Thirty years ago today: 'Saved' for the nation, farewell to the censor
Maeve Walsh looks back on the Royal Court production that marked the end of an era
Sunday 21 February 1999
The archaic Theatres Act required all new scripts to be sent to the Lord Chamberlain before a licence for public performance could be granted. It stated that a play must not "contain anything immoral or otherwise improper", which included indecency, incitement to riot and, in the case of Pinter's The Caretaker (1960), the line "piss off". The censor-in-chief's judgement was never explained - but it was final.
Saved, or, if you like, "The One Where a Baby is Stoned to Death in its Pram", didn't have a chance. The Royal Court still put it on, as a "private", members-only production, and it proved to be the beginning of the end of censorship. The theatre attracted 3,000 new "members" - and frequent police attention - during the play's run; and the directors were prosecuted by the DPP in a high-profile test case in February 1966. Within months, discussions on reform were underway and the Lord Chamberlain's power was finally removed in September 1968.
In February 1969, Saved returned, opening the Court's pat-on-the-back Bond season, and Narrow Road to the Deep North - "The One With Five Dead Babies and a Disembowelling" - opened on 18 February. Written in 1968 for Coventry's "People and Cities" conference, it had also been refused a licence but got an eleventh-hour reprieve when Bond agreed to slight amendments. The rep season concluded with Early Morning, or "The One Where Queen Victoria's a Cannibal and Has a Lesbian Affair with Florence Nightingale". This had the distinction of being the last-ever banned play. The Court's plans for another members-only run-in had foundered when the police arrived at the 1968 premiere.
Post-censorship, Bond's status as an important, if notorious, figure in British theatre was affirmed. Many critics humbly revised their original opinions of Saved and accepted the authenticity of its bleak working-class portrait: "Brutish, only in that it reflects a brutish world" (Express); "It's not sensationalism. It is a reflection of modern violence" (Evening News); even the Sunday Times found it "momentous. Excellent in itself". Narrow Road, a Japanese parable on government and authority, was admired, if "cryptic" or "enigmatic".
Early Morning, a surrealist historical satire with an extended, lip- smacking cannibalistic finale, was the real test of the new climate. The public might now have been allowed to judge for themselves, but the critics still wanted to help: "The most disturbing and grotesque piece I have ever seen" (City Press); "The most repellent exhibit of the three" (What's On); "Making an art form of the revolting" (Mirror); "Ugh" (People). The Standard's critic left halfway through; the Sunday Times predicted vomiting in the stalls.
Since 1969, there have been only three calls for the Attorney-General to stop productions. Of these, Oh! Calcutta, Kenneth Tynan's "evening of elegant erotica" (1970), survived, and Mary Whitehouse's case against a simulated homosexual rape in The Romans in Britain (1982) collapsed. Only the five actors in Deejay, a 1971 naked revue, may have wished for the prior intervention of the Lord Chamberlain. They were charged - and ended up in prison.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones, season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Martin Scorsese 'in shock' after death on set of new film Silence
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures