Yesterday morning, Radio Four covered the progress of the government’s vaccination scheme in a feature on the ‘Broadcasting House’ programme. Toward the end of the segment, they interviewed beloved actor and big personality Brian Blessed, who apparently has been vaccinated now. I recognised Blessed from his role as King Richard IV in the first series of Blackadder, and from sundry miscellaneous appearances on panel shows and chat shows. After the usual and well-deserved praise of the NHS, the BBC interviewer prompted Blessed to send a message to all listeners named ‘Gordon’, at which point Blessed roared ‘Gordon’s alive!’ (at the 20:00 marker).
I’ve lived here for nigh on to twelve years now, and this still mystified me. Though I had always kept an eye on goings-on in British film, television, popular music, and so on, I don’t have the background of a lifetime fully immersed in British popular culture, and this one hit not just one, but areas of my ignorance.
For US readers: it turns out that this all hinges on the campy Flash Gordon film (the one for which Queen performed the soundtrack), in which Blessed plays Prince Vultan. I had no interest in Flash Gordon when the film was released in 1980, so I missed it the first time around, and I never returned to a film that I thought cartoon-y (in a bad way), dated, and probably tone-deaf about cultures and gender. In this respect I differ, apparently, from Her Majesty who allegedly watches the film every Christmas. At a certain point in the film, Prince Vultan learns that the eponymous hero has not, in fact, nbeen killed by Ming the Merciless I still have not watched Flash, but I’m fascinated by catch-phrases and the way they develop, so I sought out a clip from the film that includes Blessed expostulating ‘Gordon’s… alive?!’
Two things struck me as I watched the clip in question. First, I strongly doubt that anyone would have guessed at the time that Blessed’s query would develop into a catchphrase. Nothing in the dialogue, the blocking, or the cinematography suggests emphasis on these words. It is a certain sort of emergent phenomenon, catching particular viewers’ attention, in a particular way, in connection with a particular actor, at a particular cultural moment.
Second, if you listened to the radio clip and then watched the film, you might be surprised (as I was) that although Blessed bellows his line on the radio (and everywhere else he appears — Blessed has been given a unique vocal instrument and he makes the most of it), in the film he expresses it in a fairly ordinary tone. Ever since then, though — and in keeping with the magnitude of Blessed’s persona in everything he has done since then — the phrase has necessarily been roared at full volume.
So learning, and deliberating about quirky details in life and culture, never stops.
Oh, by the way: running streak = twenty-three days.