The Real War of the Worlds
Robbie Meredith

BBC Radio 3: Twenty Minutes

Broadcast: Sunday 13th August 2006 @ 8:30 p.m.

August 13th marks the 60th anniversary of the death of H. G. Wells. Famous today as the author of science fiction classics: 'The Invisible Man', 'The Time Machine', and 'The War of the Worlds', the other Wells, the advocate and propagandist for a series of radical political ideas, is less well known.

Feminists, socialists and dictators alike warmed to Wells' ideas of globalisation and a world state, elitist multiculturalism and eugenics.

To investigate the impact of these ideas, and to mark the 60th anniversary of H. G. Wells's death, presenter Robbie Meredith talks to Wells' biographer - former Labour party leader Michael Foot, who himself was a friend of Wells; Fay Weldon, whose grandparents were Wells' fellow Fabians; and Sunder Katwala, General Secretary of the Fabian society, whose early leaders invited Wells to join the society to give them some fire and direction, not realising that the irrepressible Wells, frustrated by their moderation and steady debate, would soon want to take them over.

Journeying back to the early years of the 20th century, we get a ringside seat for the war of ideas between some of the giants of British 20th century intellectual life. Wells toys with Stalinism, meeting the leaders of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. within a week, and publishes his radical writings in broadsheets and magazines like Cosmopolitan. And we put Wells in the psychiatrist's chair, untangling his intriguingly complicated love life.

In the programme, Michael Foot recalls meeting Wells just before the Outbreak of World War II, and discusses Wells' socialism, as well as his womanising reputation and his style of oration ("a small squeaky voice...") contrasting him with the "booming voice and impressive debating skills" of that other Fabian giant, Wells' great rival, George Bernard Shaw.

Foot also traces his own anti-nuclear opinions back to Wells, saying "Very early in the 20th century, Wells said that they would be able to produce nuclear bombs that could be carried round in suitcases, and wrote "The World Set Free". That was a big influence."

And Wells' ideas were hugely attractive to many feminists, some of whom found his charisma equally irresistible. As Michael Foot describes: "He believed that women had every right to govern affairs - they should be set free - and he described how this might be done, better than anyone else."

Fay Weldon describes the influence of Wells on her own writing, his attitude to woman, and says that Wells' anti-democratic ideas are still valid today. She says "[We need to recover] from this fit of one man, one vote, one woman, one vote,... if we're not prepared to be told what to do, we're in for a hard time." She also recalls her grandmother telling her: "We all wanted to have affairs with H. G., with our beauty and his brains, but only Rebecca West did it, poor girl."

Sunder Katwala is interviewed in the boardroom of the Fabian society and describes how Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and other Fabians argue and fall out over the best way to create a practical utopia. Wells was hugely famous at the time, and members of the society who welcomed him in as "a fizzing ball of energy" to rejuvenate their debates, soon became outraged by Wells' unashamed promiscuousness, which grew alongside his fame.

Presenter Robbie Meredith is a writer, scholar and an Assistant Producer at BBC Northern Ireland. He has presented a number of programmes for BBC radio. He holds a PhD in Irish writing, writes on Irish culture, politics and sport for a number of publications, and is the former head of literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The documentary also features the voice of Wells himself, reading from his works, and his correspondence with his great friend and rival, George Bernard Shaw.

Presented by Robbie Meredith.

Produced by Melvin Rickarby in Belfast.

20 min.


RT Review:

The Science Fiction writer H. G. Wells was determined to save the human race, not from Martians but from itself. An arrogant ambition, perhaps, and certainly one that stretched even a man of his talents, but he made a damn good stab at it, both through his work with fellow utopian visionaries like George Bernard Shaw in the Fabian Society and in his frighteningly accurate political prophesies. Michael Foot and Fay Weldon are among Well's admirers and both contribute to this engaging, entertaining but much-shorter-than-its subject-matter-deserves mini biography.

Jane Anderson
Radio Editor
Radio Times 12-18 August 2006, p112.


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