There was a time when I couldn’t hear a Steely Dan or Beach Boys record without instantly lying back and calling to mind the days of my youth: strumming guitars on Californian beaches with the surf tripping happily in the background while ludicrously healthy Californian girls plaited my hair with daisies.
And then later: perhaps a sing song around a hastily constructed beachcomber fire, toasting marshmallows and singing innocently about wanting to buy the world some cocaine.
These memories were so luscious and vivid I could taste them. I could smell the Pacific sea breeze and the almonds or whatever the girls used to toast their hair in. There was just one problem: none of it was real, none of it had actually happened, at least not to me.
All those memories had been put there by telly, either while I was awake or through remoulding my impressionable young brain goo while I slept.
I grew up in Ireland, where the type of girls you met on our rain soaked, sand stinging beaches were very unlikely to offer to plait your hair, not unless they got to beat you up first. The sweet smelling Californian memories were obviously put there because my brain decided they were much nicer than my real memories.
Which brings me to Captain Birdseye. For all of my formative years, corporate mannequin or no, Captain Birdseye was probably the single most recognisable figure in what passed for the totality of visual media at the time. There he was with his furry beard and genial manner, surrounded by his crew of absurdly enthusiastic pre-pubescent boys and girls (Ritalin hadn’t even been heard of, and why wouldn’t they be enthusiastic: they were getting to hang out with Captain Birdseye?).
“Yee har me hearties,” he would declaim with authentic maritime gusto, “nuthin’ but the best fer the Captain’s table,” and the kids would whoop in further manic abandon as fishfingers exploded out of every nook and cranny, filling the horizon with their dripping crispiness.
I didn’t even like fishfingers at the time, but I loved Captain Birdseye, or at any rate found him terribly reassuring, possibly until well into my twenties.
Now, the original Captain Birdseye was played, with commendable nautical gusto, by a man from the English fishing village of Lowestoft. John Hewer was a real actor, but had evidently absorbed enough of the sea in his youth to be able to beam it electronically back at a generation of uncertain youth, even if it was only to convince them that they wanted some fishfingers.
When Hewer eventually retired, they decided to reinvent Captain Birdseye as a stubbly, blue clad action hero, a sort of cheapo James Bond of the high seas, and the result was just appalling, like putting a hipster beard on the Mona Lisa. It may have been one of the most shattering experiences of my life (and I’ve had a few) and I dearly hope the sales of fishfingers suffered accordingly.
Lately, they’ve moved closer to the spirit of the original by getting someone almost as old as Hewer to play the Captain, but the latest guy lacks something of the Captain’s warm fuzziness. Maybe it’s the beard. Maybe there’s a lack of a certain twinkle in the eye. Maybe most of the really good elderly bearded actors in the world all have high paying jobs on Game of Thrones.
Whatever it is, maybe it’s time the cruel world of corporate tech finally threw Generation X a fishbone.
John Hewer sadly passed away in 2008, at the age of 86, so there’s little hope of persuading him to make that kind of comeback, but that surely can’t be the end of the matter.
They’ve already crossed the Rubicon with Peter Cushing and poor old Carrie Fisher. Isn’t it time to do it again for the sake of something good, rather than just being plain creepy? Isn’t it time to approach John Hewer’s surviving nearest and dearest with an offer they can’t refuse for the rights to the Cap’n’s digital afterlife?
I can’t obviously speak for the rest of Generation X, but even if the technology isn’t quite perfect yet, I’d be quite happy to put up with a bit of that creepy flexing around the temples, that undead twinkle in the eye, simply to see the Cap’n back in action again.