The Falklands Factor (1983)

OLIVER WAKE

Play for Today Writer: Don Shaw; Director: Colin Bucksey; Producer: Louis Marks

“I hope no-one ever needs to go to war over the Falklands, or for that matter, any writer write about them.”

The short but bloody Falklands war between Britain and Argentina played out over two and a half months in 1982. Television drama responded with a handful of plays about the conflict, most of which seemed to excite almost as much controversy as the war itself. (See Disputed Territory: Drama and the Falklands.) The earliest of these was Don Shaw’s The Falklands Factor, which was broadcast in April 1983, just ten months after hostilities in the South Atlantic had concluded.

Specialising in contemporary drama, the BBC’s Play for Today anthology was the natural home for such a recent subject, however The Falklands Factor is actually a historical drama, Shaw having chosen to dramatise a little known incident from the eighteenth century to put the more recent conflict into historic context and draw parallels between the two crises. The reader must excuse the passages which follow detailing brief parts of the Falkland islands’ convoluted history, without which the meaning of the play and this essay will be impossible to convey.

Whisper It But Perhaps Malcolm Tucker Is Good For Us

MATTHEW BAILEY

Plato and Hazel Blears do not often make it into the same sentence but they do share a common concern: from ancient Greece to the Salford Chipmunk, the arts have troubled the polis.

Tucker_image

Admittedly Hazel Blears is not as extreme in her views as Plato, who sought to banish poets from his Republic for fear of their deleterious effect on the citizenry. Nonetheless Blears, speaking last year when still a Minister, expressed her worries about the corrosive effect of fictional accounts of politics and politicians on this country. Wondering why people might be deterred from participation in politics, she ruminated that one factor might be its portrayal on our TV screens. While Americans enjoy a tradition of uplifting political narratives from Mr Smith Goes to Washington to The West Wing, by contrast the British, she argued, are served with a diet of either the incompetent (Yes, Minister) or Machiavellian (House of Cards); two tendencies synthesized today in The Thick of It where clueless ministers are the playthings of conniving spin doctor Malcolm Tucker.

A Very British Coup (1988)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

Writer: Alan Plater; Adapted from Chris Mullin; Director: Mick Jackson


Political drama which carries a left-wing punch can usually expect to find a few dissenters among the majority of journalists – or at least their employers – for whom such views are anathema; it’s easy to review the politics rather than the art. It’s a huge testimony to Alan Plater’s skill as a dramatist that A Very British Coup was received with equal acclaim by commentators from every shade of the political spectrum. Plater believes that the right-wing press can sometimes be more generous than the left, so long as they understand that no attempt is being made to convert them.1


The three-part Channel 4 dramatisation2 of Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel of the same name, A Very British Coup is about the election of a genuinely socialist government, headed by former steel worker Harry Perkins (Ray McAnally). The drama is hardly a call to arms to vote Labour, because, as Plater points out, no government has ever pursued such an agenda.3 However, Perkins proves to be a different kettle of fish, as even his opponents such as Secret Service head Sir Percy Browne (Alan MacNaughton) have to admit, and he will not be deflected. Perkins continues on his socialist path with something as close to total integrity as politics allows. This makes A Very British Coup quite different from many left-leaning dramas, as Mark Lawson remarked: ‘Political drama on television tends to pursue the view that Labour leaders willingly surrender their beliefs in power. A Very British Coup is about something darker, the theft of good intentions.’4

The War Game (1965)

DAVID ROLINSON

Writer and Director: Peter Watkins

The probability of total destruction increases with time and, in the course of the months and years throughout which we are told to expect the Cold War to continue, it becomes almost a certainty’1.

WatkinsGameBlastgrab

The War Game is one of television’s most notorious banned programmes. A harrowing dramatised documentary portraying the after-effects of nuclear holocaust and calling for public education in nuclear deterrent policy, it was made by the BBC for 1965 broadcast but was not transmitted for twenty years. Among the reasons given for the ban were its brutally graphic scenes, its apparent left-wing bias and its controversial fusion of journalistic fact and hugely alarmist fiction, although there is now evidence that it fell victim to the political suppression of nuclear discussion that was happening at the time across all media. Its director, Peter Watkins, quit the BBC and fought to get it a cinema release abroad, resulting in critical acclaim and a Best Documentary Oscar. After its eventual transmission in 1985, critics agreed that the BBC had suppressed one of the greatest dramas ever made.