The Apocalypse Censored: Why was 'The War Game' censored in 1965?

Hamish Phelan

History & Politics

4th

Year of study:

In 1964, Peter Watkins produced a film for the BBC about the effects of a nuclear bomb attack on Britain. After viewing the film, senior members of the BBC claimed it was “too horrifying for the medium of broadcast” and it was banned from television screens for 20 years. Recently declassified government and BBC correspondence shows that the government played a large role in this decision and the director has accused the BBC of breaking its Charter of Independence. This project will analyse original archive documents, including letters from the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, to question what forces were at play in the decision to ban the film. They uncover a plot within the British Establishment to keep the horror of nuclear war away from the British public and the extent to which the BBC failed to shake off its role as a fourth arm of the government after World War Two. After the ban there was an alleged plot to darken the director’s name and silence his voice that has led to his voluntary exile from Britain and its film industry ever since. The film provides a case study for the hierarchical and elitist forces that still controlled the BBC during the Cold War, even during its supposed liberal revolution of the 1960s, and raises questions about how much the public should know about an approaching apocalypse.

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