They were a company specialising in networking technology. They’d called themselves ‘Gandalf’. And the Tolkien estate weren’t too happy about it… Even so, could I make them a promo video?

That was the brief I good from my spectacularly good agency, One Stop. And the answer was ‘yes, I could’. Because my first question to them was ‘do you know where Tolkien got the name “Gandalf”?

They didn’t. So I told them, And we had the beginning of the show right there…

Because I’d studied Old Norse at Oxford I happened to know that the name ‘Gandalf’ – Elf of Magic – originally came from the so-called ‘Catalogue of Dwarves’ in the Eddaic poem Völuspá or ‘The Prophecies of the Seeress’. Tolkien used it to name his wizard in Lord of the Rings – understandably, given what it means – but its origins, obviously, were far older.

Gandalf the company, at that time, were busy installing and expanding a local area network linking different UK universities, known as JANET. (Joint Academic Network). So I suggested we open with an academic at his computer looking up the name ‘Gandalf’ – and coming up (first) with the Old Norse reference, and then with information about their company, which he starts to explore with ever-increasing interest.

This was a slide-tape show, and my suggestion wouldn’t need a voice-over, as the screen displays on the computer would effectively give all the necessary information. That was ideal for their purposes as the show would often be used at noisy exhibitions where a commentary would be difficult to hear.

They went with it – and rather to my surprise, asked if I’d like to take the role of the academic! I happily agreed, the show was shot, produced and paid for – and I still have a video copy of it. Which I’ll link to here as soon as I can dig out the digital copy I made of it…

And the story didn’t quite end there. Because when Mike Rohan and I came to write The Ice King I remembered JANET – and wondered what a global version, with an even more powerful search tool, might look like. Which is how we managed to predict the arrival of the internet – in a story published in 1984…