"'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, 'what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is the worst thing in the world.'"
It is understood that Orwell took his inspiration for Room 101 from his time at the BBC in the 1940's. Broadcasting House at Portland Place in London contained a room 101 which served as a conference room, however there are suggestions that it did more than that. The BBC was a national broadcaster and this was during the Second World War. The BBC were rather sensitive about those who worked for them during this time and kept files on their staff, supposedly in Room 101. It has also been suggested that the Personnel Department would bring prospective staff to Room 101 to interview them as to their political beliefs. One can begin to see how the rather sinister history of the room acted to inspire Orwell's creation.
Orwell was a generally unpleasant person, anti-Semitic, homophobic and apparently anti-Catholic, his redeeming quality seemed to be that he was a democratic-socialist who championed liberal governance, he even fought alongside the republicans in the Spanish Civil War against Franco's fascist forces (you have to love a little alliteration). His less desirable personal traits aside, it is the betrayal of that last principle that disturbs me the most. In the late 1940's George Orwell took a job with the Foreign Office for a department known as the Information Research Department. His job was to provide a list of people whom he thought to have communist leanings. Orwell duly provided notebooks containing eighty-six names, mostly fellow journalists but also included the actors Michael Redgrave and Charlie Chaplin. For me, at least, it seems a betrayal of the message of his work.
The BBC have taken light of the history of room 101 with a show by the same name hosted by the wonderful Paul Merton. The idea is that celebrities will come on the show and list the things they dislike with the aim of having them consigned to Room 101. Things put into R00m 101 include Okra, Spike Milligan's House (at the request of Spike Milligan), 1975 and Portsmouth (again at the request of Spike Milligan). What would you have put into Room 101?