As well as being an artist, designer, medievalist, poet, translator and writer of some of the earliest fantasy novels in English literature, Morris was instrumental in the founding of the Socialist League. His novel, News from Nowhere, presents a Utopian vision of a future society without authority, class systems and industrialisation.
William Morris (1834-96) regarded beauty as a basic human birthright. In this fascinating book, which accompanies a major exhibition, Morriss biographer Fiona MacCarthy looks at how his highly original and generous vision of a new form of society in which art could flourish has reverberated through the decades. In 1860 Morris moved into the now famous Red House at Bexleyheath in Kent. Here his ideas found practical expression in its decoration, undertaken with the help of his artistcraftsman friends Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who envisaged the project as the first stage in a campaign against the debased artistic standards of the mid-Victorian age. From these beginnings, MacCarthy charts the development of a revolution: the setting-up of Morriss shop (later Morris & Co.), his embracing of radical ideas of sexual freedom and libertarianism, and the publication of his visionary novel News from Nowhere (1890), in which he advanced his hopes for a dismantling of the stultifying structures of society and their replacement by a more equable and fluid way of life. Later chapters explore how Morriss ideas came to influence the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, Europe and the USA, the Garden City movement, and numerous artists and craftspeople who sought to negotiate a viable place within the modern world in the troubled years that followed the First World War. Finally, MacCarthy explains the continuing relevance of Morriss ideals, as expressed in the planning and execution of the Festival of Britain in 1951, a regenerative project of the post-war Labour government that inspired a number of young designers such as Terence Conran with a direct sense of mission to bring the highest design standards within the reach of everyone.
Words matter. Especially in Iran where what is permissible — to say, to do, to be seen to say or do — is an ever changing thing.
It took us many years of trying to finally be allowed in to Iran, the country with whom we have probably the most contentious relationship on earth. At the time, we thought that perhaps, our welcome was an indicator of a new attitude, an opening of a window. But as it turned out, that is probably not the case. The window appeared to slam shut in particularly ugly fashion shortly after our departure.
What we saw, what we came back with, is a deeply confusing story. Because the Iran you see from the inside, once you walk the streets of Tehran, meet Iranians, is a very different place than the Iran we know from the news. Nowhere else I’ve been has the disconnect between what one sees and feels from the people and what one sees and hears from the government been so extreme.
Iran’s official attitude towards America, its policies, its actions in the region, are a matter of record. How it treats its own citizens as far as their personal behaviors is also, a matter of record. You do not want to be perceived as behaving inappropriately in Iran — as we have seen with the recent video of kids dancing along to the song, “Happy.” And what is inappropriate is an ever shifting thing. What the “government” or the president says is okay one day, might be deemed dangerous or unacceptable by the clergy or the “basij”, the roving, unofficial but official religious police, on another — as we came to find out.
I’m going to be careful about what I say here. Even here. Like I said. Words have consequences. Not for me. I can go to China, for instance, and come back, and say whatever I want about Tibet or human rights without fear. But what about the people I leave behind? The ones who were kind to me, helped me, innocently put their trust in me and my crew to not hurt them? That is something I think very seriously about — and its something we are very careful to not do: put people in harm’s way for no other crime than associating with us. Innocence, in much of the world, is, sadly, no defense against accusations..and worse.
One of the reasons this episode is deeply confusing might be because the “vibe” in Iran, the general feeling of walking down the streets, through the markets, the way we were received everywhere by total strangers and passersby, was overwhelmingly friendly. I have said that Iran is the most outgoingly warm, “pro-American” place we’ve ever shot — and that’s true: in Tehran, in spite of the fact that you are standing in front of a giant, snarling mural that reads “DEATH TO AMERICA!”, you will, we found, usually be treated better by strangers — meaning smiles, offers of assistance, curious attempts to engage in limited English, greetings and expressions of general good will — than anywhere in Western Europe. It would be hard to imagine strangers in Germany or France or England, on recognizing you as American, giving you a thumbs up and a smile simply for your nationality. That was overwhelmingly the case in Iran.
