R.U.R: Rossum’s Universal Robots

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On this day 80 years ago the BBC broadcast the first piece of television science-fiction ever.

On 11 February 1938 a thirty-five-minute adapted extract of the play RUR, written by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek, was broadcast live from the BBC’s Alexandra Palace studios. Concerning a future world in which robots rise up against their human masters, it was the only piece of science fiction to be produced until the BBC television service resumed after the war..

The play introduced the word robot, which displaced older words such as “automaton” or “android” in languages around the world. In an article in Lidové noviny Karel Čapek named his brother Josef as the true inventor of the word.In Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters’ lands and is derived from rab, meaning “slave”.

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The play had been referenced in several popular TV shows after it’s first broadcast in 1938.

n the Star Trek episode “Requiem for Methuselah”, the android’s name is Rayna Kapec (an anagram, though not a homophone, of Capek)

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In Batman: The Animated Series, the scientist that created the HARDAC machine is named Karl Rossum. HARDAC created mechanical replicants to replace existing humans, with the ultimate goal of replacing all humans. One of the robots is seen driving a car with “RUR” as the license plate number.

The 1999 Blake’s 7 radio play The Syndeton Experiment included a character named Dr. Rossum who turned humans into robots.

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In the 1977 Doctor Who serial “The Robots of Death”, the robot servants turn on their human masters under the influence of an individual named Taren Capel.

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In the 1995 science fiction series The Outer Limits, in the remake of the “I, Robot” episode from the original 1964 series, the business where the robot Adam Link is built is named “Rossum Hall Robotics.

In Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, when Wolff wakes Chalmers, she has been reading a copy of R.U.R. in her bed. This presages the fact that she is later revealed to be an android.

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Although the original play was written in 1920 nearly a 100 years later it is still referenced in Sci Fi shows and ganes. Currently a new movie version is in production with a release date in 2019.

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Chanson d’automne- a coded message

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Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn Song”) is a poem by Paul Verlaine, one of the best known in the French language. It is included in Verlaine’s first collection, Poèmes saturniens, published in 1866 (see 1866 in poetry). The poem forms part of the “Paysages tristes” (“Sad landscapes”) section of the collection.

 

In World War II lines from the poem were used to send messages to the French Resistance about the timing of the forthcoming Invasion of Normandy.

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In preparation for Operation Overlord, the BBC had signaled to the French Resistance that the opening lines of the 1866 Verlaine poem “Chanson d’Automne” were to indicate the start of D-Day operations. The first three lines of the poem, “Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne” (“Long sobs of autumn violins”), meant that Operation Overlord was to start within two weeks.

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These lines were broadcast on 1 June 1944. The next set of lines, “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”), meant that it would start within 48 hours and that the resistance should begin sabotage operations especially on the French railroad system; these lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15.

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