Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

When the Censor Put Theatre in the Dock

Radio Arts Feature

Roy Jenkins- Father of the Permissive Society , Radio 4 & iPlayer , July 30, 2017
Radio Arts Feature by Roy Jenkins- Father of the Permissive Society The past is another country, said L P Hartley. No, it isn't. The past is another universe. The time when theatre had to pass the censor is a long time back. Most of those who were there have passed on but Edward Bond is still with us. The reader for the Lord Chamberlain sent his view of “Saved” to his censor. “It was a revolting amateur play” he wrote “ is about a bunch of brainless ape-like yobs...” Of the management at the Royal Court he thought “it does seem that the taste of Messrs Devine and Richardson has gone rancid.” Bond refused the cuts demanded by Lord Cobbold, the Lord Chamberlain. Thus director William Gaskill, along with two others, was arraigned under the Theatres Act of 1843. The Royal Court was found guilty and fined a nominal £50.

This strange and unimaginable time is part and parcel of a unimaginable Britain. Theatre history does not feature frequently in media attention. It appears as part of an excellent documentary on one of Wales' finest politicians. The cause is the season's commemoration of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. On the iPlayer the section on theatre features at 29:40 but the whole programme is recommended.

The section opens with George Devine in interview with David Frost. The situation was bizarre in that theatres were able to convert themselves into “clubs” although the police took a close look. Peter Hall is quoted on how it felt to leave St James Palace where the censor was located. “Like a very dirty little schoolboy” he says. Polly Toynbee, inevitably, comments on the thrill of the time for theatre. That a fusty old guard stood guard over Pinter and Wesker she calls “grotesque.”

Jenkins has a meeting with Lord Annan behind the scenes. Cannily the Minister suggests the topic be raised in the Lords. The Whips in the Commons know that it has the interest of the Home Secretary and put their weight behind it. It reaches Cabinet 27th July 1967. But Wilson has chatted with the Chairman of the BBC. Theatre needs a safeguard against political figures being attacked. He fears rudery about the monarchy. Nonetheless the Theatres Act is passed in September 1968. But the Lord Chamberlain goes down fighting to the last. A private performance of Bond's “Early Morning” is flooded with police and Members of the Vice Squad. It is the last spasm of official disfavour. For the future it is up to Mrs Whitehouse to wait in ambush.

The BBC has done a good job this season.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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