A decade ago I was editing 2000 AD when the weekly comic was preparing to celebrate 20 years of publication. For the birthday issue we produced a replica of the very first issue as a free gift. The following week we produced 3000 AD, a special supplement that imagined what that first issue might be like if it was being created in 1997, not 1977. Former 2000 AD editor Steve MacManus and I adapted the stories seen in the first prog, updating them for a contemporary audience and assigning the comic's fresh, young talents to illustrate these tale.
Most of the scripts remained much the same, but decided to push the concept a bit further with our 1997 version of M.A.C.H. 1. The original strip by Pat Mills and Enio was a thinly disguised remake of popular US TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, and featuring a British secret agent being cybernetically enhanced. M.A.C.H. 1 also had a computer lodged in his brain, advising him what to do. I decided to take this basic template and get satirical with it.
In January 1997 Britain's Conservative Government was stumbling towards a May election, with a public perception that the party was mired in sleaze and corruption. By comparison New Labour led by Tony Blair seemed fresh, pristine and - well - new. So I wrote a script that saw New Labour elected to power by a landslide, something that proved entirely accurate four months later. I had the new PM augmented with new powers and gave him an artificial intelligence telling him what to do. In the original script reproduced below, that AI was called AIRE. By the time the 3000 AD supplement was published, the AI had been renamed Doctor Spin.
This first B.L.A.I.R. 1 story got a small amount of news media coverage, but only Time Out magazine paid it much attention - perhaps turning Tony Blair into a cartoon superhero was too far ahead of its time. So we had another bite of the cherry later in the year, once New Labour was in power and the whole country had gone mad for Tony Blair. Ten years on, it's hard to remember how long that Cool Britannia honeymoon seemed to last, or how popular Tony Blair once was. It seemed he could do no wrong - now it seems he can do no right.
The second B.L.A.I.R. 1 series was written by Alan Grant and it got masses of media coverage, thanks to a well-placed leak to a regional news agency that posted its story to the Press Association. Soon 2000 AD and B.L.A.I.R. 1 was all over the radio, the newspapers and TV news reports. It even got featured on topical TV news quiz Have I Got News For You. The strip became an occasional feature in the comic, but readers tired of our Tony Blair long before the country wearied of the real thing.
B.L.A.I.R. 1 was killed off in 1999, killed in action at the Millennium Dome. Eight years later, the real Tony Blair is stumbling towards his retirement from No 10 Downing Street. As always, 2000 AD proved itself to be the comic of tomorrow, predicting the future in which we now live. So, here's the script for that first episode of B.LA.I.R. 1, published in full for the very first time...
1. Small panel, a pile of overlapping newspapers with red, blue and yellow election rosettes laying atop them. The following headlines are visible:- LANDSLIDE VICTORY (in The Guardian); WE WIN AT LAST! (in The Mirror); IT WOZ THE SUN WOT WON IT (AGAIN!) and WACKO JACKO LIVES ON TACO SNACKO DIET! (in the Sport).
2. The new PM and his wife seen from behind, holding hands and waving, silhouetted against tv camera lights and flashing photographers' bulbs.
JAG BLN (no tail):
THE 1997 GENERAL ELECTION IS OVER. HERE WE SEE THE VICTORIOUS LEADER AND HIS WIFE CELEBRATING.
3. The couple turn and walk into No. 10 Downing Street, a policeman standing by as always. A reporter stands in the foreground, speaking to camera.
THERE THEY GO INTO NUMBER TEN DOWNING STREET, STEPPING THROUGH THAT FAMOUS BLACK DOORWAY.
4. Cut to inside No. 10, where we see the face of Prime Minister revealed - it's Tony Blair. He leans back against the now closed door and smiles triumphantly, one fist punching the air.
JAG BLN (no tail):
I WONDER HOW TONY BLAIR FEELS NOW - AFTER NEARLY TWO DECADES OF TORY RULE, HE HAS LED LABOUR TO A FAMOUS VICTORY...
WE DID IT! WE FINALLY DID IT! YES! YES!
5. Blair gets that manic, fervent look in his eyes. To his right stands Cherie Blair, also smiling but rather more serious.
