The Kennedy Assassination – Beyond Conspiracy, BBC2

by | Nov 23, 2003 | All, Reviews

In the fevered world of conspiracy theories, nothing comes close to the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Depending on your preference, his murder was arranged by the Mafia, CIA, FBI, Cubans, Russians, American Big Business and people worried by his dalliances with Marilyn Monroe. On the 40th anniversary of the assassination, the BBC bravely announced that it would present, once and for all, conclusive evidence of who was really responsible.

Quite early on it became clear that the Beeb’s answer was that, in this case, the simple explanation is the right one, and that Lee Harvey Oswald planned and executed the assassination all by himself, with not so much as an encouraging note from the Marilyn Monroe Fan Club to help him. It says a lot about the intervening years that this seemed easily the most unlikely scenario, and there were signs that the people involved realised this.

From Gavin Esler’s slightly over-emphasised commentary (“there is absolutely no doubt that Oswald shot Kennedy”) to the procession of experts and witnesses (“Oswald really was a potential assassin”), everyone seemed to be protesting just a little too much. But then proving a negative (“there was no conspiracy”) is always tough, and they gave it their best shot.

Oswald was shown to have had the means (he was a US Marines-trained sharpshooter), motive (he was a fame-hungry dreamer with Marxist and pro-Cuban leanings) and opportunity (a friend had got him a job in the Book Depository weeks before the cavalcade route was announced). 3D computer simulations showed how the much-derided, direction-changing ‘magic bullet’ wasn’t magic at all, but simply a high-velocity projectile travelling in a straight line. And a right hatchet job was done on Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK (shown on BBC3 the previous night), with a couple of its more serious porkies mercilessly exposed.

Was it conclusive? Given the sheer volume of claim and counter-claim that surrounds the JFK story, it would have been impossible for the programme to answer every question. But by the end it had, at the very least, made a convincing case that Oswald could have been acting alone, a view that’s been given precious little credence over the past 40 years.

A disappointing result for conspiracy theorists, then. But perhaps all is not what it seems. Why, we wonder, would the BBC seek to discredit the idea of a conspiracy? Today, can reveal that, just days before the programme was broadcast, a high-ranking US politician was seen drinking in a pub in North-East England with a senior UK government minister, who is a known acquaintance of the BBC’s most powerful manager, the shadowy “Director General”. The American left England immediately after the meeting, by private jet from a little-used airfield. Draw your own conclusions.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


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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