Banned in the UK, Channel 4

by | Mar 10, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

An intelligent, even nostalgic, introduction to the censorship issues that came to prominence in the 1980s, with a welcome mix of expert and eye witness talking heads to help explain the story.

What to say if you didn’t like it

Channel 4 has been producing this documentary on censorship in the 1980s in various forms on and off for more than a decade now in its tiresome ongoing attempts to appear ‘controversial’, or, worse, ‘zeitgeisty’.

What was good about it?

• It appeared at first that the narration was going to be predictably sarcastic for the entire show, but for the most part it settled down, provided good information and did not intrude too much on the programme.

• The highlighting of how wrong-headed the rabid censorship often was–- Evil Dead was banned but as a result became the country’s biggest selling video.

• The extended focus on how the media was suppressed during the Falklands War. The programme-makers secured excellent talking heads in Tony Benn and war correspondents Max Hastings and Michael Nicholson, and their stories of how their reports had to be approved by at least five different gatekeepers was shocking. Margaret Thatcher’s control over the press at this time was so complete she was able to insist upon these two reporters waiting to file their story about the end of the war until she’d announced it to the House.

• Some classic Derek & Clive clips.

• The archive footage of a spluttering Tory claiming that video nasties could not only affect young people adversely, but also dogs. What the programme didn’t tell you was that this is quite true, and fox hunters actually show the most gruesome horror movies they can find to their hounds for four days non-stop before a hunt to ensure they’re as evil and blood thirsty as possible.

• The section on the BBC banning Spasticus Autisticus by Ian Dury & The Blockheads ‘until after dark’. At the time, this led Dury to wonder whether the BBC thought disabled people only ventured out of their homes after nightfall.

• Michael Bogdanov explaining the story of how Mary Whitehouse took him to court over the play he directed, Romans In Britain, which featured (simulated) buggery as a metaphor for what the Romans did to Britain and in turn what Britain was doing to Northern Ireland. The case was thrown out after the judge, who hadn’t seen the play, was given a demonstration in chambers by the QCs as to how the scene looked on the stage.

What was bad about it?

• While some of the talking heads were interesting and relevant, there were too many people just remembering what it was like in the 1980s rather than providing some proper analysis of the issues. Iain Lee, for example, simply repeated dull platitudes about censorship that most people could have learnt in their first week of GCSE Media Studies.

• Journalist Sheryl Garrett saying: “All great comedy pushes against taboos” was a very “Channel 4” comment. Claiming comedy is only great if it shocks is palpable balderdash. Garrett then claimed Derek & Clive’s comedy of swearing doesn’t seem shocking now and has dated badly. This in fact unwittingly dated the documentary itself, as she must have been speaking before the (admittedly baffling) furore over BBC2’s screening of Jerry Springer – The Musical.

• After the piece about Spasticus Autisticus, there followed a section concerning Joey Deacon’s famous appearance on Blue Peter. The point here was to show that while Ian Dury’s song was hushed up and effectively banned, this interview that was supposed to educate children backfired badly as “Joey” became an insult to be used by generations of kids. Fair enough, but there seemed to be as much detail focusing on Joey (including Iain Lee’s impression of him), than the section on video nasties, which seemed odd when you consider Joey wasn’t banned or censored in any way while the argument over video nasties rumbled on and on for well over a decade.

• We’re as anti-Thatcher and anti-Mary Whitehouse as the next person. But all good documentaries should try to present both sides of an argument and in this respect the programme failed dismally. At the very least it needed someone to defend the decisions or try to explain them rather than, as happened in many cases on this show, simply ridicule to ridicule everything without a right of reply.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

10/03/2005

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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