Obituary: Leonard Nimoy

“Live Long and Prosper”

Which he did. Leonard Nimoy, who has died at the old age of four score years and three, led a busy life as the actor who portrayed one of the most iconic characters of 20th century screen and the director who oversaw the presentation of this character in two major motion pictures. It was interspersed with relative bit parts in The Man From UNCLE and Mission Impossible – for which the British 1980s satirical TV show Spitting Image produced a send-up describing him as “not Spock at all – oh no! – someone completely different”.

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born in 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts (not Lincolnshire), in the United States of America to Orthodox Jewish parents. He later attributed an understanding of what it meant to be different to the area being predominantly Catholic. He was a child infused with sufficient curiosity to peer out during the sections of the synagogue service that the worshippers were supposed to close their eyes for and see the rabbi showing a strange hand gesture involving holding up an open palm with the fingers held in a V shape, two on each arm. He trained his hand to use it. It made an interesting symbol for his television character.

His film career began while he was still in the Marine Corps of the United States Army and appeared in an instructional video. It was followed by a long line of obscure parts in films that were either B movies or have sunk with sufficient lack of trace that they might as well have been. Then in 1964 he appeared opposite William Shatner in the television series The Man from Uncle – Shatner was the man and Nimoy the villain from the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

His tall, solid features with a face readily shaped into a permanent frown made him excellent for portraying alien or semi-alien figures and he was accordingly cast in Gene Roddenberry’s new pilot for television network NBC – a 50-minute episode called The Cage which Roddenberry intended to launch a series called Star Trek. Nimoy’s alien was a character called Spock, who had pointy ears, upwards-pointing eyebrows, a severe haircut and an interest in science. The pilot was written off as “too slow” with NBC also taking exception to the presence of an alien – particularly an alien with devilish pointy ears – and a woman. Roddenberry was allowed to substitute a faster pilot which ended with a violent fight in which the Captain’s top was torn and in which the woman played a reduced role – a quid pro quo for the retention of the alien, complete with pointy ears. The Captain – James T. Kirk – was played by William Shatner. The alien’s emotional tendencies were played down. Star Trek – and Nimoy’s career as a major actor – was born.

Having produced this second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, which broadly established various Star Trek themes, NBC thoughtfully replaced it in the running order with episode 6 (which Nimoy thought little of) and moved it back to third for broadcast. The Cage was sliced and diced into the double-part 16th story, providing a sort of backstory for Spock and dealing with the problem of expensive footage that NBC had no wish to broadcast by the simple expedient of broadcasting most of it. It eventually appeared as a full episode in 1989.

Aside from the occasionally-smiling portrayal in The Cage Spock was not a character that offered great emotional range by and large, but there were odd occasions when the character was allowed to break out from raising a pre-raised eyebrow and variously remarking “Interesting” or “This is illogical, Captain”. Towards the end of the first season the spaceship USS Enterprise went into orbit around a planet where the flowers caused people to lose their inhibitions. It particularly affects Spock, who spends one scene hanging from the branch of a tree with a massive grin on his face while his captain shouts at him. Nimoy enjoyed such episodes, which apart from anything else alleviated the massive emotional strain of getting into character as a man who had no emotions. He was still something of a hit with a lot of fans, many of whom regarded him as the actual star of the show. And the series was heavily reliant on its fans, who read up with care on where NBC planned to hide it in their schedules each week as part of an effort to stop people watching it.

With the success of Star Trek giving them due prominence, Shatner and Nimoy both tried their hand at singing. Shatner’s effort at the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has what can only really be described as a certain notoriety. Nimoy, by contrast and while still equipped with Spock hairstyle, provided a lively answer to the pub quiz question as to “What links Bilbo Baggins and First Officer Spock?”

