-be filmmaker.

In a 2017 interview to promote Blade Runner 2049 (which he co-wrote), Fancher spoke about writing Blade Runner.

He said that in 1975, after some unsuccessful attempts at filmmaking, he wanted to make a commercial film. He thought SF was the next big thing, and was advised by a friend to read Sheep.

    ‘I went out, got it, read it, and I didn’t like it that much but I saw the through-line: [*] detective, bureaucrat, chasing after androids.’

    [* Through-line: North American; a connecting theme, plot, or characteristic in a film, television series, book, etc.]

Fancher’s astonishingly crass misreading of Sheep – unapologetically recalled some 40 years later – would cause Dick much anguish. (It’s also the through-line of this post.)

Anyway, Fancher sought out Dick and asked for the rights to Sheep. Dick told him the rights weren’t available. (Jaffe still held the option.)

Dick said (in the same interview as above) he and Fancher became good friends. But see below for Fancher’s less rosy recollection of their association.

Fancher gets the rights – kind of

Some time later, apparently, Fancher – possibly feeling rebuffed by Dick – asked his friend
Brian Kelly to negotiate with Dick for the rights to Sheep.

Kelly had got a big payout after a serious accident ended his acting career.

Dick agreed to Kelly’s offer – Jaffe’s option had apparently been dropped by then – and Fancher wrote his screenplay (1a).

Michael Deeley gets the screenplay

In 1977, award-winning British producer Michael Deeley optioned Fancher’s screenplay. Deeley convinced fellow-Brit and Alien director Ridley Scott to film it. Kelly and Fancher became executive producers.

In 1981, the screenplay by Fancher and rewriter David Peoples was filmed by Scott as Blade Runner. The screenplay was credited to both writers (4).

Blade Runner opening credits

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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SelecTV Guide article: early screenplay

He hated it

In early 1981, the production of Blade Runner was underway but, astonishingly, the production company not only wasn’t consulting Dick – they hadn’t contacted him at all. Rude.

Somehow Dick heard about the film and his agent got him a copy of the screenplay (1a) from producer Michael Deeley.

Dick hated the screenplay and wrote a snarky article about it, Universe Makers…And Breakers (2) for a sci-fi edition of SelecTV Guide, the magazine for a TV service he subscribed to.

The ostensible point of Dick’s article was that a breakthrough in special effects gave sci-fi movies box-office success but at the expense of story.

But the real point of the article was to criticise Scott and the Blade Runner screenplay Dick had read.

This excerpt gives Dick’s views not only on the Blade Runner screenplay (suppressed anger and disgust) but also on Alien (bad), Star Wars (not bad) and early Star Trek (very good):

    ‘Ridley Scott, who directed Alien and who now intends to bring into existence a $15 million [*] film based on my novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, confessed to an interviewer from Omni magazine that he “found the novel too difficult to read,” despite the fact that the novel appeared as a mass-circulation paperback.

    [* Blade Runner’s budget was actually about $30 million.]

    ‘On the other hand I was able rather easily to read the screenplay (it will be called Blade Runner). It was terrific. It bore no relation to the book. Oddly, in some ways it was better. (I had a hell of a time getting my hands on the screenplay. No one involved in the Blade Runner project has ever spoken to me. But that’s okay, I haven’t spoken to them.) What my story will become is one titanic lurid collision of androids being blown up, androids killing humans, general confusion and murder, all very exciting to watch. Makes my book seem dull by comparison.’

    ‘Still, you wouldn’t want to see my novel on the screen because it is full of people conversing, plus the personal problems of the protagonist. These matters don’t translate to the screen. And why translate them, since a novel is a story in words, whereas a movie is an event that moves?…

    ‘As a writer, though, I’d sort of like to see some of my ideas, not just special effects of my ideas, used. For all its dazzling graphic impact, Alien (to take one example) had nothing new to bring us in the way of concepts that awaken the mind rather than the senses … Star Trek, years ago, delved more into provocative ideas than most big-budget sci-fi films today, and some of the finest authors in the science-fiction field wrote those hour TV episodes … But I must admit that the eerie, mystical, almost religious subtheme in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back enchanted me.’

(It’s now well known that Scott was also enchanted by Star Wars – that’s what made him decide to make Alien!)

In this article, Dick said the Blade Runner screenplay was terrific and in some ways better than his book. But given his later highly critical comments (see below), he was clearly being sarcastic.

In a later interview (11), Dick described his SelecTV Guide article as ‘smartassed’.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Interview: Hollywood, novelisation, screenplays

He loved the new screenplay

Interviewed in 1981 (3), Dick expounded on many aspects of his life and writings, including his hate/love relationship with Blade Runner.

He spoke about his relationship with Hollywood (fraught), the film company’s lucrative offer for him to write a film novelisation (rejected), the early screenplay (despised), and the revised screenplay (adored).

    (My subheadings)

    Interview 🔺


    Dick: ‘I was supposed to go up there [to the studio]. They called me up and called me up, and I temporized and temporized. I thought — no, I’ll go up there and I’m on a diet, so I can’t eat the rich foods they’ll serve me, and what I’ll really hope for is a whole lot of free cocaine, and there won’t be any free cocaine, and I’ll be real pissed because of that. I’ll keep querulously, petulantly saying, “Where’s the cocaine?” and they’ll say, “No, that’s a myth, you’ve been reading TV Guide.”

    ‘I have been up there to another film project, the little Capitol Pictures one, called Claw [subsequently retitled Screamers, based on Dick’s short story Second Variety]. They’re very nice. I really like them. Every change that’s made, they send me a copy to get my opinion. They just treat me like a human being.

    ‘In other words, I am able to discriminate between essentially reputable people up there, and these high-pressure types. Shit, Blade Runner started yelling at me because, in an article that I wrote in the SelecTV Guide, I mentioned androids. They said, “That’s very dangerous talk, mentioning androids in connection with this film. We’re not using the word android.” Well, it seems hard to avoid a word that’s in the title of your own book. And they wanted to know how I’d gotten hold of a copy of the screenplay. “How did you get hold of it?” they said, with the emphasis on the word “you,” you know?…

    Interview 🔺

    Film novelisation

    Dick: ‘The amount of money involved [in the proposed film novelisation] would have been very great, and the film people offered to cut us in on the merchandising rights. But they required a suppression of the original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in favor of the commercialized novelization based on the screenplay. My agency computed that I would accrue, conservatively, $400,000 if I did the novelization. In contrast, if we went the route of rereleasing the original novel, I would make about $12,500.

    Blade Runner’s people were putting tremendous pressure on us to do the novelization — or to allow someone else to come in and do it, like Alan Dean Foster. But we felt that the original was a good novel. And also, I did not want to write what I call the “El Cheapo” novelization…So we stuck to our guns, and at one point Blade Runner became so cold-blooded they threatened to withdraw the logo rights. We wouldn’t be able to say, “The novel on which Blade Runner is based.” We’d be unable to use any stills from the film. Finally we came to an agreement with them. We are adamant about rereleasing the original novel [*]…

    * In the event, Sheep was rereleased, and a novelisation was published. Wikipedia:

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was eventually reprinted in 1982 as a tie-in [the film company got one percent], with the film poster as a cover and the original title [and, on the cover shown below, the author!] in parentheses below the Blade Runner title. Additionally, a novelization of the movie entitled Blade Runner: A Story of the Future by Les Martin was released in 1982.
    [My bolding]

    Dick: ‘You know, I was so turned off by Hollywood. And they were really turned off by me. That insistence on my part of bringing out the original novel and not doing the novelization — they were just furious. They finally recognized that there was a legitimate reason for reissuing the novel, even though it cost them money. It was a victory not just of contractual obligations but of theoretical principles. And although this is speculation on my part, I think that one of the spin-offs was that they went back to the original novel. Because they knew it would be reissued, you see. So it is possible that it got fed back into the screenplay by a process of positive feedback.

    Interview 🔺

    Early screenplay

    Dick: ‘I was such a harsh critic of Hampton Fancher’s original screenplay, and I was so outspoken, that the studio knows that my present attitude [regarding the novelisation] is sincere, that I’m not just hyping them. Because I was really angry and disgusted. There were good things in Fancher’s screenplay, but it’s like the story of the old lady who takes a ring into a jeweller to have the stone reset. And the jeweller scrapes all of the patina of years and years and shines it up, and she says, “My God, that was what I loved the ring for — the patina!” Okay, they had cleaned my book up of all of the subtleties and of the meaning. The meaning was gone. It had become a fight between androids and a bounty hunter.

    ‘I had this vision in my mind then that I would go up there and be introduced to Ridley Scott, and be introduced to Harrison Ford, who’s the lead character, and I’d just be so dazzled I’d be like Mr. Toad seeing the motorcar for the first time. My eyes would be wide as saucers and I’d just be standing there completely mesmerized. Then I would watch a scene being shot. And Harrison Ford would say, “Lower that blast-pistol or you’re a dead android!” And I would just leap across that special effects set like a veritable gazelle and seize him by the throat and start battering him against the wall. They’d have to run in and throw a blanket over me and call the security guards to bring in the Thorazine. And I’d be screaming, “You’ve destroyed my book!”

    ‘That would be a little item in the newspaper: “Obscure Author Becomes Psychotic on H’wood Set; Minor Damage, Mostly to the Author.” They’d have to ship me back to Orange County in a crate full of air holes. And I’d still be screaming.

    ‘I started drinking a whole lot of scotch. I went from a thimbleful to a jigger glass and finally to two wine glasses of scotch every night. Last Memorial Day I started bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding. And it was because of drinking scotch and taking aspirin constantly and worrying about this whole goddamned thing. I said, “Hollywood is gonna kill me by remote control!”

    ‘One is always haunted by the specter of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who goes there and they just grind him up, like in a garbage disposal.’

    Interview 🔺

    Revised screenplay

    Interviewer: All of that changed when you saw David W. Peoples’ revised screenplay?

    Dick: I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.

    ‘I wrote the station, and they sent the letter to the Ladd Company. [See below] They gave me the updated screenplay [4]. I read it without knowing they had brought somebody else in. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It was simply sensational — still Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, but miraculously transfigured, as it were. The whole thing had simply been rejuvenated in a very fundamental way.

    ‘After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel. I was amazed that Peoples could get some of those scenes to work. It taught me things about writing that I didn’t know.

    ‘… I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was … a destruction of the novel. But now, it’s magic time. You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.

    ‘… It’s been the greatest thing for me. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work. I wouldn’t go up there, I wouldn’t talk to them, I wouldn’t meet Ridley Scott. I was supposed to be wined and dined and everything, and I wouldn’t go, I just wouldn’t go. There was bad blood between us.

    ‘That David W. Peoples screenplay changed my attitude. He had been working on the third Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi. The Blade Runner people hired him away temporarily to do the script by showing him my novel. [*] I’m now working very closely with the Ladd Company and I’m on very good terms with them. In fact, that’s one of the things that’s worn me out.’

    * In his enthusiasm for People’s rewrite, Dick over-egged the pudding. Peoples wasn’t shown Dick’s novel. In a 2017 podcast (12), he said he never read it (and he thought Fancher’s script was ‘awesome’). And he wasn’t hired away from Jedi. Although he apparently made uncredited contributions to that film (renamed Return of the Jedi), in the 2017 podcast he said he moved to Blade Runner after a project with Tony Scott, Ridley’s brother. (Tony introduced him to Ridley.)

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick’s letter praises production

I think he liked it

In October 1981, Dick wrote a gushing letter (6) to the production company after seeing a TV show featuring shots from the film:

    ‘…After looking [at the shots] – and especially after listening to Harrison Ford discuss the film – I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of Blade Runner is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people — and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches Blade Runner. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, Blade Runner is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be.

    ‘Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the Blade Runner project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner. Thank you … It will prove invincible.’

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick enthuses after seeing shots at studio

He definitely liked it

In early 1982, the Blade Runner production company, after getting Dick’s letter of approval and giving him the new screenplay, arranged for him to see some pre-release shots.

Before the showing, Dick apparently had things to get off his chest, but after the showing, he expressed great enthusiasm.

Dick was shown the shots by special effects chief David Dryer (who’d taken over from Douglas Trumbull).

In his book about Blade Runner (7), filmmaker and photographer Paul Sammon – who was making a photographic record of the production – relates Dryer’s recollection of the event (plus a few words – seven, actually – from the famously laconic Scott).

    [Dryer:] “I could tell right away that Dick was unhappy; he acted like somebody with a burr up their ass. First he started kind of grilling me in this grouchy tone about all kinds of things. He wanted to know what was going on, told me that he’d been very unhappy with the script, and so on and so forth.

    “So first we gave him a quick tour of the EEG [*] shop, which I thought might settle him down. But Dick didn’t seem impressed, even when we showed him all the preproduction art and the actual models we’d used for certain effects shots. Then after Dick and Ridley had a meeting we went into the screening room.”

    [* EEG: Entertainment Effects Group, a special photographic effects company owned by Douglas Trumbull]

    “Dick was a bit guarded at first,” recalls Ridley Scott. “Until we doused the lights, turned up the music, and ran the reel for him,” adds Dryer. “Dick didn’t say a word at first. He sat there for twenty minutes like a statue. Then the lights came up, and Dick turned around to me. He said in this gruff voice, ‘Can you run that again?’ So the projectionist rethreaded and ran it again.”

    “Now the lights come up a second time. Dick looks me straight in the eye and says, ‘How is this possible? How can this be? Those are not the exact images, but the texture and tone of the images I saw in my head when I was writing the original book! The environment is exactly as how I’d imagined it! How’d you guys do that? How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?’

    “Let me tell you, that was one of the most successful moments of my career,” Dryer concludes. “Dick went away dazed.”

Sammon, who’d known Dick since the early 70’s, said (8) Dick called him after the showing and said, ‘I can’t believe it. Where can I get a Deckard action figure?’.

Interviewed by Sammon (9) about the film, Dick enthused about the thrilling detail of the street shots he’d seen.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light at the showing. In the Sammon interview, Dick said during his conversation with Scott they disagreed about the androids (or replicants).

Dick said he based Sheep‘s androids on his research for The Man in the High Castle (his 1962 alternative-history novel where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule the United States).

He told Scott the androids, lacking empathy, were a threat to humans; and Deckard, in hunting them, became like them.

Dick said Scott wasn’t interested in that intellectual aspect, but saw the replicants as superior. Dick said the conversation was nevertheless cordial.

Cordially awkward – Scott v Dick at the showing
(Actually, Scott was probably completely unaware of Dick’s critical comments on Alien) | Photo: Ladd Company

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Kind of

    Do androids dream? Rick asked himself. Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here. A better life.



Dick on the screenplay

Peoples praised Fancher; didn’t read book

Fancher – Dick’s demon?

Peoples – Dick’s saviour?

Special effects

Androids v replicants

He loved it

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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U turn if you want to

At first, Dick hated the film. He called it Road Runner. But after he saw pre-release shots and read the rewrite, he dramatically changed his mind.

Fans like me of both the book and the film may wonder at this point: how come Dick so loved the special effects shots he saw and the new screenplay, when the film – as it was shaping up – was so different from his precious book?

Was Dick’s U-turn enthusiasm justified? Was it, as screenplay rewriter David Peoples has suggested, the special effects shots he saw that turned him around?

A 2017 article by Rob Harvilla (10) addressed that question in detail with wit, empathy and appreciation. Harvilla convincingly concluded that while Blade Runner isn’t a faithful adaption, it’s nevertheless true to Dick’s vision.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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Stepford Wives

In a 1982 interview with James Van Hise (11), Dick said the original screenplay was ‘Philip Marlowe meets The Stepford Wives’ and – with typically humorous hyperbole – expressed his despair:

    ‘When I read it originally I thought that I will move to the Soviet Union where I am completely unknown and work making light bulbs in a factory and never even look at a book again and pretend I can’t read.’

But he thought the new screenplay miraculously complemented the book:

    ‘They took a good book [*] and made a good screenplay. The two reinforce each other, two parts of a single whole. If you start with the book, the screenplay adds ma­terial to it. If you start with the screenplay, the book adds to that. They’re beautifully symmetrical, a real miracle.’

