Forbin 66

I’ve been bingeing on Endeavour, the great British TV prequel to the Inspector Morse stories. Last night, during Season 4, Episode 1, somebody made a reference to the programming language “Forbin 66”.

On one level, this was clearly a reference Fortran 66 — the first industry-standard version of the Fortran programming language. This fictional episode is taking place in 1968, and it would be reasonable for a computer of that time to be programmed in Fortran 66. But there never was a programming language called “Forbin 66”.

As it happens, the plot of the episode features a kind of “man versus machine” story — in particular, a chess playing computer that promises to dethrone the best current human grandmaster, who happened to be Russian (this was all taking place during the Cold War). But when I heard “Forbin 66”, I knew it was an Easter Egg pointing to another story from that era.

Colossus: The Forbin Project was a great 1970 SciFi movie (one of my favorites) that was also decidedly “man versus machine”. Charles Forbin is a genius who designs a secret computer defense system guaranteed to protect the U.S. from those pesky Russians.

But the Russians have built their own secret computer defense system. The two rival computer systems end up reaching out to each other and deciding they know how to run things better than humans do. Things do not turn out well for the humans.

This makes me wonder — how many other Easter Eggs do writers put into these TV shows just for fun? I suspect there might be an awful lot of them out there.

4 thoughts on “Forbin 66”

  1. Don’t forget Forbin class was a group of three protected cruisers built for the French Navy in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The class comprised Forbin, Coëtlogon, and Surcouf. They were ordered as part of a fleet program that, in accordance with the theories of the Jeune École, proposed a fleet based on cruisers and torpedo boats to defend France. The Forbin-class cruisers were intended to serve as flotilla leaders for the torpedo boats, and they were armed with a main battery of four 138 mm (5.4 in) guns.

  2. My money was on a technophobe intent on sabotaging the computer and all its human creators. The first reference I went to the IPad for was Ragnarök. Ah endeavor!

  3. What I came to say, before I decided to go minimal was, why bother to disguise Fortran as Forbin? So the Easter Egg idea. I quite like old movies as well, from all of 5 decades, and enjoy bits and pieces of some over and over. I’m hard pressed to think of an Easter Egg now, but perhaps I will spot one in future.

  4. I am writing this at 2:00am Thursday morning after bingeing on Endeavor: Series 1-4 starting at 6pm Sunday night & watching the Pilot & 1 Series each night.


    I remember in an interview once by Roger Allam (Fred Thursday) that the writers & producers believed that ‘very memorable’ or ‘historic’ lines from classic films or classic tv were great script additions, and like having an Alfred Hitchcock cameo in every episode.

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