After three seasons of about 25 episodes each, NBC cancelled Star Trek and the cast went on to other things. The show went into syndication, which essentially meant that rather than being stuck on NBC once on a week it could be seen on any network in the world that fancied paying the syndication fees at whatever time said network wished to broadcast it. In 1987 the Chicago Tribune suggested that the original three seasons of Star Trek – complete with Nimoy’s eyebrows and minus his singing voice – has been on somewhere in the world on a daily basis since syndication of the show began. Not everyone chose to broadcast every episode. While much of the first series is enjoyable and the second series contains The Trouble With Tribbles (which is one of those episodes that feels like it would be iconic as a stand-alone drama) the third series features several episodes with reduced Point and unnecessary violence (including an episode devoted to randomly torturing characters on a black set, which at least had the benefit of saving on the props budget). The attempt to satirise the world’s apartheid systems makes for appropriately uncomfortable viewing, but this does not necessarily make for great television. Most of these episodes were not broadcast in Britain as part of the BBC’s presentation of the series. It made an interesting contrast with the BBC’s home-grown science-fiction programme – Doctor Who had been given a more current setting, a leading female character and did its exterior filming in quarries rather than Mid-Western deserts.

Nimoy was never quite sure what to make of this success; one argument for not casting younger (under 50) actors in major productions is they develop a horror of being typecast. (Older actors seem to be less worried. Observe the difference between the younger lead actors in Doctor Who, who mostly quit after three or four years, against one of the oldest, William Hartnell, who appreciated the work and had to be levered out. Not that it necessarily does the younger actors any good, but they do it anyway.) Nimoy became rather too good at distinguishing himself from his creation (and Spock, with his neck-pinches, hand gestures and expression, was as much Nimoy’s as the producer’s or the scriptwriters’), titling his 1977 autobiography I Am Not Spock. If he hoped that the ensuing controversy would merely promote book sales, he might have been well advised to have done promotional charity abseils instead.

After a stint as a master of disguise on Mission: Impossible (and those prosthetic ears would take some hiding) he returned to the character of Spock for a 1979 film logically called Star Trek. When he was persuaded back for a second film, it was on the basis that he would be killed off and a suitably-affecting death scene resulted. Spock was subsequently revived and Nimoy directed the next two films before the original cast began to be wound down (and, in the case of Shatner’s Captain Kirk, killed off rather more permanently) as characters from various subsequent Star Trek series were elevated to prominence.

Nimoy provided a summary of his Star Trek years in 1982 in a rather memorable programme presented entirely by himself.

After his 1987 divorce he produced a second autobiography, under the title of I Am Spock, which acknowledged on its cover the connections with his famous character and, in many ways, alter ego. He continued directing films and in 2002 produced a book of his photographs of women, under the title of Shekhina. It is intended as a demonstration of the glory of God’s creation.

The Star Trek franchise was rebooted in the 21st century and Nimoy duly reprised his role – albeit as a version of Spock who has fallen back in time to provide some form of guidance to his younger self, now portrayed by Zachary Pinto. Pinto has a rather rounder face than Nimoy’s, though this does in many ways merely serve to emphasise the youthful element. It was as this “Spock Prime” that Nimoy made what was to be his final film appearance in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, opposite Pinto, Christopher Pine (who played William Shatner) and Benedict Cumberbatch. Although Spock was not his first major character, there was still a certain poetic aptness to this.

The wonders of modern technology, somewhat advanced beyond Star Trek‘s flip phones and 3½” floppy disks, allow world-renowned actors to utter meaningful last statements to the farthest corners of the globe without having to go through their publicity agent. Nimoy signed out from Twitter in thoughtful mood on the 23rd of February 2015:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live Long and Prosper.”

Leonard Simon Nimoy, born Boston Massachussetts 26th March 1931, died Bel Air, Los Angeles, 27th February 2015.

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The Torygraph

Can’t help feeling that the Torygraph’s leader writer needs head-hunting by a political party:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/11423912/The-Telegraphs-promise-to-our-readers.html

(They’d probably prefer a right-of-centre one, but any party that needs some good-quality rabble-rousing speeches should do.)

