Q) Why do we particularly single out the BBC as being a major promoter of the Culture of Death?
A) Because the BBC has consistently produced documentaries and dramas that promote abortion, euthanasia, and dangerous lifestyles.
Here are some articles on these programmes:
“Hunter" The BBC thriller ‘Hunter’ in which the pro-life movement is depicted in the form of two female medical professionals kidnapping two 7 year old children from women who have had abortions, and holding them hostage to force the BBC to show a film about abortion. One of the little boys is killed by the female doctor with a lethal injection – all shown in detail. The body is laid out, half naked, in a wood and covered with a white blanket embroidered with the word ‘sacred’. There is also a third person, who is disabled, who kidnaps a little girl with spinabifida, also destined to be killed if the demands are not satisfied. We are told that this thriller will now be firmly part of BBC’s ongoing marketing and will no doubt be sold overseas as well. Enclosed is a copy of EDM 767[printed on the page 2]. Please do all you can to draw it to the attention of your MPs and try to get them to sign.
“Casualty”: It is not the first occasion on which the BBC has presented pro-lifers in the UK as killers. Two or three years ago I had a call from a BBC research worker at “Casualty” who was asking for pro-life posters for the “soap”. I learned that they were planning an instalment in which pro-lifers set out to kill a doctor who did abortions. When I pointed out that no such event had ever occurred (or was likely to occur) in the UK and that in this country pro-lifers had always been the victims of violence (and not the other way around), I was treated with utter disdain. I also pointed out that in the USA where there had been attempts on the lives of abortion-doctors, those responsible for the crimes had not been involved in the pro-life movement – but had been mavericks who espoused violence. However, the only response was that I had the telephone slammed down on me – and they still went ahead with their more than usually silly story.
Dr Ann Turner: A play entitled “A Short Stay In Switzerland” told the story of Dr Ann Turner who chose to commit suicide in Switzerland rather than allow nature to take its course and die from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) – although she had at least about five years to live and was still able to walk comfortably with a stick. It was a true “reality” programme at its most grisly. When Dr Turner decided to end her life she travelled with her three children (plus a BBC Television news crew) to Dignitas in Switzerland the day after the VES sought publicity for its change of name to ‘Dignity in Dying’. It is therefore hardly surprising that the BBC should launch the story as a play presented to the public at prime time! Above texts from Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life.
The news item below of an inquest, highlights the dangers of TV dramas such as “A Short Stay In Switzerland” particularly if viewed by the sick and the vulnerable.
A multiple sclerosis sufferer killed herself after watching a BBC drama about euthanasia, her family told an inquest. [She] died after taking an overdose on the night that ‘A Short Stay in Switzerland’ was screened. CUT – This lady was only 44 and the mother of two sons, 11 and 13 years of age. She had MS for over 15 years and at the inquest her brother said she had been talking of the future only days before her death. She suffered from depression but the ‘play spurred her on’. She took an overdose immediately after viewing this drama.
During the 1960s there were serious socio-cultural conflicts taking place within British society. There was in fact a radical division between the aggressively radical groups and those who tried to defend the status quo. All the moral certitudes that had remained virtually unchallenged since the dawn of Christendom were under attack. There was a cultural revolution taking place but the battle for traditional values and beliefs were not lost right away. The questions asked by those who study the media are: did the media and in particularly the television play have a significant role in changing society’s values or did it merely reflect it? However, given the conservative nature of the general public, particularly in relation to family and moral values at the time, it is doubtful that the radical factions would have succeeded without the overwhelming influence of television. By analysing one of the most influential television programme strands of the 1960s, the ‘single play’ we can see that it decisively came down on the side of the radical change. We can also see that many of those who produced, directed, and wrote many of these plays had a radical interventionist agenda. Their strategies were to influence society and government legislation on the side of radical change and they succeeded.
