This Week in History recalls memorable and decisive events and personalities of the past.
8th September 1966 – The landmark American science fiction television series, Star Trek, premieres with its first-aired episode, ‘The Man Trap’
To boldly go where no show had gone before, Star Trek would become a massive popular culture force and has inspired millions to be writers, scientists and astronauts around the world. Even now, almost 60 years later, there are still Star Trek series on TV, and Star Trek conventions draw thousands every year from across the world. That Star Trek would have such great success was not obvious when it began.
When the show was first aired by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) between 1966 and 1969, it had poor ratings and failed to make much of a splash culturally. As a result, it was cancelled after only three seasons and 79 episodes.
Created by executive producer Gene Roddenberry in 1964, Star Trek was envisioned as a science fiction show which had an optimistic view of the future, a future where humanity had conquered all the old problems of poverty, racism and war and now lived in a post-scarcity society where the only concerns were the pursuit of knowledge and peace across the stars.
The first ‘pilot’ episode was rejected by the studio as ‘too cerebral’, and yet, unusually, the studio executives gave the creators an opportunity to produce a second ‘pilot’ episode. Of the main actors, only Leonard Nimoy was retained in the second pilot and he was joined by William Shatner and DeForest Kelley. Shatner would go on to lead the show as Captain Kirk, a role which he performed with enthusiasm and energy, even if some of his performance seems a bit over the top to a modern audience.
Star Trek’s writing focused on good philosophical science fiction, where each episode is a problem to be solved, very rarely with destruction and often involves mysterious phenomena which have to be decoded by the protagonists.
The production also shows a non-racial future where the multi-racial crew of the Starship Enterprise work and cooperate with each other without race playing much of a role. Much of the politics of the show is informed by sentimental 60s centre-left ideology, with some episodes explicitly exploring themes relating to this outlook.
After its initial cancellation, reruns of Star Trek in the 1970s suddenly caught on, with a dedicated fan base keeping the show popular enough to ensure that it never entirely went off the air. Over time, the show grew in popularity until eventually the original cast was brought back to make the first Star Trek films. Its dedicated fan base also developed a number conventions and projects dedicated to the show, which have become the bedrock of much of contemporary ‘geek’ culture today. Star Trek has also benefited from numerous reboots, remakes and spin-offs of varying quality that have continued to grow and develop the audience and story of the original show.
Beyond Star Trek’s entertainment and financial goals, series creator Roddenberry always hoped that it would serve as a vision for the future, or, as he said, ‘depict the world operating harmoniously’ so that ‘perhaps people will believe it is possible’.
9th September 1939 – The Battle of Hel begins, the longest-defended pocket of Polish Army resistance during the German invasion of Poland at the start of the Second World War
‘Poland is not yet lost’ is the name by which the Polish national anthem is known in English. It is a statement of the Polish national myth, that of a nation which despite its numerous enemies will not perish while its people still live.
Poles have over the centuries seemingly taken this ethos to heart, as their military history is littered with stories of heroic last stands and miraculous victories against the odds. One such example is the Battle of Hel, a battle fought for just under a month on the Hel Peninsula of the Baltic Sea by Polish troops against the invading forces of Nazi Germany in the opening weeks of the Second World War. It was the one of the last parts of Poland to surrender to the invaders.
The Hel Peninsula had been home to a Polish naval base since 1936 – three years before the German invasion of 1939 – and was meant to keep Poland’s narrow corridor to the sea open in the event of an invasion. The base was heavily fortified as a result and could only be accessed by a thin strip of land connecting it to the mainland. It was surrounded by water on three sides.
On the opening day of the German invasion on 1 September, the German air force began bombarding the base. The next day, ships anchored at the base did battle with some German warships in one of the few actions of the Polish Navy during the Second World War. The Poles succeeded in driving off the German attackers and, apart from some air attacks, the base was relatively unharmed for the next week.
On 9 September, when the main Polish forces retreated from the German advance, the base was cut off by German troops advancing up the peninsula towards the base. The Poles, despite being heavily outnumbered (having around 2 800 troops) fought ferociously from position to position, resisting the 38 000-strong German force attacking them. On 12 and 13 September, the Polish forces used their ships to lay a minefield in the waters around the base and then abandoned their ships to face the ground attack. As the month progressed, German dreadnoughts arrived to shell the Polish positions, but with little success. By late September almost the whole of Poland had been conquered by the Germans – or by the Soviets, who had joined the invasion.
On 30 September the Germans launched a major assault on the peninsula, and the Polish defence began to falter. Heavy German artillery and an armoured train battered the Polish defences, and morale dropped. There were attempted mutinies on 29 and 30 September, which were quelled. But the Poles were now low on supplies and ammunition, and on 1 October the Polish commander, seeing the situation was hopeless, ordered his troops to surrender.
Five days later, the last organised resistance ended in Poland. However, the Polish government – unlike the governments of France, Denmark and Norway – never surrendered and thousands of Polish troops and civilians walked or rode across Europe to France to continue the fight against Germany. Polish pilots and troops served mainly with British forces for the rest of the war, generally serving with distinction.
The Polish national anthem [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N057iKYUj0c]
10th September 1967 – The people of Gibraltar vote to remain a British dependency rather than becoming part of Spain
In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, British and Dutch troops captured the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, an area around the famous ‘Rock of Gibraltar’, from the Spanish crown. In 1713 this land was given to the British crown ‘in perpetuity’ as part of the Treaty of Utrecht.
From that point on it became an important naval base for the British, as the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea is only 14 km wide near Gibraltar and is, thus, an important choke point which can restrict access to the entire sea.
The town at Gibraltar grew steadily after the British took control, accepting immigrants from all over Europe and beyond, with French, Jews, Maltese, Italian and Portuguese immigrants joining those who had immigrated from Britain. This led to the development of a unique Gibraltarian identity, which made the region culturally distant from Spain.
In the 1950s, the Spanish dictator Franco asserted Spain’s claim to Gibraltar, and moved to shut its border with Spain so as to pressure the British into negotiating. In 1965, the United Nations general assembly urged the governments of Britain and Spain to resolve the dispute over the status of Gibraltar by negotiation.
A proposal was put to the British which would allow Spain to take control of the area in 1966, but allowing Britain to keep a military base there subject to further negotiations. The British decided to put the agreement to a referendum, asking the people of Gibraltar to vote to either ‘(pass) under Spanish sovereignty’ in accordance with the terms proposed by the Spanish government, or retain their link with Britain, with democratic local institutions, and with Britain retaining its existing responsibilities.
The result was overwhelming, with 12 138 votes (99.4% of votes cast) in favour of remaining with Britain.
Since that time, Gibraltar has remained a British possession, despite another vote in 2002 which produced a similar result. It has also remained a sore point of Anglo-Spanish relations.