Alas, this blogger has been too busy writing and painting to read up much on the Highly Suspect British Company (formerly the Midland Bank). This could constitute as slacking for someone who once wrote a dissertation on reforming banking law (and noted that HSBC didn’t think much of the idea of reforms, having glided through the banking crisis without needing to be nationalised). Still, the Guardian explains the problems here – with a certain lack of observation as to whether they’re particularly recent. And it does seem to have raised something with a (former) leading Torygraph columnist.

Registering to Vote

With the United Kingdom due to celebrate another General election in a trifle over three months, there has been something of a fuss today over getting people to sign onto the electoral roll. Those not on the electoral role can’t vote. (They also may not be called to do jury duty. There are a few other disadvantages as well.)

Registering to vote can be done at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and as Governments can be – regrettably – sort of important things it is highly recommended that anyone entitled to register does so (over 16 and a suitable sort of citizen being the main qualifications). A helpful information pack on how to get people to register to vote has been produced by the Electoral Commission (which details what a suitable sort of citizen probably looks like on Page 3, in place of the picture of a nude Acting Returning Officer that one of their media consultants wanted to include).

There is also a massive great website at AboutmyVote.co.uk which those who want it all to be nice and simple may prefer to ignore. Particularly since it is nice and simple:

  • you register (with 1 National Insurance number, 1 Date of Birth, 1 Name and 1 Address).
  • After the election is officially called you get sent a polling card telling you where to go to vote and when plus lots of contradictory and somewhat partisan guidance in various colours on who to vote for.
  • Eventually you tottle round to the place mentioned on your polling card at a convenient moment on the day, take a voting slip and put a pencil cross on the voting slip against the name of the person who you think will best represent your interests in Parliament.
  • The voting slip is then placed in a box, taken away and spends the night with lots of other slips being counted.
  • The person in your area who is most successful at getting people to come out and place crosses against their name wins.
  • A couple of days later they go off to Westminster and begin the job of representing your interests, whether or not you voted for them.

If you do not wish to vote, there is no particular need to register to do so – so long as you have no fundamental problem with potentially being fined £80 for non-compliance. (This is one of those penalties that mass failure to comply with won’t particularly affect, as the authorities will simply randomly fine people not complying £80 until everyone gets bored.)

Voting is not compulsory in the UK. Many people do not consider it worthwhile – and, indeed, if you can tick all the options listed below, it is not really worth your while doing so. (If you cannot tick all of them, you may wish to find a political party which agrees with you on a few key points and vote for them. Some people of presumably reasonably normal and open-minded interests have joined UKIP in support of their animal rights policies, such as they are policies and not unintended consequences.)

It does not particularly matter which way your opinion swings on each point – there are enough political parties about now that someone will probably agree with you to some degree on either side of any argument. What matters is whether you might have an opinion or if a Government formed as a result of this election might do something which affects a point of your life that concerns you.

So – these options – tick all that apply:

