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Elton, Ben

Entry updated 16 October 2023. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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Working name of UK television comedian, playwright and author Benjamin Charles Elton (1959-    ), well known for the contumely and sharpness of his early stand-up verbal Satire; in the 1980s, he was equally well-known for his writing and for his delivery of his own scripts. More recently, he has attracted criticism for his more anodyne later work, which includes lyrics for undemanding stage shows, including the jukebox musical We Will Rock You (performed 2002; 2004), set in a twenty-third century Dystopia overthrown when the disaffected young rediscover the songs of Queen and duly play them. His first sf novel, Stark (1989), is set in a Near-Future Australia threatened by a typical late-twentieth-century entrepreneur, who is complicit in creating "Total Toxic Overload" conditions that will soon bring about the End of the World through Pollution, an outcome the industrialists who did most to create it plan to dodge, first by insisting that the principles of free enterprise left them no choice but to exploit the world for profit, and second, by leaving the fatally polluted planet to its victims – us. They succeed in leaving; the basic message of the book, for those who remain, is that before the end of the twenty-first century it will be too late to save the Earth. In Gasping: The Play (performed 1990; 1990), a UK corporation, after oxygen is privatized, sells "designer air". Gridlock (1991) less successfully dramatizes a sudden UK-wide traffic jam – an event first anticipated in James Hanley's What Farrar Saw (1946) – though the text clearly continues Elton's political/satirical thrust: for ideological reasons (Margaret Thatcher was still in power) the UK government has refused to finance public transport, investing instead huge sums in the construction of motorways, thus intensifying the crisis. This Other Eden (1993), also set in the near future, tends to recapitulate earlier themes, though it introduces a satirical use of the Keep: these redoubts are here called Claustrospheres. Popcorn (1993), a Hollywood (see California) tale which satirizes modern media, is also set in the Near Future.

Elton's later novels from some years decreasingly used the fantastic to point their continuing assaults on the media-driven contemporary world, or to attempt to shape visions of the twentieth century. But Blind Faith (2007) is set in a tyrannous Near Future Dystopian UK riddled by disease and fundamentalism (see Religion). Time and Time Again (2014) is a Time Travel tale whose protagonist – obeying previously sealed equations by Sir Isaac Newton establishing a link between time and gravity which will generate a Time Loop in 2025 – finds himself cast back to 2014 before the start of World War One, which he may be able to prevent by killing the Kaiser, thus averting the "terrible" twentieth consequences of the suicide of Europe. But his original reality turns out to have been one of a succession of Alternate Histories with various Jonbar Points, all generating outcomes worse than our own world; the tale ends darkly. Elton's best-known take on the Great War remains his script work for Blackadder Goes Forth (1989), the final season of the Television comedy series Blackadder. Identity Crisis (2019) is again a Satire, set in a very Near Future Media Landscape so overloaded with information that the detective protagonist mislays the plot and his own Identity. The Television series Upstart Crow (2016-2020) presents a mostly nonfantastic though fantasticated rendering of William Shakespeare's life and career in the 1590s. [JC]

see also: Transportation.

Benjamin Charles Elton

born London: 3 May 1959

works (selected)

collections and plays


previous versions of this entry

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