Books

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Nineteen Eighty-Four

It's 66 years since George Orwell's most famous novel was published, and it's fair to say that it's been pretty influential.

In fact, such was its almost unerring accuracy in predicting the future that it's hard not to believe that George himself actually invented a time machine, took a quick glimpse at modern life and then hurried back to 1949 to describe exactly what he'd seen. He missed out the bit about cat videos though, we're not sure why.

Describing life under 'Big Brother', the novel has reached far into our real lives - providing a host of well-known phrases and terms, including the umbrella term for government-sponsored deception, surveillance and manipulation of recorded history: 'Orwellian'.

Discover 10 things that you may not know about this classic by clicking on the gallery below.

(Images: Ken Craig/Shutterstock/Rex)

  • 10 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Nineteen Eighty-Four

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    The book was banned in the USSR for forty years - from 1950 through to 1990 as Stalin knew that it was a satire based on his very own leadership of control in the totalitarian Communist government under his control. However, it was also banned by the American Libraries Association for being a “bleak warning of totalitarian government and censorship”. You'd have thought they'd have wanted people to read that, wouldn't you?

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    Orwell originally planned to set the novel in 1980. Then he moved it back to 1982, before finally settling on 1984. It's possible that he settled on the final date as it was a permutation of the year in which it was written: 1948.

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    An Italian translation of the book has the famous clock in the opening line striking 'uno' instead of thirteen. The translator apparently reasoned that 'Italian clocks don't go up to thirteen' and assumed that this meant that he'd have to tick round to 'one' instead - not realising that no one else has 13 hour clocks either. An alternative theory has it that Italy was well-used to the 24-hour clock, so saw nothing unusual about the hour 13/1pm. To be honest, another two hours in the day would be tremendously helpful; we'd be able to read more, for a start.

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    4

    Orwell's torture chamber, aka Room 101, was named after a conference room in the BBC's Broadcasting House, where he had to endure many tedious meetings. Ironically, the BBC then used the term for a long-running series where people could theoretically banish their pet hates. Amongst the more interesting choices were: 19-year-old girls (Sara Cox), people who look like cats (Ross Noble), the small piece of cotton that holds a new pair of socks together (Michael Parkinson), Spike Milligan's own house and Jonathan Ross' own dress sense.

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    1984 was itself an inspiration for much more art. Coldplay's Spies, Muse's Citzens Erased, Rage Against The Machine's Testify and Radiohead's 2+2=5 are all prime examples of songs that have been influenced by the novel. The latter slogan was, in fact, used by the USSR's Communist Party to encourage the completion of their five-year plans in just four years.

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    George Orwell wrote much of Nineteen Eighty-Four at this solitary farmhouse, named Barnhill, located in the north of the Scottish island of Jura. While staying there at various points between 1946 and his death in 1950, he was known under his real name of Eric Blair. 44 years later, the island also played host to the famous burning of a million pounds by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of The KLF.

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    7

    The song Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree was based on an old English song called Go no more a-rushing, which had very similar lyrics. The latter was a popular campfire song in the 1920s, while the famous bandleader Glenn Miller recorded a version of it in 1939.

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    8

    While Nineteen Eighty-Four was well-received by virtually all reviewers, naturally, there was still someone who didn't like it. The Sunday Times' reviewer Edward Shanks stated that the novel "breaks all records for gloomy vaticination". You can't please everyone it seems.

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    9

    Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations about the extent of the surveillance of America's National Security Agency showed just how accurately Orwell had predicted the future of government observation and 'Big Brother' watching over you. In the first week after the leaks, sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four increased by up to 7 times - perhaps people were eager to find out what was going to happen next in their own lives.

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    Irony of ironies: while Orwell was writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, he himself was actually being watched by the UK government's Special Branch. He was placed under surveillance for over a decade due to his previous work The Road To Wigan Pier, which explored poverty and class oppression in the 1930s. Due to its pro-Socialist outlook, his "advanced communist views" and the fact that he "dresses in a bohemian fashion", the authorities kept a close eye on him until his death in 1950.