What is it about?

'The War Game' (1965), directed by Peter Watkins, is one of the most famous and chilling films of the 1960s. A carefully researched dramatisation of what would happen if the UK were ever subject to a nuclear attack, the film went on to win an Oscar in Hollywood in 1966. But its producer, the BBC, refused to show it and imposed a worldwide television ban on the film for 20 years. For fifty years, there has been a mystery as to who exactly banned 'The War Game' and why - was it the BBC's decision alone, or was Government involved, as director Watkins always claimed, due to fear of the implications on public morale of screening this nuclear attack film on TV to a mass audience ? Making use of recently declassified UK Cabinet Office papers, this article traces how Whitehall reacted to and dealt with the controversy in 1965, using this evidence to help finally find some answers to the fifty year controversy of who banned 'The War Game' and why.

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Why is it important?

The article uses previously 'secret' and 'top secret' UK Cabinet Office memos to show the close interest UK Government and Civil Service took in the film, including the involvement of the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson himself. It shows the extent of interaction and collaboration between Whitehall and the very top echelons of the BBC raising troubling questions about the extent of the BBC's much-vaunted independence from Government. It shows there was an implicit 'public policy' to keep too-explicit discussion of the effects of nuclear weapons off the airwaves and away from a mass public during the Cold War. The article also questions some of the myths surrounding the famous reputation for liberalism cultivated around the BBC and its Director-General of the period, Sir Hugh Greene.


This article touches on some very important aspects relating to the history of broadcasting, Cold War, Government and nuclear defence policy and sure was interesting to research.

Prof. John R Cook
Glasgow Caledonian University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Who Banned The War Game? A Fifty-Year Controversy Reassessed, Journal of British Cinema and Television, January 2017, Edinburgh University Press,
DOI: 10.3366/jbctv.2017.0351.
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