    [* But see below – they didn’t]

    My precis and bolding

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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Scott: ‘Don’t bother’

Was the first script, by Hampton Fancher, really that bad? And did rewriter David Peoples actually read the book? No and No, according to Peoples.

In October 2017, shortly after the release of Blade Runner 2049, a podcast (12) featuring Peoples, then 77, and Fancher, 79, considered the screenplay for the original Blade Runner.

In the podcast, Peoples and Fancher (who apparently became friends after the first film’s release) amiably recalled the difficulties of giving director Ridley Scott what he needed. (They agreed Scott was always right.)

Old friends: Peoples and Fancher at the podcast session | Photo: ScreenCraft

What did Peoples think of Fancher’s script?

Apparently, he loved it. Although he was hired to rewrite Fancher’s script, Peoples said in the podcast he felt there was nothing he could do to improve it. He described it as ‘fantastic’, ‘awesome’ and even, in parts, ‘exquisite’.

Did Peoples read the book?

Apparently, not. In the podcast, Peoples said he asked Scott if he should read Sheep, and Scott said, ‘Don’t bother’. (Fancher said Scott didn’t read it.) Peoples said he had ‘no eagerness‘ to read it.

The 1989 approved biography of Dick by Lawrence Sutin (5) bears this out:

    Peoples thought Fancher’s initial script excellent and never read Androids before or after his rewrite.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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Dissed Dick – but got the film made

Was Hampton Fancher Dick’s demon?

In early 1981, when Dick read Fancher’s screenplay (1a), his reaction was intense: he was very upset and critical.

Dick said he felt destroyed. He said although there were good things in the screenplay, the book’s meaning was gone.

(David Peoples, who’s script rewrite was highly praised by Dick, loved Fancher’s script. He said it was ‘awesome’ and in parts even ‘exquisite’. But Peoples didn’t read the book.)

Fancher’s interest in Sheep began in the mid 70s. He’s said that in 1975, wanting to make a commercial film and thinking SF was the next big thing, he was advised by a friend to read Sheep. He said:

    ‘I went out, got it, read it, and I didn’t like it that much but I saw the through-line: detective, bureaucrat, chasing after androids.’

Fancher then sought out Dick to ask for the rights to Sheep, but they weren’t available at that time. Dick’s said in an interview (11) that he and Fancher became good friends.

    We had a lot of fun together. Fancher and I got along very well. I became real good friends with him and his girlfriend, Barbara Hershey.
Film actor Barbara Hershey

Fancher later got the Sheep rights and wrote his screenplay. In a 2017 podcast (12), he said Hershey encouraged him in doing that.

In the same podcast, Fancher spoke dismissively about his association with Dick, gainsaying Dick’s recollection of fun and friendship.

Fancher said they met three times in 1975. He grudgingly conceded Dick was a genius and very intelligent, but said he was ‘crazy’. He said he ‘wasn’t into’ Dick and ‘didn’t read him’. He said Dick was very talkative and ‘took all the oxygen’.

It’s true that Dick was wrestling with borderline-crazy ideas (later published as The Exegesis). Maybe he sometimes tended to dominate or curate conversations. Nonetheless, by all other accounts he remained sane, sociable and friendly.

Fancher was a minor actor with filmaking aspirations who built his success on the imagination of Dick. In spite of Dick’s strong criticism of his screenplay, Fancher owed Dick his appreciation. Instead. with bad grace, he was curtly dismissive.

In the podcast, Fancher came across as arrogant. He sounded high or hungover (but if he was, that’s no excuse).

Blade Runner 2049 – for which Fancher wrote the story and co-wrote the script – was released a few days before the podcast. That might explain the apparent high or hangover. (And the podcast.)

(BR49 was pretty bad. This was mainly down to Denis Villeneuve’s directorbot direction, but writer Fancher must take some of the blame for the unmemorable story and the many long, boring scenes with nothing but pointless, dull dialogue. Just my opinion.)

In the 2017 podcast, Fancher said he didn’t read Dick. But he did read Sheep. Ironically, given his low opinion of Dick’s work and his crass misreading of Sheep’s theme, Fancher seems to be the only person involved with the film who actually read the book.

In any case, Dick found Fancher’s screenplay unsympathetic to his vision. He expressed his anger and despair. He didn’t hold back.

    I was really angry and disgusted. There were good things in Fancher’s screenplay, but the meaning was gone. It had become a fight between androids and a bounty hunter.

    I started drinking a lot of scotch. I started gastrointestinal bleeding because of drinking scotch and taking aspirin constantly and worrying about this whole goddamned thing. I said, “Hollywood is gonna kill me by remote control!

    I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was a destruction of the novel. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work. It was Philip Marlowe meets The Stepford Wives. It was a lurid collision of androids and humans blowing each other up. That whole Mickey Spillane-type thing was so terrible.

    When I read it originally I thought that I will move to the Soviet Union where I am completely unknown and work making light bulbs in a factory and never even look at a book again and pretend I can’t read.

    Collated from interviews (3) (11)

So – was Fancher Dick’s demon?

The strokes that ended Dick’s life were probably caused by a long-term underlying condition such as high blood pressure. His intense response to Fancher’s script probably didn’t help.

But although Fancher might be a jerk, and apparently didn’t get Dick or Sheep, he wasn’t Dick’s demon.

If anything, Dick was his own demon. He clearly had the habit of winding himself up.

In fact, with hindsight, if Fancher owed Dick appreciation for his success, the reverse is also true.

Dick’s current high reputation was kick-started by Blade Runner. In spite of Fancher mangling his book, Dick – albeit posthumously – owes Fancher appreciation for that.

Whatever Fancher’s faults, it’s largely due to his original idea (however misconcieved) and his perseverance – in getting the rights, writing his screenplay and getting it produced – that Blade Runner got made by Scott.

(Dick’s fans are bound to take his side about Fancher’s screenplay, but those of us who also love Blade Runner have to say (perhaps through gritted teeth) to screenwriter and executive producer Fancher: thanks for that, Hampton.)

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
Conclusion 🔼


Politely dismissive

Was David Peoples Dick’s saviour?

In August 1981, when Dick read Peoples’ rewrite (4) of Hampton Fancher’s script, his reaction was again intense, but in a good way – he was very happy and highly appreciative.

Dick said it was ‘the greatest thing’ for him. He said Peoples had ‘rejuvenated’ Fancher’s script ‘in a very fundamental way’.

But in a 2017 podcast (12), Peoples praised Fancher’s script, and was modest about his own contribution. He said there may have been sections by both writers in both the screenplays Dick saw.

He suggested Dick naturally disliked the first draft because it messed with his book, but after liking the shots he saw, he wanted to like the second draft.

However, in spite of Peoples’ modest appraisal of his input and although he didn’t read the book – saying, in his politely dismissive way, he had ‘no eagerness’ to read it – his rewrite somehow made the connection with the book that Dick raved about.

Perhaps it was, as Dick said, a real miracle (albeit Dick wrongly assumed Peoples read the book).

Regarding miracles, Dick wrote in a 1978 essay explaining his radical Christian gnostic views that only healing miracles had significance. (13)

Peoples’ rewrite certainly had a healing effect on Dick’s state of mind. After reading Fancher’s screenplay, Dick was drinking heavily, and in despair. About the rewrite by Peoples, he said:

    I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It was simply sensational — still Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, but miraculously transfigured…It’s been the greatest thing for me. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work…That David W. Peoples screenplay changed my attitude.

    My bolding

So – was Peoples Dick’s saviour?

Peoples came across in the 2017 podcast as a decent chap – but he clearly had no interest in Dick’s writings.

However, given Dick’s uplifted attitude and his enthusiasm about the rewrite, perhaps – inadvertently – Peoples was Dick’s saviour. Hallelujah.

(Sadly, any miraculous healing effect wasn’t enough to prevent Dick’s untimely death a few months later.)

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
Conclusion 🔼


‘How did you know?’

As for the special effects that so impressed Dick, he attributed them solely to Douglas Trumbull, but during production Trumbull was replaced as special effects supervisor by David Dryer.

(Trumbull left by prior arrangement to direct Brainstorm, and Dryer was appointed on Trumbull’s recommendation.)

Blade Runner’s design was the brainchild of director Ridley Scott (college-trained as a designer) and neo-futurist Syd Mead, the film’s concept artist.

Mead was inspired by Scott’s well known idea of ‘Hong Kong on a very bad day’; and both were influenced by French comic book artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud.

From The Long Tomorrow, illustrated by Moebius | Metal Hurlant (1976)

Scott’s and Mead’s sketches were realised by production designer Lawrence Paull and art director David Snyder.

So the film’s design was, of course, a team effort led by Scott. But the wonderful special effects created by Trumbull and Dryer made a world Dick recognised as his own.

The shots Dick saw at the studio prompted him to say to Dryer, ‘How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?’.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
Conclusion 🔼


A compromise

Regarding the disagreement about the androids/replicants (see above), Dick seemed to accept Scott’s replicants, perhaps as a necessary compromise.

In his novel, Dick faced the androids’ dangerous inhumanity. Scott humanised his replicants – but was making a brilliant film.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
Conclusion 🔼


Love is all you need

So… what did Philip K Dick think of (pre-release) Blade Runner? He loved it. That makes this fan of the book and the film very happy. Less anxious.

Dick couldn’t know controversial changes would be made after audience testing: a happy ending inserted and a Marlowe-esque voice-over added.

He might not have approved of the released version. But I like to think he’d have loved The Final Cut.

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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The end bit


Dick apparently started to get decent book payments shortly before his death, but he spent much of his adult life in near poverty.

For instance, his payment for the 1981 article about Fancher’s screenplay, written for his TV subscription company’s magazine, was a year’s free subscription.

Since the success of Blade Runner and other major films based on his books (such as the dodgy but high-earning Schwarzenegger Total Recall), Dick’s estate has generated tens of millions of dollars from book royalties, rights and licensing fees.

It’s a shame Dick didn’t live to enjoy that deserved financial reward – and to see more of his ideas being used in films. His brilliant ideas have been used not as hooks to hang special effects on, but in their own right – as he hoped.

Blade Runner‘s production hoo-hah had a successful outcome, but Dick’s intense response apparently took its toll on his health.

Ironically, it probably contributed to Dick’s sad early death – which meant he never got to see the finished version (!) of the wonderful Blade Runner.

Forget it, Phil – it’s Hollywood… | Illustration: Timba Smits

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺


Check it out yourself

1. Dick: 1968 notes on Sheep film

1a. Fancher’s screenplay

2. Dick: SelecTV Guide article

3. Interview on Philip K. Dick site

4. Blade Runner screenplay (Peoples’ rewrite)

5. Peoples didn’t read Sheep; thought Fancher’s script ‘excellent’

6. Dick’s letter to Ladd Company

7. Paul Sammon book: Future Noir

8. Paul Sammon: ‘Deckard action figure’

9. Paul Sammon: Dick interview

10. Rob Harvilla article

11. James Van Hise: Dick interview

12. Podcast with Peoples and Fancher

13. Dick on healing miracles in Cosmogony and Cosmology

Sources 🔺

1. Dick: 1968 notes on Sheep film

May 1968 | Dick’s Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as sent to producer who optioned the book | Referenced above | First published in Philip K. Dick Society newsletter #18 (August 1988)* | PKDS newsletter facsimile on Cornell University Android Dreams site | Reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995), compiled by author Lawrence Sutin

* Bizarrely, PKDS newsletters aren’t online. However, photocopies can be bought here.

Sources 🔺

1a. Fancher’s screenplay

July 1980 | Hampton Fancher’s screenplay (as reproduced in script format on resource site The Daily Script) | Ref 1: Fancher’s option | Ref 2: Dick’s SelecTV article* | Ref 3: Fancher – Dick’s demon?

* Written after Dick saw an early script – presumably this one

Sources 🔺

2. Dick: SelecTV Guide article

February 1981 | Dick’s article Universe Makers…And Breakers [sic]* for SelecTV Guide** | Referenced and quoted above | Written in response to an early Blade Runner screenplay | Reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick (1995), compiled by Lawrence Sutin

* The clumsy ellipsis was apparently Dick’s

** Dick wrote the article for a sci-fi edition of SelecTV Guide, the monthly guide to a local paid-for TV film service. Dick’s payment was a year’s subscription.

Sources 🔺

3. Interview on Philip K. Dick site

1981 | Interview on resource site Philip K. Dick | Quote 1: Interview | Quote 2: Fancher | Collated from two 1981 interviews originally published in The Twilight Zone (June 1982) and The Patchin Review (October 1982)

Sources 🔺

4. Blade Runner screenplay (Peoples’ rewrite)

February 1981 | Blade Runner screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples* (as reproduced in script format on resource site The Daily Script) | Sent to Dick in August 1981 – understood by Dick to be Peoples’ rewrite | Ref 1: Fancher’s option | Ref 2: Getting new screenplay: Dick’s account | Ref 3: subject of podcast | Ref 4: Peoples – Dick’s saviour? |

* The screenplay was credited to both writers, in that order. Fancher wrote the script after getting the rights to Sheep. Ridley Scott hired Peoples to rewrite Fancher’s script, fired Fancher and then re-hired him; and used work by both writers. IMDB lists the writers as Fancher, Peoples and Dick, in that order. Dick’s name appears in the end credits:

Blade Runner credits

Sources 🔺

5. Peoples didn’t read Sheep; thought Fancher’s script ‘excellent’

Referenced above | From approved biography, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989), by Lawrence Sutin:

    David Peoples, who in early 1981 was called in to do a rewrite of the Fancher script, doesn’t recall Phil’s name ever coming up in meetings. Peoples thought Fancher’s initial script excellent and never read Androids, before or after his rewrite.

    Ch 12, P 275 – my bolding and italics

Sources 🔺

6. Dick’s letter to Ladd Company

October 1981 | Dick’s letter to Blade Runner film company, Ladd | Quoted above | Written after Dick saw pre-release shots on TV | Text and facsimile on many sites including Letters of Note

Sources 🔺

7. Paul Sammon book: Future Noir

2017 | Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by filmmaker, author and photographer Paul Sammon (revised and updated 2017) | Ref 1: Dick’s reaction to Robert Jaffe’s screenplay | Ref 2: report on Dick seeing shots at studio | Jaffe excerpt from Wikipedia | Studio excerpt from Flavorwire

Sources 🔺

8. Paul Sammon: ‘Deckard action figure’

2017 | Comment by Future Noir author Paul Sammon | Referenced above | Reported in KPCC article, Philip Dick wasn’t crazy about his novel being adapted into ‘Blade Runner’

Sources 🔺

9. Paul Sammon: Dick interview

1980-82 | Interview with Dick by Future Noir author Paul Sammon | YouTube (audio only) | Referenced above

Sources 🔺

10. Rob Harvilla article

2017 | Ringer article: ‘Blade Runner’ Is Still the Truest Philip K. Dick Adaptation by Rob Harvilla | Referenced above

Sources 🔺

11. James Van Hise: Dick interview

Late 1981 | Interview: Philip K. Dick On ‘Blade Runner’ by historian and author James Van Hise | Ref: ‘smartassed’ | Quote 1: Robert Jaffe | Quote 2: the screenplay | Quote 3: friendship with Fancher | Quote 4: Criticism of Fancher | Originally published in Starlog (February 1982) | Reproduced on Scraps from the Loft

Sources 🔺

12. Podcast with Peoples and Fancher

October 2017 | Podcast*: Blade Runner (’82) – Fancher & Peoples Q&A | Hosted by Jeff Goldsmith | Ref 1: how Peoples moved to Blade Runner | Ref 2: Peoples praised Fancher, didn’t read book | Ref 3: Hampton Fancher | Ref 4: David Peoples

*Podcast: Digital audio file available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically part of a series.