We were having an off camera gathering to celebrate our producer Tom Vitale’s birthday at a restaurant in Tehran. When the other diners heard there was a birthday at our table, the whole dining room sang us Happy Birthday in farsi and English. This was not an isolated incident, only one example. Our daily experiences were filled with delightful incongruities.
At the time we were there, the mood was cautiously hopeful for a time where we, Americans and Iranians, might see more of each other in the near future. Iran, it should be pointed out, is very beautiful. The food is spectacular. Iranians are very proud of their cooking — and for good reason. They are also famously generous hosts.
During my time in Iran, I was not naïve about where I was — or the realities of the situation. The secret police camped out a few doors down from my room (very congenial ones, to be fair), were a reminder. The fact that twitter, instagram, and Facebook are forbidden. The sinister sounding “Ministry of Guidance”, for whom we had to refer for approvals, were unfailingly congenial and helpful, however. No intrusive government presence — or attempts to shape our story were felt as we went about our business, unlike any number of other places we’ve shot over the years.
We were not there to do an “expose” of life inside Iran. Nor were we there to do a fair, balanced, comprehensive overview — or anything of the sort. My intention was simply to give a flavor of that weird intangible, what it feels like to walk the streets, sit at the table, look around. To listen. To show you what I saw.
This is not a black and white world — as much as people would like to portray at as such. That’s not an apology for anything. I’m just saying that the brief, narrow slice of Iran we give you on this episode of PARTS UNKNOWN is only one part of a much deeper, multi-hued very old and very complicated story. Like anything as ancient and as beautiful as the Persian Empire, its worth, I think, looking further. It’s also place that can warm your heart one day and break it the next.
At the time of this writing, Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian remains imprisoned. The reasons for his arrest have never been explained. In our time with him, on camera and off, he was unfailingly affectionate and generous in his portrayal of Iran — an advocate for — if anything — understanding. It is a mystery and an injustice that any would find fault with him or his wife, Yeganeh (who has only recently been released).
The English actor, writer, and technology enthusiast, Robert Llewellyn, was born on this date. He has worked in British television, with an early success in 1989 as Kryten on the show, Red Dwarf.
He has written a dozen books, but it wasn’t until he worked with Unbound.co.uk that he produced his first science fiction novel, News from Gardenia .
I’ve struggled for 3 years to come up with a term that properly describes what I’m trying to do with the News from trilogy.
Although I was originally inspired by re-reading the utopian novel News from Nowhere  by William Morris, that was only a starting point.
I originally set out to describe a possible world 200 years in the future that was simply better than the one we live in now. A world where people had stopped burning things to make or do other things, a world where the human race lived with the planet, not from it.
Writing the books has made me appreciate long term thinking, how the technology we are wedded to is utterly outdated and short term and how our current actions are increasingly likely to affect the future.
So I never wanted to use the term ‘Utopian’ to describe the worlds I was creating, they were not intended to be ‘perfect worlds where all was in harmony’ (that last phrase to be read in the ‘High Kryten’ style as depicted in Red Dwarf V episode ‘Demons and Angels’)
I simply used the description, ‘not dystopian’ to describe what I was attempting to do.
When explaining the books to an audience I would get a few cheap laughs by saying ‘there are no zombies, no earth shattering meteors, no post apocalyptic nightmare where one man, played in the movie by Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis or Denzel Washington has to walk across a burning world shooting people to save his daughter.’
But I didn’t have a word to describe what the stories were. […]
In [an interview with Kevin Kelly] I heard he used the term ‘Protopian.’
Thank you Mister Kelly, that’s the term I’ve been looking for.
A protopian novel is set in a future that is not set in aspic, it is better than today but still developing and changing. Protopia is Progress Utopia; as Mister Kelly states, ‘today is a little better than yesterday, not much, but it is a little better, and tomorrow will be a little better than today.’
His latest book is News from the Squares . He is preparing the third book in the News from trilogy, News from the Clouds, which is, on his birthday, a little more than half-funded at Unbound.co.uk.