The Wednesday Play: The War Game (1965)

You won't learn to love the bomb

Last week, ‘Charley Says’ reminded us all just how scared sh*tless Britain was by the threat of nuclear war during the 1960s and 1970s – understandably perhaps, given the risk of destruction of the entire human race. Nevertheless, despite the release of Protect and Survive, not many people were optimistic about their chances come Armageddon.

In part, that’s thanks to the likes of this week’s Wednesday Play, The War Game, which was a genuine Wednesday Play from 1965. Written, directed and produced by Peter Watkins, this documentary-style production imagined what would happen if there was a limited nuclear strike against Britain. And it’s not pretty, with the instant blinding of those who see the explosion, a firestorm caused by the heat wave, radiation sickness, the British Army burning corpses and the police shooting looters during food riots.

Interspersed throughout the play are interviews with a series of establishment figures in favour of nuclear weapons and even nuclear war that were based on genuine quotations, as well as interviews with a doctor, a psychiatrist and others, giving details of the effects of nuclear weapons on the human body and mind.

Cheery, huh?

Well, no. In fact, following its transmission on 6 August 1965 (the 20th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing), the BBC said that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting” and withdrew it, never to air it in full until 1985. But, hey, lucky people, you can watch it now! Remember – if you like it, buy it.