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George Mitchell: What would go in your Room 101?

George wonders what you would choose to put in Room 101 - maybe him?
George wonders what you would choose to put in Room 101 - maybe him?

In George Orwell’s – or to use his real name, Eric Arthur Blair’s – classic dystopian novel 1984, there were four ministries. The Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love, Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Truth.

In 1984, we are introduced to the infamous Room 101. Located in the basement of the Ministry of Love, it is a torture chamber, used by the government, known as “Oceania”, as a place where they send prisoners.

Once inside Room 101, individuals are subjected to their own phobias or worst fears. The government did so to break people mentally.

As one of the characters in the book confirms: “You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”

Apparently, Orwell named Room 101 after an actual conference room in BBC Broadcasting House where he had to endure numerous tedious meetings. What a genius, what an imagination he must have had.

George Orwell is said to have named Room 101 after a meeting room at the BBC.

And I guess that many aspects of 1984 have actually been used as a tool by real-life repressive governments. This book may well have been their manual, their “how to” book.

The East German Ministry for State Security described itself as the “sword and shield of the party”. Commonly known as the Stasi, it was both feared and hated by East Germans.

The Stasi’s job was to keep the communist party in power, at all costs. It had 100,000 regular employees and used hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to spy on and inform on others.

It is estimated that the Stasi had files on 6 million of its own people. It turned the GDR into a living Orwellian nightmare.

I’ve been inside Hohenschonhausen, the infamous former Stasi prison in old East Berlin. In the brilliant book “Stasiland” by German author Anna Funder, she points out that the Stasi chief Erich Mielke had the floors of Stasi HQ renumbered so that his personal second-floor office would be number 101. That is chilling indeed.

I’ve been inside that very room. See my photo below of Mielke’s office.

Real-life Stasi chief Erich Mielke’s private quarters, named as room 101…

The idea was of course taken from Orwell’s 1984 book.

“Room 101” was a BBC television comedy series where celebs were invited on to the show to discuss their pet hates and to try to persuade the interviewer to allow them to consign said hates to oblivion in Room 101.

The series ran from 1994 until it is was finally dropped in 2018. Shame, I loved it. Very entertaining, especially watching whatever celeb it was trying, often in vain, to justify their choices and why it should be allowed to go into 101.

What did they choose? Oh, anything and everything. For example…

Shell suits, The Jeremy Kyle Show, reality TV stars, airport security, Sooty (rather unfair that, I think), Facebook (gets my vote), famous people who say “don’t you know who I am?”, the colour beige, the metric system, people who recline their seats on planes (oh yes, 100% gets my vote), middle-aged cyclists who wear Lyra, little cartons of UHT milk, acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies.

Some real crackers in there.

I believe that comedian Jim Davidson even managed to get magician Paul Daniels put in Room 101.

The TV show Room 101, presented by Frank Skinner, ran until 2018. Credit: Hat Trick Productions. Photographer: Ellis O’Brien.

My choices for sending into the oblivion of Room 101? Hmm, I’ve had a long think about this one, not easy though, really not.

For example, for many years I’ve dreamed of being on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Stranded on a remote island, I’d have to pick eight pieces of music to take with me.

Being a huge music lover of varied tastes, it’s extremely difficult, yet I’ve made a list over the years, and managed to get it down to 12. I can’t get it down any further.

But if I somehow managed to get it down to the magic eight, I’d still then at the end of the programme have to do the following. The presenter would ask me the dreaded question – if a wave were to come and attempt to wash them all away and you could only save one track, which one would it be?

I could never decide! Hence why I’ll never manage to achieve my dream and be a castaway on Desert Island Discs.

Mind you, I’m not famous, so I’ve no chance of being asked on anyway. Maybe they could do a series on us ordinary folks, and ask the likes of you and me on the programme.

Why not? Our lives, I feel, are often more interesting compared to some of the celebs I’ve listened to.

Desert Island Discs would prove problematic for George. 

Anyway, back to my choices for Room 101.

First up – political correctness and “being woke”.

Why? The presenter would ask.

“It’s ruining our world, stifling free speech and sending us all down a very slippery slope indeed. You can’t say this anymore, you can’t say that anymore.”

I’d like to think it would be accepted into Room 101, then we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and stop pandering to everyone who screams “I’m offended!”.

Next up – single-use throwaway plastic.

I don’t think it even needs an explanation, but here goes. We are literally chocking our planet. We buy stuff wrapped in plastic, take it home, take off said plastic wrapping and bin it. Madness.

We even wrap bananas – which have their own natural protective wrapping – in single-use throwaway plastic. Bin it.

George would put bananas wrapped in single-use plastic into Room 101 given half a chance. 

Send the lot of it into Room 101 and stop killing the planet.

Last but not least – democratic western governments who imposed months of soul-destroying, job-destroying lockdowns on society without the voting public ever being asked what they thought about it.

They did it to “protect us”. Well, tell that to the 6 million Brits now on hospital waiting lists. Oh, and good luck trying to get a face-to-face appointment with your GP!

But back to Orwell and 1984. As I’ve stated in columns previously, I think its tale of controlling government and surveillance is more relevant in our world today than ever before.

Russia has banned all mention of “war” in Ukraine, forced newspapers to shut down, propaganda is taught in schools, no criticism of Russia in the Second World War is allowed, and even criticising the “war” in Ukraine can land you up to 15 years in jail.

And all the while Russia claims it has fair and free elections, that all peoples, including LGBT, have their human rights protected, it does not target civilians in Ukraine, and of course it convinces millions that it’s protecting the Russian-speaking people and their culture.

Has 1984 been used as a handbook by Russian president Vladimir Putin?

Today’s Russia is all back to front, upside down and inside-out propaganda.

On that point I’d like to quote one last paragraph from 1984. Can you see any resemblance?

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”

Finally, and with regard to the aforementioned TV programme – what are your pet hates? What would you send into Room 101, and why?

I’m a passionate believer in freedom of speech, so if you want to send me to Room 101, feel free!

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