The Old Men at the Zoo (1983)

IAN GREAVES

Five parts. Writer: Troy Kennedy Martin; Adapted from (novel): Angus Wilson; Producer: Jonathan Powell; Director: Stuart Burge

In all the myriad apocalypse dramas produced in the UK, what matters most is where the bomb drops. The drip-drip of radio bulletins in the suburban daily lives of Threads cut straight to the contemporary fear of nuclear war, and the 1984 film’s unfussy depiction of local authority admin echoes the staccato, functional, inevitable nature of Peter Watkins’ The War Game. As a narrative device the anticipation of Armageddon can create real tension, the strike clearing away characters in a single bound and providing a fundamental gear change in a long storyline. After which it’s either about the journey back or, more likely, an acceptance of the new order.

The Old Men at the Zoo, a 1983 serial for BBC2 based on the novel by Angus Wilson, leaves the flashpoint unfashionably late. Although the threat of war is ever present the focus is very much on preparation, propaganda and domestic politics. Curiously, and rather more indicative of the age in which it was adapted, the nuclear bomb that arrives four fifths of the way through was not even present in the novel.

The ‘Appening: Parkin’s Patch (1969-70)

DAVID ROLINSON

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As a festive, er, ‘treat’, here’s a much more facetious piece than this site usually runs, a DVD review (of Parkin’s Patch: The Complete Series), which apart from some revisions is reproduced from the excellent (but at this moment on hiatus) Tachyon TV website… There’s a moment in the episode ‘Lock, Stock and…’ when a character starts an alibi with “I took the whippet out”. This made me think two things: “until it has a Yorkshire edition, the CSI franchise is merely treading water” and “Parkin’s Patch is pretty much what I expected.” So, should you expect 26 half-hours of charming yet undemanding early evening telly with a local bobby investigating quirky and/or spiky Yorkshire folk? ‘Appen. And ‘appen not. There are some predictable, even ramshackle, moments, but there are also some lovely surprises that make Parkin’s Patch a bit of a treat.

James MacTaggart

OLIVER WAKE

As a producer, director and writer of British television drama, James MacTaggart (1928-1974) was responsible for numerous stylistic experiments and technical innovations in the medium from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s. In a 17 year television career, he was responsible for over 130 television plays or episodes, a number that would have been much greater had it not been for his premature death. This counts drama only, but he was also prolific in non-fiction programming for both radio and television.

James MacTaggart was born in Glasgow in 1928 and after completing his schooling there joined the Royal Army Service Corps in September 1946, rising to the rank of Captain by the time of his discharge in 1949. For at least some of this period he was seconded to the Forces Broadcasting Service and worked as a producer, with a year spent broadcasting from Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He later joined the Territorial Army parachute regiment. After his army service, MacTaggart enrolled at Glasgow university, studying Political Economy and Social Economics, graduating in 1954 with a Masters degree. During his period as a student he also taught as a language assistant in France.1

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.

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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.