Before the period of Glasnost in the wake of General Secretary Benn’s death, there was a playground expression that spread from school to school, town to town. Parents and teachers tried to stop it, but as with all rumours they must burn themselves out like wildfires. If a child wanted to intimidate someone, they simply whispered the phrase, “I know all about you.” Some believed it referred to the KGB and the cultural revolution. In actual fact, it referred to something far more terrifying: Noel Edmonds’ New Year Presents.
During the British Revolution a number of cultural figures were allowed to carry on working, so long as they did not act in a manner that could unsettle the delicate transformation process being undertaken by the government. While some figures accepted early retirement or emigrated during the period of grace following the revolution when free travel was permitted, others were able to find a new place for their talents. One such man was Noel Edmonds, a successful broadcaster who was garnering a reputation for himself as cool under pressure and able to organise amazing technological feats. Many will recall the first live broadcast from an Ilyushin 62 Britair plane in 1985, when dignitaries such as Feargal Sharkey, Juri Antonov, and Wee Jimmie Krankie greeted the USSR from the sky on Christmas morning. Edmonds co-ordinated this from the GPO Tower in London, and his congenial manner instantly gained him a following.
It was around this time that interest in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) across Siberia was piqued in the GBSSR. General Secretary Benn had promised restructuring and nationalisation, ensuring that unemployment would be abolished by 1990. However, the students of the GBSSR began to agitate against the goverment. They found an unlikely ally in the form of the Church of England, whose churches became the only uncontrolled space in the GBSSR, yet the government felt an action of solidarity with a major project might be the solution. Students were offered the chance to spend a year working on the BAM project as a condition of their tuition. In fact, they were offered a deal: if they agreed to eighteen months on BAM, the mandatory three years’ teaching service would be waived.
The sense of adventure and a desire not to end up in a school in Essex saw thousands of students sign up. When they arrived at BAM, they realised that the government had offered them a space in which they could read, write, and study freely, albeit in the extreme temperatures of Siberia and many thousands of miles away from the mainland GBSSR. Many, many, never returned. Instead, they married locals and settled along the line, gaining them the new nickname “Voluntary Decembrists”, after the 1825 exiles.
A few years later, the popularity of Noel Edmonds had led to him receiving his own primetime show on state television on New Years Eve, just before the usual musical performances and rerun of Irony of Fate. The GBSSR had decided to develop a show that rewarded families and individuals who had suffered during that year as a consequence of illness or an ailment dating back to the pre-revolutionary days. The original candidate, a former DJ on Radio 1 and popular presenter, had drowned off the coast of Scarborough in a rumoured cover-up of scandal. Yet Noel was an instant hit.
One of the most frequent treats for the families was a reunion, offering the chance to be reunited with family members living in Siberia or in other areas of the USSR. By the late 1990s, these shows were a tradition and families would write long letters to LonFilm to ask to be reunited with their relatives. In 1999, Edmonds produced a special “Reunion” series in which BAM workers were brought back to the GBSSR to see their families and introduce their children and spouses. Normally the unwitting beneficiary of the State’s benevolence would be hard at work laying track when a man in an ill-fitting coat would appear with a camera crew. He would then pull out a microphone and say,
“Hello, is that Mark? Mark Johnson? Yes it is. I know all about you. About Tanya, and your boys Sasha and Misha. And your parents back in Crewe. They miss you!”
Some stayed in the GBSSR. When they arrived, often the participants would have sallow cheeks, or would have bruises from where they had fallen on the journey. They would more often than not talk of how successful BAM was, and why this was the actual reason they had settled in Siberia, before being given the chance to have their right to live in the GBSSR reinstated. In some cases, they returned to their new homeland.
Yet that phrase, “I know all about you” began to mean more than just the research that Noel Edmonds had undertaken. It became a sinister term that made a whole system of preventitive custody, designed to ensure the success of the revolution, seem somehow unjustified. When children began to sing it as a playground chant, the government knew they had to intervene. Edmonds was seconded to a film unit in the Georgian SSR, where he began to return to his broadcasting roots: a series about encouraging citizens to share and communicate with each other in order to swap goods they might need. Red-coloured Swap Concern is still compulsive Saturday morning viewing in all other republics other than the GBSSR, where a similar show featuring People’s Artist of Britain Keith Chegwin is broadcast.
Edmonds’ reputation was all but tarnished by the way his words spread through the playgrounds, and began to influence public opinion and convince people that the “third way” that Benn had touted initially was all but a pipe dream. The writers’ colonies on the Isle of Skye and Alderney were not enough for many intellectuals, and the State Union of Writers President Carol Ann Duffy tried in vain to prevent writers from leaving for BAM, citing that their works would never be printed in the Manchester Guardian ever again. In these years, there was an exodus of young writers and artists for Siberia.
It has only been in the last couple of years that a number of GBSSR scandals have been explained, including the lost honour of Noel Edmonds. In fact, there have been rumours of Edmonds returning to the GBSSR at a later date, convincing enough to make a number of people in London and Moscow nervous.
Current Minister for Cultural Affairs and former revolutionary Russell Brand famously stated that a comedian would make a poor politician, though his own background makes this a poor excuse. Perhaps, one day, there might be a General Secretary Edmonds?
UPDATE: The last two lines of the above text was redacted after a polite legal request from the Ministry for Cultural Affairs. I would like to apologise to readers of these dispaches and confirm that life here is – to use the Minister’s own phrase – “fan-tacky-wastic”.