Sources 🔺

13. Dick on healing miracles in Cosmogony and Cosmology

January 1978 | Dick’s essay Cosmogony and Cosmology | Referenced above | Reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick (1995), compiled by Lawrence Sutin | ‘Expressly intended by Dick as a summary of the key insights in the Exegesis‘ (Sutin)* | First published by Kerosina Books (1987)

    Christ’s healing miracles were the substantial indication that the Just Kingdom had arrived; other kinds of miracles meant little or nothing.

    From Cosmogony and Cosmology in Shifting Realities, part 5, P 307 – my bolding

* Biographer Sutin said that for Dick, his Exegesis project ‘didn’t mean putting on self-righteous airs or forgetting to have fun’; and that in a humorous critical ‘review’ of his own Exegesis-related 1981 book The Divine Invasion, Dick wrote, ‘Take some much-deserved R&R: stop writing, Phil, watch TV, maybe smoke a joint‘.

Apparently, sci-fi fanzine Venom accepted the review, and Dick suggested the anagramic pseudonym Chipdip K. Kill (as used by John Sladek for his 1973 Dick parody, Solar Shoe-Salesman).

But Venom’s next edition wasn’t published, and neither was Dick’s review. This may have been due to a shadowy connection between the fanzine and Dick’s TDI editor, the late David Hartwell, who may have seen Dick’s spoof review as bad publicity.

(The Kill review isn’t online AFAIK, but it’s in PKDS #29. Apparently.)

What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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A personal opinion

Blade Runner 2049 was crap

Gosling and Villeneuve: zzzzzz…

Several sources referenced above date from 2017. They were cashing in (and why not?) on the well publicised but crap sequel film, Blade Runner 2049.

Yes, I saw it – of course. I would have left after 20 minutes but my completist wife was there, so we saw the whole mind-numbing two hours, 35 (count ’em) minutes.

How was BR49 crap? To be fair, it had great visuals and music. But – Ryan Gosling. Oh dear. He thinks he’s Robert Mitchum and doesn’t need to act. He isn’t; he does. He needs a good director – but see below.

Great story? Can’t remember it, so… But I can remember long, boring scenes with nothing but pointless, dull dialogue.

Storywriter and screenplay co-writer our old friend Hampton Fancher must take some of the blame. But mainly I blame the director – one of Dick’s Sheep androids disguised as Denis Villeneuve.

As with the weirdly stilted and deeply meaningless stuff produced by chatbots, BR49 was like a film made by a directorbot.

Neither Gosling nor Fancher took part in Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune – but it had a similar problem.

As with BR49, Dune looked and sounded good. But Frank Herbert’s filmogenic story – an exotic hippy classic loved by many boomers like me – was squashed by the steamroller of Villeneuve’s vacuousness.

    i could add a disclaimer:
    just my opinion
    but it’s not
    i want it to be:
    the truth
    (but it’s not)

 Hugo Brucciani, 1974

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺


Versions of Blade Runner


How many are there? Seven, apparently.

Author Ryan Britt has a well informed and good humoured take on the Great Debate in his Den of Geek article, Which Blade Runner Cut Is Really the Best? (Spoiler: it’s The Final Cut.)

I’ve got The Final Cut on DVD. I’m trying to persuade my (uninitiated) wife to watch it with me, to expunge the BR49 atrocity.

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Top 🔺 | Contents 🔺

They say…

Quotes about this post

I enjoyed reading your blog, which I thought was astute and thorough
Lawrence Sutin, author:

The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995) and Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989)

Dug your post a lot! You know your shit
Rob Harvilla, writer:

‘Blade Runner’ Is Still the Truest Philip K. Dick Adaptation
(Online article, The Ringer, October 2017)

It is well done
James Van Hise, historian, author and writer:

Philip K. Dick On ‘Blade Runner’
(Article, originally in Starlog, February 1982)

Nicely done
Paul Sammon, filmmaker and author:

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
(Book, revised and updated edition, 2017)

Lots of cool research…nice work
Ryan Britt, author and writer:

Which Blade Runner Cut Is Really the Best?
(Online article, Den of Geek, November 2021)

Great blogpost!
Tim Shanahan, professor of philosophy and author:

Philosophy and Blade Runner
(Book, 2014)

Great post
Special Agent Dale Cooper, admin:

Off-world: The Blade Runner Wiki

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Dear Reader/Scanner, feel free to Comment

(All comments will be answered.)

Mirror, mirror – the narcissistic universe

Who’s a pretty boy? Narcissus, in love with himself | Detail of paintitng by John William Waterhouse

June 2022

The impossibility of DNA needs explaining. The only explanation is meaning.

If the meaning of life is to create conscious beings (us) to reflect universal consciousness, that makes us mirrors, and the universe narcissistic.

Is it pathological, as with former US president Donald Chump and former UK PM Bonzo Johnson?

Does the universe have narcissistic personality disorder? Lets hope not.

In any case, it hasn’t worked. We’ve failed to connect with universal consciousness.

A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath

You what? | Visit Quotes

After centuries of previous military incursions, the 17th-century conquest of Ireland by Protestant mass murderer Oliver Cromwell made Ireland a British colony. In 1800 it became part of the newly named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Several horrific famines and brutally suppressed rebellions later, the Irish Home Rule movement resulted in the the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. The colony ended and Ireland was partitioned.

The main part of Ireland gained independence as the Irish Free State, and in 1937 was established as Ireland (or Éire). Ireland was officially declared a republic in 1949.

Six counties in the northeast of Ireland chose in 1921 to stay in the UK and became known as Northern Ireland. In 1927, the UK was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland there’s been constant conflict between the mostly Protestant unionist majority and the mostly Catholic republican minority.

The unionists take their name from their claim of loyalty to the United Kingdom.

The indigenous republicans want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland (officially known as Ireland or Éire) in a united Ireland – a policy known as unification.

It’s important to distinguish between unification (sometimes wrongly called reuinification – Ireland’s never been formally unified, so can’t be reunified) and unionism. It’s not at all confusing. Or Irish.

The Protestant unionists are mostly descendants of English ‘settlers’ who migrated during the 17th-century colonial ‘Plantation of Ulster’.

The Plantation of Ulster reinforced the colonialisation of Ireland. British landowners were given land in the north of Ireland, mostly stolen from the Irish. The new landowners imported English tenants and workers.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, more British settlers came to the north of Ireland from Scotland, forced out by the theft of land known as the Highland clearances.

(Regarding the theft of land by the aristocracy, see my blogpost, The super-rich – law and order.)

Protestant ascendancy in Ireland was consolidated in 1690 by the crucial Battle of the Boyne (fought for control of a ford on the River Boyne near Drogheda, north of Dublin) when the forces of Protestant King William defeated those of the deposed Catholic king, James.

William III, AKA William of Orange (he formerly ruled the Dutch Republic), had recently become king of England and Scotland, deposing James II in the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Having lost the battle, James fled to France. The defeated Irish ‘Jacobites’ were allowed to practice Catholicism if they swore loyalty to William.

In Northern Ireland, the Boyne victory by William – popularly known by his supporters as ‘King Billy’ – is commemorated annually by Protestant unionists with Orange parades.

The parades face opposition from Catholic republicans, who see them as sectarian and triumphalist.

In the 1960s, violent unrest known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland. 30 years of armed conflict between republican and unionist groups and the British army ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an uneasy but lasting peace.

In 2020, a Northern Ireland opinion poll showed 47% in favour of staying in the UK, and 45% in favour of a united Ireland. (The same poll was run in Ireland: 71% favoured unification.)

On the whole, the rest of the UK couldn’t care less about Northern Ireland – it’s an embarrassing colonial hangover. And NI Protestants, despite their proclaimed ‘loyalism’, couldn’t really care less about the UK – they just want to preserve their postcolonial privileges.

Considering this horrible history, it’d be better and fairer all round if Ireland was unified. Sure, the Protestants would protest, but they’d be fine. They’d be a protected minority – in an EU country, lucky sods.

    Note to Taoiseach: take Northern Ireland – I mean, actually take it, please!

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This post is a footnote from my longform post Brexit and free movement – the east European elephant. The footnote was written in the context of the problematic impact of Brexit on the Irish border. (The solution: unification!)