There were various institutional debates taking place in the 1960s one of these was at the BBC. There was in place at the BBC the concept of objectivity which was laid down by the Royal Charter. This made it illegal to express opinions on matters of current affairs especially within the proximity of a parliamentary debate. There were many working in the BBC who believed that drama was the way to circumnavigate the concept of objectivity. Men such as Sydney Newman, Tony Garnett, Ken Loach and James MacTaggart found that they could use the Wednesday Play strand of television drama as a platform to engage in a whole range of moral issues. These ‘single plays’ were newly commissioned original television dramas some of which directly challenged the society’s norms and had an interventionist agenda regarding these parliamentary and cultural debates. No plays supported the status quo on issues traditional values and beliefs.
The made for television single play started in the United States in the late 1940s and achieved much popular success by the 1950s. These plays were mostly serious dramas and employed playwrights such as Arthur Millar. They were sponsored by some of American’s the biggest companies such as General Motors. However, serious plays that exposed the unsavoury underbelly of materialism or the walking wounded of the American Dream and commercial sponsorship were not compatible bedfellows. By the late 1950s the North American TV single play was in decline. As John Coughie puts it, “Seriousness was not the ingredient which advertisers believed could best oil the wheels of commerce: US television was not meant to produce sober citizens, but happy consumers”1. What was needed was a television station that by law was funded public subscription via a licence fee. This station should be independent of government control or commercial considerations. Where those of a Left/liberal persuasion could become politically engaged and produce dramas that indulged their culturally interventionist agenda. The British Broadcasting Corporation fits these criteria perfectly. It was however ABC one of Britain’s new regional independent commercial television stations that first
successfully produced original television single plays. ABC had been mindful of the success of the North American single play and had brought over a producer from Canada called Sydney Newman in 1957 and put him in charge of their Armchair Theatre. Here Newman produced contemporary drama that had many regional and working class characteristics. Often known as ‘Kitchen-sink drama’ these plays tended to over indulge on gritty ‘naturalistic realism’ but Newman was not yet fully politically engaged. Newman as foreigner could look at Britain with a fresh eye. He became utterly fascinated by her problems and tended to dwell upon them in his dramas. When Newman saw Look back in Anger at the Royal Court theatre in London he developed the notion of ‘agitational contemporaneity’. He built up a team of writers that reflected the ‘New Wave’ in British literature including Alun Owen, Ted Willis and Harold Pinter. However, commercial TV was not the place for really interventionist ‘cutting edge’ drama.
In the early Sixties the BBC were being beaten in the ratings war by the independent commercial channels. To try and remedy this, in 1963 they poached Newman from ABC and made him head of BBC drama and gave him free reign. There were those at the BBC as in society who resisted change and the revolutionary Zeitgeist at the BBCthat followed. The Oxford educated, BBC trained producer Don Taylor, saw Newman as a ‘vulgarian’, someone who saw no contradiction between ‘popular’ and ‘culture.’ However, snobbish this might sound today, perhaps he had a point. Don Taylor viewed Newman’s appointment with horror and in his autobiography ‘reveals uncompromisingly some of the cultural tensions inherent in the dawning of a new age, an age in which Newman emerges, dressed in skins, as the barbarian at the gates2.’ In fact, the BBC brought the barbarians into every home in the country. In their quest to chase audience ratings via contemporary drama, the BBC blurred the principles of objectivity that had been laid out in the Royal Charter.
The Wednesday Play was transmitted on the BBC from 1964. In 1970 it became the Play for Today, and had been famed for producing ‘cutting edge’ ground breaking plays. With original plays such as Horror of Darkness, Cathy Come Home, and Up the Junction to name but a few. The BBC has been credited with television ‘events’ that changed society’s values and influenced the political will on issues like homosexuality and abortion. This accolade is given to the BBC through Newman and his some of his ‘radical’ team, namely Garnett, Loach and MacTaggart and their level of political and social engagement. Through Newman’s concept of ‘agitational contemporaneity’ they demonstrated the immense power of television when harnessing creative and cultural forces aligned with an interventionist agenda. Media historian MacMurraugh-Kavanagh saw this ‘agitational’ team’s power and influence through television drama devoid of objectivity as:
‘radical experimentalism in terms of form and content, venerated for its apparent refusal of public broadcasting objectivity in its direct intervention in issues of social legislation (including the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion), critics such as George Brandt conclude that ‘much of the history of British television drama is tied up with this programme spot’ Brandt’s statement expresses the widespread recognition that in the field of television drama The Wednesday Play was the genuine article’(3). When asked what is ‘agitational contemporaneity’ in drama, Newman is said to have replied that it ‘causes people to take action after seeing it’(4).
