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.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
- 3 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
New Tricks: Dennis Waterman to leave drama after a decade of crime-solving
Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'