Gingerism – the acceptable face of racism?

Princess Merida, Brave, 2012 | Image: Disney

Recently in my workplace I overheard some jokey chat about ‘gingers’. It wasn’t directed at a particular person but I felt uneasy, as I always do when this casual prejudice happens. It felt like a form of racism.

Prejudice against red-haired people, known as gingerism, apparently exists only in England. It’s always framed as jokey banter and is often heard in the workplace or the pub.

If anyone objects, they’re likely to be chided: ‘It’s just a bit of fun. Can’t you take a joke?’ But is it a harmless joke? Or is it actually racism seeking an ‘acceptable’ form?

In the 1950s and 60s, racist comments were commonplace in the workplace and the pub, but now they’re unacceptable in public. Perhaps ‘harmless’ jokes about red-haired people or about the Welsh, (another similarly mocked group) constitute a new outlet for the redundant but dangerous and destructive anti-stranger instinct upon which racism is apparently built.

A UK Guardian article on the subject downplayed the idea of gingerism as racism, pointing out that people with red hair clearly don’t suffer the same devastating personal and institutional discrimination as people with black or brown skin.

However, the Guardian article suggested an interesting explanation for gingerism: English anti-Celtism, and – more specifically – anti-Irish feeling.

Many Irish people have red hair. Since Cromwell’s brutal colonisation of ireland, there’s been a tendency for the English to disdain the Irish. (Hence Irish ‘jokes’.)

In the 1950s, London boarding-house signs supposedly said, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish‘. This seems to be apocryphal, but it illustrates a real prejudice.

English red-haired people bravely (Brave!) try to reappropriate the word ‘ginger’ – as African Americans have reappropriated the N-word. But the bullying ‘jokes’ continue regardless.

Red-haired Neanderthals

Neanderthal humans had red hair. Having lived in Europe for over 100,000 years, they were apparently wiped out 35,000 years ago by immigrating early modern humans. (Early modern humans emigrated everywhere – they’re the ancestors of all humans.)

Perhaps ‘jokey’ bullying of red-haired people and colonialist anti-Irish sentiments are echoes of that ancient hostility.

(As well as killing Neanderthals, early humans interbred with them. Most Europeans and Asians have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. However, red hair in modern humans isn’t inherited from Neanderthals – apparently it’s a different gene.)

This post is an excerpt from my longform post Racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Decolonise this – the dark side of the Enlightenment

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant

I’ve always greatly respected the Enlightenment, the European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Newton, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

The Enlightenment emphasised reason. I’d looked up to it as a way out of superstition, ignorance and oppression, and as the foundation of modern liberal democracy.

However, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the part played by Enlightenment philosophers in justifying the slave trade and slavery by coming up with the idea of white supremacy.

I didn’t know, for instance, that Immanuel Kant said, ‘humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites’. To be fair, he later recanted (re-Kanted?) but the damage was done.

Before changing his mind, Kant expounded at length about the failings of the various ‘races’ as compared with the perfect whites. He said black people were stupid. He babbled authoritatively about the qualities of different African ‘races’ in terms of their suitability as slaves.

Such ‘philosophy’ was extremely useful to slave traders and ‘owners’ – not in practical terms, but in terms of moral support for their inhuman enterprise.

Now we know about the Enlightenment’s dark side, and in the woke wake of that awareness students have – understandably – called for decolonisation of the university syllabus. (The Daily Mail‘s response: ‘They Kant be serious!’)

In defence of the Enlightenment, it’s said that Kant & co. were conservative, and we should look to lesser-known radical philosophers of the Enlightenment – Baruch Spinoza, for instance – for its heart and soul.

Maybe so, but those mainstream conservative Enlightenment philosophers built our foundations – which now feel shaky.

Luckily – switch of metaphor! – the fruit of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy (currently the worst form of government apart from all the others) seems not to be poisoned by its toxic past. So I’ll still praise the Enlightenment – but less wholeheartedly.

The poison wasn’t Enlightenment philosophy – it was colonialism. It’d be nice to think those two heavyweight phenomena – Enlightenment and colonialism – were fundamentally separate and coincidental, rather than horribly symbiotic.

We need to decolonise our democracy but it’s easier said than done. Having ripped off and destroyed colonial countries, the UK blithely invited large numbers of residents of those countries to move and live here to help rebuild postwar Britain – then blighted their lives with postcolonial racism.

As I argue elsewhere, colonial racism is apparently a twisted version of a redundant anti-stranger instinct (evolved to protect against communicable disease).

If we acknowledge that, we can choose to live above it (as with other ‘monsters from the id‘), so enabling us to oppose and end racism – and to decolonise our minds and institutions.

This post is an edited excerpt from my longform post Racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

July 2021 | 2,200 words | Contents

Digest: …it’s in common usage. But ‘race’ is a toxic word – ‘mixed ethnicity’ is better

Meghan Markle, AKA Duchess of Sussex | Photo: Shutterstock

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The words used

How the words are used

There are no human races

The melting pot

‘Race’ as a social construct

If you’re not white, you’re black

‘That’s what I call myself’




Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

Contents 🔼


Loaded phrase

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No – because there are no human ‘races’. But… the phrase is in widespread use.

Even the Guardian (centre-left, the UK’s only national daily newspaper not owned by billionaire twats) uses ‘mixed race’ to describe, for instance, Meghan Markle. (The usually brilliant Guardian style guide is silent on the subject.)

As a zealous and pedantic antiracist, I objected to the use of the phrase on a local Facebook page and got a hostile response. People said, ‘I’m mixed-race – that’s what I call myself’.

But why would anyone accept that phrase as a description of themselves, loaded as it is with outmoded prejudice?

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The words used

‘Ethnicity’ is best

The UK government’s thoughtful and helpful style guide Writing about ethnicity says:

    We refer to ethnicity and not race…We don’t say ‘mixed people’ or ‘mixed race people’. We usually say ‘people with a mixed ethnic background’ or ‘people from the mixed ethnic group’.

‘Mixed ethnic background’ is a bit of a mouthful. ‘Mixed ethnicity’ is better.

The guide doesn’t use the word ‘heritage’. It doesn’t say why, but there is a possible connotation problem.

‘Heritage’ could sound like something to do with the National Trust collection of stately homes – many of which, according to a 2020 NT report have links to the slave trade and colonialism.

‘Mixed ethnicity’ is a syllable longer than ‘mixed heritage’, and ‘heritage’ is easier to say, lacking the awkward ‘thn’ sound. But ‘ethnicity’ is arguably more meaningful.

Then there’s ‘ancestry’, which is OK if the context is understood. But we’ve all got mixed ancestry. We haven’t all got mixed ethnicity.

So ‘heritage’ is relatively harmless and ‘ancestry’ is OK – but I’ll use ‘ethnicity’ in this post.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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How the words are used

A need to describe

Some people say they have dual ethnicity. They want to people to know they have two ethnicities, two cultures, and to be aware of the challenges and possibilities that brings.

But ‘dual ethnicity’ (or the occasionaly used ‘biracial’) can be seen as pointlessly limiting – like the horrible ‘half-caste’, which leads to a hell-hole of racist numerical classifications such as ‘quadroon’.

What if one of your parents had African ethnicity and the other parent had dual Indian and white ethnicity? Would you say you have triple ethnicity (or you’re tricracial)?

‘Mixed-ethnicity’ as a label gives enough information – without a number. It says, in effect:

    ‘As you may infer from my facial appearance, I have more than one ethnic identity and that’s an important part of my character. I’ll give more information if and when it’s appropriate’.

Why do skin colour and ethnic origin need describing?

Mostly they don’t, but the concept of ethnicity allows people to identify themselves as, for instance, black British, Asian British, or mixed ethnicity, thereby voicing their own feelings about who they are in positive terms which include family origins, the colour of their skin, and their cultural allegiances.

Skin colour can also be useful to describe an unknown person. In the Facebook incident that prompted this post, a man harassing women in a park was described as ‘mixed-race’.

Similarly, the UK police use identification codes to describe suspects to colleagues, eg IC3 (black) and IC4 (Asian).

