The War Game Files…Radio 4 programme discusses the recent finding that the Government asked the BBC not to show the 1965 drama, The War Game. The BBC had previously claimed this was their own decision

Posted: 1 June, 2015 in BBC, UK Government Censorship
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War Game DVD Michael Aspel The War Game is a 1965 UK war Sci-Fi drama by Peter Watkins.
Starring Michael Aspel, Peter Graham and Kathy Staff. IMDb

The War Game is a fictional, worst-case-scenario docu-drama about nuclear war and its aftermath in and around a typical English city. Although it won an Oscar for Best Documentary, it is fiction. It was intended as an hour-long program to air on BBC 1, but it was deemed too intense and violent to broadcast. It went to theatrical distribution as a feature film instead. Low-budget and shot on location, it strives for and achieves convincing and unflinching realism.

A Scots academic has uncovered previously secret government files which show how the BBC collaborated with Whitehall officials in the 1960s to ban a controversial film about a nuclear attack on Britain.

BBC drama documentary The War Game , which showed scenes of radiation sickness, firestorms and widespread panic following a nuclear attack on Britain, was infamously pulled from broadcast at the 11th hour in 1965. The corporation insisted it was its own decision to implement the ban as the footage was too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting .

However the move has been mired in controversy ever since, as it was known the drama had been viewed by Whitehall officials in the weeks beforehand. Now fifty years on, John Cook, professor of media at Glasgow Caledonian University, has uncovered previously secret Cabinet Office files which show how civil servants influenced the banning of the film.

Sir Norman Brook, who was chair of the BBC Board of Governors at the time had written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend to alert him to the film ahead of its planned broadcast. Cook said one key memo he uncovered revealed Brook and Trend subsequently had a meeting with then director of the BBC Sir Hugh Carleton Greene. He said:

In the memo Sir Hugh Carleton Greene said if it was decided by the government the film should not be shown, then the BBC would put out a press release saying they had taken the decision independently. It is pretty clear.

The War Game was not screened by the BBC until twenty years later, in July 1985. The film’s director Watkins left Britain to work abroad in protest following the ban.

These findings will be discussed as part of a BBC Radio 4 programme The War Game Files, which will be broadcast on Saturday 6th June at 8pm.

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