Six degrees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am

Scientific colossus Stephen Hawking celebrates his 70th birthday today - not bad for someone who in their early 20s was diagnosed with a disease that usually comes with a life expectancy of less than a decade - and his latest television programme, Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking, made its Hong Kong debut on Thursday. The scientific trailblazing, universal acclaim and so on are all very good, but his career received the ultimate accolade when he appeared on The Simpsons, a distinction he shares with the perhaps less-admired Rupert Murdoch ...

Murdoch - whose appearances on The Simpsons may or may not be related to the fact that he owns it, via his Fox network - saw his reputation take a nosedive after the phone-hacking scandal engulfed his now-defunct British tabloid News of the World. Still, he has the ideal man to polish his image, PR guru son- in-law Matthew Freud - whose family has had several other famous members, including the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud ...

A genius he may have been, but some of Freud's ideas were, to say the least, a little wacky. He was, after all, an enthusiastic user of a medicine he favoured to treat depression, migraines and other conditions: cocaine. In the 1974 novel and 1976 film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, the character of Freud meets one of the most renowned fictional users of the drug, Sherlock Holmes, who is taken to see him to cure his cocaine-induced delusions. In the film, starring in the role of kidnap victim Lola Deveraux was Vanessa Redgrave ...

Besides having a family as famous as the Freuds, Redgrave is known as a tireless political activist working for the poor and oppressed. She has set up a bewildering array of political parties with words such as 'workers', 'progress' and 'revolution' in their names. In the 1969 film version of the stage musical Oh! What a Lovely War, she portrayed another great British political activist, Sylvia Pankhurst ...

A key figure in the women's suffrage movement, along with her mother and sister, Pankhurst was, for a time, active in the communist movement, even having a falling out with Lenin over political theory. Later, she became one of the world's leading campaigners against fascism - also a preoccupation for numerous major cultural figures, including Pink Floyd ...

Floyd bass player Roger Waters' father was killed in the second world war, so the Nazi bombings and neo-fascist rallies in the 1982 film Pink Floyd: The Wall aren't really so surprising. The prog-rock behemoths haven't always been so pessimistic, though: the song Keep Talking, for example, expresses the hope that any problem can be solved by talking about it - doing so in part using the sampled voice of Stephen Hawking.


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