IC4’s ‘Asian’ is short for ‘South Asian’ which in this context means someone apparently of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian ethnic origin. (IC5 is ‘Chinese, Japanese or Southeast Asian’.)

(There’s no code for people whose skin colour indicates mixed ethnicity. However, IC7 is ‘Unknown’.)

Although such ‘racial profiling’ can clearly be useful to the police, it’s can also be abused by them. For instance, the controversial practice of ‘stop and search’ is overused against young black men.

It’s a complex issue, but when there’s a perceived need to describe skin colour and ethnic origin, the words used matter.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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There are no human races

Just different populations

‘Mixed race’ implies there are human races – but only science-denying racists believe that. They say there are different races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.

Pseudo-scientific racists, from ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers (eg Kant and Locke) onwards, tried to justify colonialism and racism by claiming Europeans are inherently more intelligent than other ‘races’. They aren’t.

German philosopher and racist twunt Immanuel Kant | Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Taxonomically, it’s generally agreed that all modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, the only surviving subspecies of the species Homo sapiens (the only surviving species of the genus Homo).

Race is a slippery word, but in biology it’s an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.

Genetic research has confirmed the obvious: the differences that evolved between different human populations are not significantly genetically distinct. The different populations are not races in any scientifically meaningful sense.

Single-gene disorders are the only significant genetic difference between the different populations. For instance, cystic fibrosis is most common among people of north European ethnicity. Otherwise the differences, albeit visually and culturally obvious, are superficial.

There are no different human races, just human populations with differences which, apart from single-gene disorders, are superficial – and which are becoming increasingly mixed!

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The melting pot

What we need

Before pseudo-scientific racism was rumbled, racists sneered about ‘miscegenation‘; and amongst ethnic minorities there’s pressure to resist assimilation and preserve cultural heritage by not ‘marrying out’.

But – some dodgy lyrics aside – Blue Mink were right: what we need is a great big melting pot. Marrying out doesn’t have to mean loss of cultural heritage – it can be seen as marrying in.

Ethnicity is often related to religion, and there may be concern that marrying out will dilute religion and therefore morality. But here in the western melting pot, we live in a post-religious age. God – as the source of morality – is dead.

Fortunately, as social animals we have innate goodness – and any innate badness can be constrained by the rule of law, preferably under liberal democracy (the worst form of government apart from all the others).

(Non-religious spirituality, on the other hand, is alive and well – and isn’t affected by inter-ethnic mingling.)

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘Race’ as a social construct

Linguistic dilemma

Some say ‘race’ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations.

This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, clever racists use the social construct idea to blur the issue and keep talking about ‘race’ despite the scientific evidence that there are no races.

On the other hand, ‘race’ as a social construct is also used by non-racists as shorthand for the different populations. It’s used in that way in speech by people of colour; and by both black and white writers and speakers in non-racist media.

‘Race’ is also implied in the use of the word ‘racism’. Antiracists speaking or writing about racism implicitly accept the notion of ‘race’ – presumably, the social construct version.

For those wanting to identify and eventually eliminate ‘racism’, the solution to this linguistic dilemma is to nevertheless avoid using the word ‘race’.

Despite being an arguably useful social construct and the root of the useful word ‘racism’, the word ‘race’ is fundamentally toxic and redundant.

As for the word ‘racism’, until racism – or the thing arguably misnamed as racism – ends, the word will probably continue to be used, trailing its toxic root. Perhaps a better word or phrase could be used.

(Also – strictly speaking – there’s no such thing as ‘the human race’. It’s an inclusive and relatively harmless phrase – and ‘the human subspecies’ isn’t catchy – but ‘humanity’ is better.)

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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If you’re not white, you’re black


Some radical black antiracists say people of mixed ethnicity should identify solely as black. (‘Black’ here is used to mean non-white: ie black or brown.)

One such proponent was prominent black UK broadcaster and antiracist campaigner, the late Darcus Howe. Fellow activist Sunder Katwala recalls being on the receiving end of Howe’s rhetoric.

Katwala, the mixed-ethnicity director of immigration think-tank British Future, wrote about the encounter in the conclusion to his 2012 BF report The Melting Pot Generation.

Katwala and Howe were chatting after a TV discussion (about a controversial remark made by a black politician). Katwala apparently referred to himself as mixed-race, and Howe objected.

    “Mixed race? What’s all this mixed race nonsense? If you’re not white, you’re black.”
    That old point was jovially roared at me with some emphasis by one of this country’s leading public raconteurs on race and racism.
    “But I’ve never thought I was black. Shouldn’t it be up to me to decide?”
    “What are you then?”
    “British. And English. My parents are from India and Ireland, so I’m half-Asian and mixed race as well.”
    “British? Why don’t you call yourself Indian? Are you ashamed of your father, boy?”

Howe was forcefully expressing the well-known position of radical antiracism: ‘mixed’ is nonsense – if you’re not white, you’re black.

It’s an understandably angry political response to mixed-ethnicity people experiencing racism because they’re not white.

It’s a proud and noble gesture – but it’s a shame to deny half your identity. On this, the late, great, Howe was wrong*.

People of colour have no need to deny a significant part of their ancestry. The antiracist cause is best served by people of mixed ethnicity feeling free to express their full identity.

(But beware of identity politics. See my post, Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?)

* I first found the story about Howe and Katwala in an article in The Conversation, ‘Biracial Britain: why mixed-race people must be able to decide their own identity’, by mixed-ethnicity author and academic Remi Adekoya. See also Adekoya’s book: Biracial Britain (2021).

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘That’s what I call myself’

Whitesplaining word-nerd

Some people of mixed ethnicity say:

    ‘I’m mixed-race – that’s what I call myself. Don’t tell me what to say!’

It must be difficult enough being brown-skinned in a white world – facing microracism (‘Where are you from?’) and conscious and unconscious personal and institutional bias – without having a would-be white saviour (I’m white, by the way – Hi!) tell you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself.

Whitesplaining word-nerd, antiracist virtue signaller – who do I think I am? It’s like a white person telling black Americans not to use the N-word: ‘I say, you rapper chappies – you really shouldn’t use that bad word.’

Except it’s not like that. When a mixed-ethnicity person uses the phrase ‘mixed-race’ to describe themselves, they’re not re-appropriating the word ‘race’ in a playfully political way.

They’re giving white people permission to use that phrase – and they’re inadvertently agreeing with zealous racists, the only people who think there actually are different races.

The question remains: why would anyone choose ‘mixed-race’ as a description of themselves, knowing it to be loaded with outmoded prejudice?

Maybe mixed-ethnicity people call themselves ‘mixed-race’, thinking, ‘So what? Who cares? It’s a social construct. It’s just what people say. And it’s only two syllables.’

Maybe they’re just winding up mitherers like me. If so, damn – you got me!

I just hope it’s not an example of that depressing phenomenon, internalised racism.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘Mixed ethnicity’ is better

The slippery idea of ‘race’ as a social construct doesn’t justify saying ‘mixed-race’. Neither does its use by mixed-ethnicity people.

The phrase ‘mixed-race’ is loaded with colonial notions of white superiority – it should be left in the shameful past where it belongs.

‘Mixed-ethnicity’ is better. It’s three extra syllables, true – but it celebrates our differences and embraces their mixing.

So… is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No.

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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Afterthought 1

Although I’m English, a DNA test showed I have 36% Scottish ancestry. Och aye, th’ noo! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) But I wouldn’t refer to myself as having mixed ethnicity – probably because it doesn’t involve my skin colour, and it’s still North European culture. So my mixed ancestry doesn’t need explaining.

Racism is prejudice plus (institutional) power. The white majority’s irrational colour prejudice means only people of colour with mixed ethnicity have to explain their ethnicity.

Afterthought 2

A commenter on this post has pointed out that young people of mixed ethnicity – the facially obvious kind, presumably – tend to refer to themselves simply as ‘mixed’. That’s a good solution.

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Forward to the Past – hunting and gathering as a leisure activity

There’s a large park near us with deer in it. I’m an anti-hunting vegetarian, but whilst walking there recently, I felt an atavistic urge to hunt the deer!

