Thursday 17 January 2013

Buzz Aldrin and Kenneth Tynan

Buzz Aldrin also took that one small step. What did he say? What were the first words of the second man on the moon?  Did some thoughtful hack back at mission control supply him with a pithy follow-up - a deflationary wisecrack, an Armstrong-topping quip? 

What, come to that, was Neil Armstrong's second utterance that day, or that night? How do you follow the most famous fluffed line in history? And what, if any, were the slightly less historic words uttered by Neil and Buzz's uncelebrated successors Pete Conrad and Alan Bean (Apollo 12), a few months later?  Were they tempted to make an ironic reference to Scott and Amundsen's race to the Pole? Nobody anywhere seems to know what they said, or what any subsequent Apollo explorers said, intrepid souls whose names escape us all. What did they say?

Hermann Schmitt (I had to look this up) was the last astronaut to 'do an Armstrong' as we old NASA hands call it - the last space man to  step out of a module, stand on the moon's surface and make the final giant leap for all mankind. He was, rather surprisingly, the one and only astronaut with a scientific training, in geology. What did he say? "Hey ho. Same old same old" perhaps. I noticed that he's called (rather unfortunately) Jack Schmitt on the NASA website, a misjudged attempt to up his all-American credentials.

Schmitt's space oppo, his allocated Buzz, was Eugene Cernan, who would be the very last person to walk on the moon before blasting off on December 14th 1972. What, if anything, did he say? Was he inclined to deliver a poignant valedictory address to the junk and clutter left behind? Did he remember to turn out the lights? And how about all the other astronauts who stepped onto the surface of the moon after Armstrong and before Cernan in what was, for each of them, a hugely significant and life-changing moment. What did they say? What did they think?

This leads me, naturally enough, to speculate on the history of the public utterance of the word 'fuck'. It was, as we all know and may even remember, the theatre critic and cultural provocateur Kenneth Tynan who first used the word live on air during a BBC interview conducted by the late Robert Robinson (who is much missed, and was the Buzz Aldrin, if you will, of profanity). The date was 13th November 1965 and I was fast asleep in my cot,  gearing up for the all-night transmission of the moon landing just a few years away. So I missed that watershed cultural moment because it was, well, after the watershed. The Tynan programme has, alas, not survived so I had to look this up as well. Asked whether sexual intercourse could be represented in the theatre, Tynan replied: "Well, I think so, certainly. I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word 'fuck' would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden. I think that anything which can be printed or said can also be seen."

Après lui, le déluge. But who, since we're on the subject, was the first person to say 'fuck' on the wireless? Was it pre-Tynan? 

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