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What if Gordon Banks had Played

Aznavour

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#1
Warning: lots of rambling and spoilers for a AH over a decade old.



Once upon a time, in ye olden days of the Internet, before Disney, Google and Facebook began to buy everything, before TLIADs, before the Shuffling of Decks, before SealionPress, Polibrit AHs had their own sites, and one might find works such as the classic Thaxted (Site also included a Baruch Spinoza AH, of all things) Ed Thomas' A Shot Heard Around the World and, of course, What if Gordon Banks had Played.

http://web.archive.org/web/20071212170442/http://www.btinternet.com/~chief.gnome/

Premise and PoD are simple enough, what develops within the AH is not, as it mostly deals with the prospect of the famous and infamous Enoch Powell becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the absolutely worst possible of all times: the 1970s.

As a AH work, there are a lot of things WIGBHP does right, some it does less right, (The bits about America, with Reagan in the 70s and Ted Kennedy in 1980, are kinda weak IMO, but maybe that's just me) but perhaps the allure of the piece is not only the strength of its premise and how it delivers on it, but just how thouroughly shit hits the fan for the UK, as Powell deals with The Troubles.

Much like a similarly soft-dystopic piece, the popular A World of Laughter, A World of Tears, we see a country given to a thouroughly dangerous man (Walt Disney, Enoch Powell) and we see said nation slowly tear itself apart, and the fragility of the country's institutions and post-war peace are exposed and broken, a fact that didn't quite came to mind until I saw Peter's post on For All Time and the negative influence it had on the genre.

That's exactly my feeling. Everything bad in contemporary AH is a sloppy attempt at FaTing. For All Time is interesting because it addresses just how much had to be done to create the orderly and prosperous postwar world, but most people miss the theme in favor of the atrocity porn. Things like the mass cannibalism and nuclear weapons being used constantly aren't really the highlight, they're the payoff for a whole series of plausibly unpleasant events.

Both A World of Laughter and Gordon Banks, I feel, more than once fall prey to the temptation of going for the more dystopic or interesting possible result of any given action undertaken by "the protagonist". As such we have things like a literal Nazi being a US Senator a stone's throw away from the presidency, only to be taken down by Roy Cohn of all people, while the other has things like Britain invading Ireland, the UK thouroughly cleansing Ulster of Catholics, a coup, a blown-up parliament and Queen, a UK that is a pariah nation into the 21st Century -for some reason-, a minister being murdered by a MI-5 Assassin to keep the Irish War going on, Enoch Powell living in exile in Rhodesia while Thatcher and the rest rot in jail and a transitional government that includes John Lennon, of all people. It's quite a ride.

The attractive is obvious, and comes from the same reason Invasion Literature is so popular in the Anglo-Saxon world: these countries were never under Nazi or Soviet occupation, nor so thouroughly devastated during a war as continental Europe (although parts of Britain come close, thanks to German aviation).


But what do you think? Does Gordon Banks stray too much into dystopia, or does the execution, as well as the fact that it's Enoch Powell we're talking about make some of the seemingly less "plausible" events seem like natural results of entrusting the entire nation to such a man?
 
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#2
I was actually around when the TL was first being developed, and was very peripherally involved in some of the discussions at the time.

Both A World of Laughter and Gordon Banks, I feel, more than once fall prey to the temptation of going for the more dystopic or interesting possible result of any given action undertaken by "the protagonist".
This is absolutely spot-on. There was a deliberate attempt to stack the deck, with the results you describe. Part of the issue (a problem in my view) is that I would expect forces at play trying to mitigate or prevent the effects of unfortunate decisions of characters are made ineffective at pretty much every point in order to allow the ride to continue.

I rather think it's something of a function of maturity. Back when it was written, the writing of long TLs in forums was in its infancy, and "interesting" tended to win out over "hang on a minute". It's generally accepted that when writing a TL, when you reach a decision point, sometimes the outcome feels like someone rolled a 6. That's fine; real life is like that. Sometimes someone gets lucky (or unlucky, as the case might be). Decisions back then were discussed on an individual basis (generally). Rolling a 6 was fine; rolling a 15 was not fine. The trouble was, rolling a 6 time after time after time starts to stretch plausibility. Different people have different tolerance levels for how long a run of luck can continue.

The choice of Enoch Powell is now something of a cliche. Back then it was unexpected. I'm not sure, but I rather think it was one of the first TLs to make significant use of Powell.
 

Elektronaut

Cobs? 3? Yes we do.
#4
I guess with Gordon Banks, as DF touched on, you have to factor in large sections of the plot being a sort of deus ex machina, driven by the accelerationist elements behind the scenes. That gives much of the plot a kind of a get-out-clause. The government is as much subject to events as anything else. It's not really a piece which is arguing that Powell was a Nazi, it's more arguing that a dystopia is easy if you keep kicking at the door. In this case, by the author.

That said, there are clearly some manifestly implausible things in the 'standard' plot elements, like the Wilson-Heath national government. (Blink, and you'll miss it)
 
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Blackadder Mk2

Well-known member
#5
It's been a long time since I've read either TL but I do have vivid memories of both, and of Thaxted too. I think the author did a sequel to AWOLAWOT, but it only ever had one or two updates and I suspect they only put it up so they could avoid being asked about it; but they could have easily been hit by real-life pressures. I understand that the author of Gordon Banks is, if not embarrassed by it, then at least doesn't like to talk about it, but I thought it was rather good.

That said, I'd put it alongside A Greater Britain as a TL that's fun to read, but one with a thousand tiny problems that add up, depending on your tastes. AGB, however, lacks a big punch that made me go 'hang on' like WIGBHP did with its insistence on having the security services go rogue. It might have been EdT, it might have been Elektronaut, or even Roem, but they did mention that under the context of '70s paranoia about the security services, the TL has a theme to it, but I find it was not used that well. Or at least it didn't hit me like it did with others. I suppose it comes down to whether the unknown accelerationists work for you and they just didn't with me. People feel more like...characters than people, if you know what I mean.

I hesitate to make posts like these as they make it sound like I didn't enjoy them, but that's my issues with it and I mostly say it as others will (rightly) recommend it. It's a bit like Thaxted; if you can get over how camp it plays as and arguably escalates into being (Thaxted as comical and Banks as dark) then you'll have a grand time.
 
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Md139115

You have not even begun to grasp the madness
#6
I just read the entire TL between 1 to 4 AM last night. I think what got me most was the slow boil of dictatorship that Powell and his inner circle genuinely didn’t realize that they were falling into.

And of course a US-backed coup saves the day as is proper.:D
 

Tovarich

a sinking dumpling. He/Him.
#7
.......Part of the issue (a problem in my view) is that I would expect forces at play trying to mitigate or prevent the effects of unfortunate decisions of characters are made ineffective at pretty much every point in order to allow the ride to continue.......

......I rather think it's something of a function of maturity. Back when it was written, the writing of long TLs in forums was in its infancy, and "interesting" tended to win out over "hang on a minute"........

........The choice of Enoch Powell is now something of a cliche. Back then it was unexpected. I'm not sure, but I rather think it was one of the first TLs to make significant use of Powell......
You're spot-on, David.

Although that does result in WIGBHP being the perfect TL to introduce my bro to the genre with and turned him into at least a lurker, if not the full One Of Us (we have politics in common, but he is far more footie obsessed than I*, so the POD alone made it perfect for him as a newbie.)

From there it was an obvious leap to 'Agent Lavender', and from there........well, he'll hit Critical Mass & post himself at some point, I'm sure.**


* There's only so many hours in the day, and I like having a love-life. The bro deservedly has his name carved into the very stone of Carrow Rd***, as acknowledgement of his sacrifice, whereas I do not.


** After this post, probably to call me a :rolleyes:.


*** Yes, really!
 

The Red

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#8
The choice of Enoch Powell is now something of a cliche. Back then it was unexpected. I'm not sure, but I rather think it was one of the first TLs to make significant use of Powell.
Did Gordon Banks come out before Thaxted or vice versa? I presumed that Webb's version was a sort of campy tribute Wells' but now I'm not sure.
 

Iopgod

Active member
#10
Did Gordon Banks come out before Thaxted or vice versa? I presumed that Webb's version was a sort of campy tribute Wells' but now I'm not sure.
From what I can tell from google groups (which seems to have disabled access to soc.history.what-if for spam(!), but it will still give you a date if you use the search box), Thaxted - Part 1 was posted 17/06/2001, while WI Gordon Banks had played #1...yet another far right UK TL! was posted 25/04/2002.
 

Meadow

Fullmetal Brexit
Administrator
Sea Lion Press staff
Published by SLP
Location
Balham
#11
I'm a huge fan of WIGBHP. It's probably the TL that made me really aware that online AH work could be not only interesting, but as compelling as any page-turning piece of fiction. Some very interesting thoughts here, I'll chime in myself later.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#12
My own rambly thoughts:

Having read most of it, I'm willing to cut it a lot of slack because of its age, and as for the work itself, I'll say that A: I agree with the "well-written[1], but a little too forcefully dystopian" view and B: As I'm not the target audience, it's tougher for me to really judge it.

As for its influence or style. I like seeing how series and genres progress, and I can often see the "seeds" of what will become a bigger problem later on down the line, especially as it goes from being fresh to stale. In this case, it's dystopia. I think if you go from early ones like this and For All Time to A World of Laughter, and then finally go to stuff like the absolute nadir of New Deal Coalition Retained[2], there is a trend line.

Part of it is the desire for "interesting" stuff mentioned before, part of it is dramatic butterfly changes, and I've seen an issue where utopian trends in TLs tend to get nitpicked and ripped apart a lot more readily by commentators than dystopian trends. I think the biggest issues with the later dystopias is a lack of detail and a lack of "feels right" that outweighs any "plausibility" issues.

What I think Agent Lavender got right with a big-shake up is that it has a big shake up that's "implausible" in strict RL terms (Wilson actually being the agent), but has tight research, great effort, and, most importantly, restraint where the sky doesn't completely fall. There's a sort of "it feels plausible".

A lot of other, especially later dystopias don't have any of this. The shake up rolls one bad dice landing after another, giant trends happen out of nowhere with a reason that, whatever in the in-timeline justification, comes across to me as "because the author wanted something 'big'", and it feels like skipping to the later, wallowing-in-the-wreck with serial killers in government and Kim-Il-Sung stroking a cat parts of For All Time and not the detailed, minor-nudging beginning parts (which hold up surprisingly well in both writing and "it feels right").

[1]Especially in comparison to later derivatives. And this applies to both Walt Disney and Enoch Powell's adventures.
[2]Although that has the issue of being ideologically creepy and agreeable with the dystopia in a way the others aren't. But even if it wasn't agreeable, it'd still exemplify the dystopia genre at its worst and most flanderized.
 
#13
I understand that the author of Gordon Banks is, if not embarrassed by it, then at least doesn't like to talk about it,
A very long time ago now, and reading it back does make me cringe quite a lot in terms of the writing and some of the plot (particularly all the silly coalition and floor crossing - whoever criticised that further up was only too correct).

From memory, I think there were two thoughts around GBHP. The first was to try and do a really small POD that led to major consequences - hence, Gordon Banks not happening to have diarrhoea on one crucial day => fascist Britain. It doesn't actually work of course, I don't imagine the outcome of the World Cup would have made that much difference to the election result. The departure was really just "if Labour won in 1970", Banks was just a conceit.

The second was to try and get a plausible far-right Britain. As people have said, all the choices were deliberately stacked to lead to a far-right takeover. It wasn't a story where I had a POD and pondered what the most likely outcome was, it was whether I could get the cards to fall in a way that produced a plausible path to a far-right government. The thought behind it was along the lines of the Michael Rosen poem - the "Fascism arrives as your friend" one - to do a Nazi-ish British that wasn't in your face jackboots from the start, but that would gradually devolve in that direction out of the operation of our existing political system going very wrong. I wanted to try a scenario where the far-right (and those voting for them) didn't think they were the baddies, but were doing things that they thought were necessary in the face or terrorism or whatever, and where an inch-by-inch slide towards an authoritarian government was at least sort of plausible.

I don't think Powell was a particularly unusual choice. I have a vague recollection that on Usenet we used to joke that Powell was the British TL equivalent of Nixon in US ones, and inevitably turn up in timelines one way or another. If anything he turned up less after GBHP because I'd "done him". Anyone, he was a deliberate choice because his anti-immigration views were an obvious fit, but perhaps more importantly because his character lent itself to that slide towards fascism... he was an integrationist who wanted NI treated like the rest of the UK, so I could make him insist NI anti-terror measures should apply to the whole of the UK. I expect I was rather unfair to him on that front, and he would in real life have been more intellectually flexible, but there goes. I was probably quite unfair to most of the people involved.

On the fragility of institutions and the political system, it was actually quite hard to do. People like David kept making sensible suggestions in the comments about why didn't the opposition do this, why wasn't there a general strike, or economic sanctions or what not. It did take a lot of co-incidences and deck stacking, intervention and so forth to avoid reason reasserting itself. It does depend on a lot of people making daft decisions, people dropping dead at convenient times (or, for people like Tony Crosland, events being arranged so that the dates of their actual deaths fell at unfortunate moments). The secret services moving in unspecified ways in the background was also a convenient get out for whatever big unexplained holes I'd left.

And, for the record, Heath would almost certainly have been pressured to stand down immediately following his defeat and Powell would have had no realistic chance of winning the leadership. But where would the fun have been in that?
 

Blackadder Mk2

Well-known member
#18
We should probably close the forum now. We’re not going to top this.
Just as my actions 100% led to this site's creation, my talking-shit brought this about too.

Anyway @anthonyjwells, I should say that I find the Powell side of things to have been the more believable-outside of him winning 1970 but to quote the old-man from Princess Bride "do you want a story or not?"-and I would be a liar if I said that the gradualness of the shift into outright *fascism didn't take me by surprise when I first read it and when I returned to it one or two years later. Powell certainly was among the worst people IOTL who could have been given The Troubles to deal with and I would say that it's definitely one of-if not the-best TLs to make Fascist Britain its main focus.
 

Thande

Zordrak, Lord of Nightmares
Published by SLP
#20
Thank you very much for this insight into one of the classics of British AH, @anthonyjwells

I have a vague recollection that on Usenet we used to joke that Powell was the British TL equivalent of Nixon in US ones, and inevitably turn up in timelines one way or another.
I find it fascinating that both of those were already considered omnipresent/clichéd even in the Usenet days. I know in my own dozen years or so in the AH community (2005 onwards) it feels as though some mainstays have stayed immutable while others have changed considerably.