The Wednesday Play - Up the Junction - agitprop drama
How the BBC helped to change laws and public opinion away from the Christian norm, part two
That extra flash of orange every three weeks
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 play was 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.
A society changed by television programmes - The Catholic Church stands almost alone in opposing the Culture of Death
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.
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.