University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages35
Pages (from-to)1351-1384
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Journal publication dateDec 2006
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006


The Cold War was as much a propaganda conflict as one fought between soldiers and politicians. The BBC, as a broadcaster of news and entertainment in large parts of the world, stood at the very centre of this battle. Indeed, the corporation's role during the 45-year long war was arguably unique. No other media organization combined such a powerful domestic and external reach with a reputation for impartiality and accuracy.
This article examines the BBC's relationship with the state during the Cold War, and focuses in particular on the corporation's attitude towards and treatment of the issue of nuclear weapons. These two themes are brought together through a detailed analysis of one of the most controversial episodes in the history of British broadcasting: the BBC's banning of Peter Watkins' film The War Game in 1965, on the grounds that it was ‘too horrifying’ to be shown on television. The article sheds new light on the origins, production and censorship of this hour-long nuclear docu-drama. It also traces the political and cultural impact of the film, following the BBC's decision in 1966 to grant it a limited release in cinemas and via film clubs. By the time The War Game was televised for the first time anywhere on the BBC in 1985, the film had become a highly effective recruiting tool for international peace groups, and was ranked (as it still is today) as perhaps the most moving and influential depiction of nuclear destruction produced in any medium

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