Kill Bambi! | Photo: Christopher Day

Here in the UK, we churlish peasants hate the landed aristocracy (and the nouveaux super-rich), not least for their hobbies of huntin’, shootin’ an’ fishin’. (The dropped end-consonant is an aristo affectation.)

However, putting aside class hatred, maybe that’s what we’d all do if we had their time and money (although perhaps not in pursuit of the inedible fox, UK aristos’ favourite quarry). Maybe it’s intrinsically enjoyable. Maybe it goes back to hunting and gathering.

Putting aside – also – our modern vegetarian sensibilities, maybe hunting and gathering was sociable and enjoyable. Then we invented farming, which was antisocial and boring. (Perhaps nomadic herding is an acceptable intermediate lifestyle.)

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the victors stole all the land. They hunted in their forests. No one else could. (Perhaps poaching was semi-tolerated as a safety valve. Huntin’ an’ poachin’!)

So in the future (having somehow survived the climate crisis), with aristos and the super-rich all exiled to the moon (for receiving stolen land and criminal damage to the environment), and with reformed money, a state income, most work automated, food produced hydroponically and the land commonised and rewilded, we can all enjoy some occasional recreational huntin’ an’ gatherin’.

Then, at the end of the day, it’s back to the tribal eco-cave for an evening of eating, drinking, story-telling and singing around the fire. (Finally, drunk as skunks, it’s back by autodrone to our ecopods.)

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We’re all normal and we want our freedom

‘Shocking’ – film still from Marat/Sade, 1967 | United Artists



1. The Red Telephone by Love, 1967

2. We Are Normal by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, 1968

Funny bit at the end

We’re all normal and we want our freedom
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Stoned haze de-stoned

Back in the album-listening 60s and 70s I vaguely wondered through the stoned haze how come I was hearing that unusual line, ‘We’re all (or We are) normal and we want our freedom‘, in two different songs on albums by two very different artists.

The songs were:

Decades later, I finally looked it up. The line’s from Marat/Sade, the famous 1963 play by Peter Weiss. The play’s full title is:

    The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade

Set in 1808 in the Paris asylum in which the Marquis de Sade was incarcerated in real life, the play features de Sade staging a (fictional) play-within-a-play about the (real-life) murder of Jean-Paul Marat, using his fellow inmates as actors. In Act 1, Scene 6, the inmates chant:

    We’re all normal and we want our freedom

The play, said to draw on the ideas of Bertold Brecht and Antonin Artaud, was directed for theatre and film by theatre god Peter Brook. His award-winning production reportedly shocked audiences.

In 1967 Love’s Arthur Lee must have seen Marat/Sade and borrowed that line for The Red Telephone.

Then in 1968 The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Viv Stanshall must – coincidentally – have done the same thing for We Are Normal. Or perhaps he borrowed the line from Lee’s song.

We’re all normal and we want our freedom
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1. The Red Telephone by Love, 1967

(A relatively meaningless working title, apparently)

The wistful and melancholic song The Red Telephone on Love’s brilliant and timeless 1967 album Forever Changes was written by Arthur Lee.

According to Love forum contributor and music writer Mike Shaw, Lee moved in 1966 to a house in Laurel Canyon (the Los Angeles area renown in the 60s and 70s for its community of folk-rock musicians).

The house (which featured in Roger Corman’s 1967 film The Trip, starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson) has a panoramic view over LA.

View over LA from Laurel Canyon | Photo: John Umreville
Detail of poster for The Trip | American International Picture

Lee wrote The Red Telephone there. Regarding the gloomy line, ‘Sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die’, Shaw imagines Lee hearing ambulance and police sirens in the distance as he gazed down at the city.

In 1967, the Marat/Sade film was showing in the US (and there was a much-praised Broadway theatre production in New York). In LA, Lee must have seen the film and borrowed the Marat/Sade line for The Red Telephone.

Near the end, the song echoes the style and rhythm of the 1966 novelty hit They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Jerry Samuels, aka Napolean XIV. (Coincidentally 🤓, Napolean was in power in 1808.)

The Red Telephone ends by segueing into an ominous “they’re coming to take me away”-style marching chant, repeated several times:

  • They’re locking them up today
  • They’re throwing away the key
  • I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?

Lee then gives a plaintive spoken rendition of the Marat/Sade line:

    We’re all normal and we want our freedom

We’re all normal and we want our freedom
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2. We Are Normal by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, 1968

My pink half

The wierd and wonderful song We Are Normal on the Bonzo’s brilliant and bonkers 1968 album The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse was written by Viv Stanshall and fellow Bonzo Neil Innes.

During the recording of Doughnut, Dadaist Stanshall, wearing a rabbit’s head and underpants, interviewed passers-by in a nearby London street. On We Are Normal, an interviewee is heard saying, ‘He’s got a head on him like a rabbit.’

Stanshall apparently said they got the ‘normal’ line from Love’s song. Innes said they got it from Marat/Sade. The theatre and film versions were on in London in 1968. Perhaps they got it from both sources.

The Bonzo’s We Are Normal is part sound experiment with cut-up vox pop and Miles-like trumpet, and part cod heavy rock. The only lyric is a close paraphrase of the Marat/Sade line, sung repeatedly and assertively in the rock section:

    We are normal and we want our freedom!

Stanshall slips in a cracking rhyme: ‘We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon‘ – but he adds a sarcastic laugh, as if to say although he couldn’t resist the joke, such humour was out of place in a serious experimental artwork.

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Lee blows the imagined re-enactment of Stanshall’s gag:

    A punk stopped me on the street. He said, ‘You got a light, Mac?’ I said, ‘No – but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.’

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I’m a woke dirty old man

Image: American Dad / Fox

As an ‘old’ man (over 70), am I a dirty old man? Yes, of course. Not by being a pervert or flasher, but by finding young women attractive. I love my wife and wouldn’t cheat – but I look at young women lustfully.

Women of any age can be attractive – but young women are special. That’s the ‘dirty old man’ bit.

Lust is primal. Age tempers it – it becomes less visceral and more cerebral. And what chance of (genuine) reciprocation would an old man have anyway? But it remains present and incorrect.

So what? The thing is, in the wake of the 2021 UK murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent Reclaim These Streets movement, men of good will – even old men – must adjust our attitude towards women.

The memorable phrase, ‘All men are rapists‘ (said by a character in the novel The Women’s Room by radical feminist Marilyn French) is a good starting point. If it’s true, what should we modern, civilised men do with that evolved predatory tendency?

First we should acknowledge it. After all we’re animals with monsters from the id. Then we should chose to live above it.

Most men are decent and don’t rape, but the tidal wave of testimony that followed Sarah’s death shows that many men and boys do rape and assault – and get away with it.

Those who wish to reject that brutality can acknowledge the lusftful impulse, admire the beauty, consciously reject any predatory urge and be prepared to protect women and girls.

So If I’m walking in the park, being alive and heterosexual I’ll discreetly admire young women jogging in skin-tight leggings. (Discreetly, because staring is intrusive. French’s character goes on to say, ‘They rape us with their eyes’.)

But I’ll also be on the lookout for any predatory behaviour and be ready to intervene, arthritis permitting. I’m a woke dirty old man.

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Universal Basic Income is too basic

The Money Tree | Image: Shutterstock

UBI, Universal Basic Income, is wrong because it’s basic. The ‘B’ should stand for ‘Big’, not ‘Basic’.

UBI is basic because it’d be tax-funded. But a Universal Big Income big enough to replace wages could be funded by social credit.

The pandemic has shown there’s a money tree and it’s not magic. Historically, governments have allowed banks to issue almost all money – as debt. The consequent debt economy, with growth needed to service debt, is inherently destructive of our life-support environment. It also obliges governments to be funded by tax – and by borrowing!

If governments take back their right and responsibility to issue money, they can issue it as social credit. This would fund social spending – healthcare, education and infrastructure – and could also fund a universal big income.

People would then be free to work as much or as little as they want. People might choose to work – for more money, for the pleasure of it, or as a volunteer.

With a generous state income funded by social credit, increasing automation would mean increasing leisure, as it always should have.

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