ALL THE THINGS WE CAN PUT RIGHT! NEW LABOUR - NEW HOPE! LABOUR'S COMING HOME! LABOUR'S COMING--
YES, DEAR. BUT FIRST WE NEED TO PREPARE YOU FOR THE TASKS THAT LIE AHEAD.
6. Tony is now serious, nodding, concentrating, one fist clenched before his face.
YES, YOU'RE RIGHT! IT'S THE ONLY WAY IF WE'RE GOING TO MAKE THIS COUNTRY GREAT AGAIN!
LINK: I MUST BECOME---
1. Big splash panel of Tony Blair smashing his way through a brick wall - see ref from the original M.A.C.H. 1 strip, as published in Prog 1 of 2000 AD.
BIO-ENHANCEMENT LINK-UP VIA ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RELAYS
NOT SO MUCH A MAJOR LEADER
MORE A MAJOR WEAPON!
2. First of four inset panels showing the transformation of Tony Blair into B.L.A.I.R. 1. In this panel we see Tony in a secret laboratory as per the original first M.A.C.H. I episode, with a white-coated boffin in the background readying strange machinery.
GRADUALLY TONY BLAIR IS TRANSFORMED, USING THE POWER OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RELAYS---
3. Another inset panel. We see surgeons operating on Tony (his face not visible). The process is watched by Cherie from a glass-walled viewing platform over the operating table.
WE'VE ALREADY PUT THE COMPU-PUNCTURE ELECTRO-NEEDLES IN TONY'S BODY, GIVING HIM THE STRENGTH OF FIFTY MEN!
NOW WE'RE PUTTING THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RELAYS ONTO HIS SKULL
4. Close-up of Tony's head with computer circuits visible, as in original M.A.C.H. 1 strip.
BLN (no tail):
THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL BOOST HIS MENTAL POWERS BY FEEDING DATA DIRECTLY INTO HIS BRAIN!
5. Cherie talks to Tony.
THE OPERATION WAS A SUCCESS, TONY. YOU'RE THE FIRST PERSON TO EVER HAVE BIO-ENHANCEMENT LINK-UP VIA ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RELAYS...
YOU ARE B.L.A.I.R. 1!
NOW IT'S TIME FOR YOUR FIRST MISSION!
1. Tony taps a hand against the side of his head.
HEY - THERE'S A VOICE IN MY HEAD!
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE RELAY - CALL ME AIRE.
STATUS: TERRORISTS HAVE HIJACKED AN UNDERGROUND TRAIN - ONLY YOU CAN STOP THEM.
2. Tony is going down the stairs into Kings Cross/St Pancras tube station.
DATA: TERRORISTS HAVE TAKEN HOSTAGES ON THE CIRCLE LINE. THEY ALSO HAVE DEADLY NERVE GAS.
PROBLEM: TERRORISTS KILL HOSTAGES IF TRAIN STOPS.
SOLUTION: YOU CATCH TRAIN - WHILE IT'S STILL MOVING.
3. Tony runs along the circle line platform after the train - see reference.
AIRE, CAN I MAKE IT?
AFFIRMATIVE. TRAIN TOP SPEED: 100 KMPH. B.L.A.I.R. 1 TOP SPEED: 160 KMPH.
4. Tony leaps after the train in a flying kung fu kick, smashing open the back door - see ref.
THEY SAY A COMPUTER NEVER LIES - LET'S SEE IF THE SAME APPLIES TO AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE!
OKAY, HERE GOES...
5. Tony has landed inside the tube train, back door flattened beneath his feet.
I KNEW I HAD POWER BUT NOT THIS MUCH - WHAT HAVE I BEEN TURNED INTO?
EMOTIONS IRRELEVANT. FOCUS ON IMMEDIATE DANGER.
6. Bearded, maniacal-faced terrorist stands over Tony with a female hostage held by the hair in one hand and a large cylinder marked NERVE GAS in the other hand.
YOU'VE FALLEN INTO OUR TRAP, MR BLAIR. NOW I WILL DESTROY YOU AND EVERYONE ELSE ON THIS TRAIN!