GCU researcher reveals secret BBC War Game files

02 June 2015

Professor of Media, John Cook

Professor of Media, John Cook

John Cook, Professor of Media in Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU)’s Glasgow School for Business and Society, has uncovered previously secret files which show civil servants influenced the banning of a nuclear war film.

In 1965, the transmission of the BBC’s The War Game was stopped at the 11th hour with an official announcement that it was too shocking for public viewing.

The findings will be discussed on a BBC Radio 4 programme The War Game Files on June 6 at 8pm, in which Michael Apted investigates previously secret Cabinet Office files that reveal how the BBC’s Director General and Chairman collaborated with Whitehall to ban The War Game film.

Interviewees in the programme include former BBC Chairman of Governors, Sir Christopher Bland; campaigning journalist Duncan Campbell; Hugh Greene's official biographer, Michael Tracey; Bruce Kent of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); and Derek Ware, the stunt co-ordinator on the film.

The programme also features Professor Cook, who obtained the previously secret files under a Freedom of Information request.

Professor Cook says: “Examining the files, I was surprised at the level of scrutiny the government paid to the film and how explicit discussions were to suppress it. Politicians, not just civil servants, were involved, including then Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

“None of the discussions concerned preserving the independence of the corporation, but rather how to find a way to suppress the film without implicating the government or embarrassing the BBC. Much as we think we live in the era of political spin, the emphasis in the discussions was less on whether to censor but how best to present that censorship to the public.”

Professor Cook is an academic expert in the study of the media, with particular research specialisms in aspects of television history, media institutions, screenwriting, television drama, documentary and film.

More about this research can be found at The Conversation.