  1. You are not planning on travelling anywhere, whether to the Maldives, work or the kebab place round the corner;
  2. You are not of any opinion regarding how this travelling should be done, if at all, how comfortable it should be or how much it should cost;
  3. You are not employed or planning to become employed;
  4. You are not seeking some form of support while remaining unemployed;
  5. You are not planning, whether employed or not, to go on holiday at some point;
  6. You are not expecting to suffer any form of injury or ill-health;
  7. You are not expecting to need any form of care or support for any form of condition, now or in the future;
  8. You are not concerned about the supply of food or water in this country, where it comes from, who provides it, how naturally and in what way;
  9. You are not concerned about the availability of electricity, gas or oil;
  10. You do not worry where our current raw materials for energy production, like coal, gas and oil, are coming from;
  11. You are not in any form of education, funding anyone who is being educated or reliant on having educated people around;
  12. You have no particular opinion on the countryside and what we should do with it;
  13. You are not worried about the affordability of property;
  14. You are not bothered by planning rules or restrictions;
  15. You are not worried about what we should, might or could be building around the country in the way of homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals and other key national infrastructure projects;
  16. You are not worried about how we might wish to pay for any of the items listed under point 15;
  17. You do not mind if things are paid for, if they are not or if we have any system of money at all;
  18. You are not planning on buying anything which may in any way be subject to taxation (beer duty, Value Added Tax, petrol duty);
  19. You do not pay any other taxes;
  20. You do not mind who else pays taxes;
  21. You have no concerns about the National Debt, annual deficit or anything else much connected with Government finances;
  22. You are not interested in all the fuss about banks and what they do with money;
  23. You are not bothered about the defence of the realm;
  24. You are not concerned about threats, real or imagined, on either side of the argument, which may be rising up in this part or other parts of the world;
  25. You are not worried about crime levels;
  26. You do not mind what happens to people alleged to be involved in crime, what happens to them once they have been deemed to be involved in crime or indeed what constitutes a crime in the first place;
  27. You are not worried about the operation of the legal system or personal rights and responsibilities;
  28. You have no opinion on marriage, who should be allowed to get married, under what circumstances and of which genders, if any;
  29. You have no especially strong feelings on animal rights;
  30. You have no especial opinion on whether people from other countries should be able to come to the UK, how long they should be allowed to stay (if at all), what obligations should be placed on them during their stay and what should happen should the Government wish to serve them with an eviction notice or if the Government should be allowed to do so;
  31. You never worry yourself about whether or not we should be funding these other countries, how we should be funding them or what they should be doing with the funding;
  32. You do not find global warming and the Government’s response (such as it may be) to be a concern;
  33. You are not worried about wind turbines, fields of solar panels or coal and oil emissions;
  34. You have great difficulty understanding all the fuss about whether street lights should be on or not;
  35. You do not mind where things for sale in the shops, in mail order catalogues, in the darkest recesses of shopping websites or to major industries like health and the railways were manufactured or who by;
  36. You are not interested in attempts to whip up a debate on the European Union;
  37. You do not watch the television or mind what you watch thereon;
  38. You are not bothered about internet access, what is available on the internet or how people behave while on there;
  39. You have no fundamental interest in the radio;
  40. You are not interested in the origin of this radio, internet or televisual content and whether any or all of it is provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation;
  41. You pay no attention to the world of music, computer games, films or other such creative media;
  42. You do not mind what you can read, be it the works of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare or Lawrence Durrell, the third page of the Sun, any other tabloid newspaper possibly containing revelations of certain interest and legality or this blog;
  43. You do not mind what you are able to say in public, how loudly you are allowed to say it, whether it may be allowed to be derogatory about anyone or what rules and regulations may govern if anyone can write it down and place it on file to be held against you later, with or without you being told if it is being recorded, where or for what purpose and if it is or is not subsequently being held against you;
  44. You are not interested in history or culture, like bank holidays, religious or temporal festivals and the upkeep of museums, art galleries, libraries or the Royal Opera House;
  45. You do not mind if you will be allowed to vote in the future, whether or not you are allowed to become involved in any body expressing any thoughts that you may wish to align yourself with, if you are consulted on anything else and, if you are, on what you are to be consulted;
  46. You do not mind if Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Yorkshire or Essex decide to become separate countries, whether or not you are consulted on this or what may be offered to them to persuade them not to go;
  47. You do not mind if the Government increases or decreases its involvement in your life or the life of anyone else;
  48. You also have no opinion on whether the Government should own or operate key parts of the creative, industrial, banking or transport industries, if there should be a central health service free at the point of use or if Tesco should be nationalised;
  49. You do not mind if the Government which intends to have the most impact on your day-to-day life is predominantly based in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels, Strasbourg, the Vatican City, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Washington D.C., your local major city or the nearest town hall;
  50. You are not overly worried, after due consideration of the current situation in Syria, about the stability of the country vis-a-vis riots, revolts and bin collections.

It would probably be overly offensive to suggest that anyone who can tick all of these options may possibly be dead (and being dead is not always an impediment to a vote being cast in your name should you possibly still have an opinion on something despite being dead). Everyone else should go out on the 7th of May and vote.