Two thirds of the Wednesday Play’s output was not interventionist but just conventional entertainment. However, once every three weeks or so came along a play that was so emotive and ‘progressively’ radical that it clearly had an effect on the values and beliefs of its viewers. One such playwas Up the Junction (1965) it was produced by MacTaggart, and directed by Loach. Up the Junction was a direct attempt to influence public opinion and the political will on the side of David Steel’s Abortion Law Reform Bill. It did this by fusing fictional drama with a documentary feel and used the issue of back street abortions to achieve its aims. There was also a voiceover at one point by a doctor giving a sort of medical narrative in favour of legalising abortion to make it ‘safe.’ In fact the number deaths of women after the legalisation of abortion went up. The play also shamefully depicted the working class people of Clapham Junction as inarticulate, over-sexed, criminals who had no restraint and were only interested in having a good time. The production team seem to be saying through Up the Junction that without legalised abortion we will have poverty and chaos. It was almost fascist in its latent implication that these people should not be allowed to breed.
Up the Junction was based on the book of the same name by Nell Dunn but it was Garnett’s agenda that came through in the play. Garnett, the script editor, virtually hijacked Dunn’s script, ‘to meet his own heavily interventionist and propagandist ‘personal agenda.5’ Newman later gave Garnett special privileges like a higher budget and more time to make his plays. Newman “recognised in Garnett a man committed to his own brand of ‘agitational contemporaneity’ who was likely to win audiences and headlines and who would ‘provide the extra flash of orange every three weeks or so6.’” This mixing of conventional entertainment and the ‘extra flash of orange’ within a play strand is one of the elements shows the TV to be fundamentally flawed. Perhaps we can also say that the BBC is fundamentally flawed for it is very unlikely that a commercial channel would have been able to sell advertising space between scenes which depict as emotively as possible a screaming girl having an abortion. This play could only have been made at the BBC because of its form of funding. The BBC’s attempt to rescreen Up the Junction before Parliament was due to debate the abortion law reform bill was withdrawn due to the threat of legal action but in its place they screened 24 Hours which was a documentary on backstreet abortions, objectivity at the BBC was dead and buried.
Melvin Bragg often laments that we do not have such plays today. Of course in the soap operas and in the general underlying ethos of today’s television, particularly at the BBC we do. It sustains the left/liberal ‘Politically Correct’ culture we have today particularly in education and the public sector institutions. However, the main battles for traditional values and beliefs were lost long ago. This latent left/liberal bias at the BBC not only sustains the Cultural Revolution but acts as a mopping up exercise against any pockets of traditional value resistance which survives in other institutions like the police, local government and the forces. The Catholic Church stands almost alone in her traditional values and beliefs and is often attacked by the media particularly the BBC for this reason.
1,2. Caughie, John, Television Drama: Modernism and British Culture, Oxford University Press, 2000.
3. MacMurraugh-Kavanagh, M.K., ‘The BBC and the birth of The Wednesday Play, 1962-66: institutional containment versus “agitational contemporaneity”’ Historial Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol.17, no.3, August 1997, p367.
4. Aldgate, Tony, Unit 21 British drama: the single play, Book 5 Film and Television History, 2003, Television Genres, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 2003. Also quoting Brandt British Television Drama, Cambridge, 1981, p.17.
5.6., MacMurraugh-Kavanagh, M.K., ‘Drama’ into ‘news’: strategies of intervention in The Wednesday Play’ Screen, 1997 Vol. 38 pt. 3, autumn 1997, pp.247-259.
The BBC and the Culture of Death
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The TV and the Culture of Death
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