FEATURE PETER WATKINS
To mark the 250th anniversary of Culloden, the BBC is reshowing Peter Watkins’s classic 605 TV film about the battle and a new documentary about its making. In an exclusive interview, the controversial director talks to Eddie Gibb.
15 The List 5-l8 Apr 1996
hen Sir Hugh (irecne. director general of the BBC throughout the (i()s. concurred with the Government ministers' view that a 50-minute docu-drama called The War (lame was simply too shocking to be screened on television. it wasn't the first time he had caved in to political pressure. The previous year. an episode of the classic sitcom Ste/um And Son. due to be transmitted on election night mm. was postponed. allegedly at the request of Harold Wilson. who perhaps feared that working class Labour voters might stay home to watch the telly. Wilson was elected. so maybe he was right — subsequent censorship of Peter Watkins‘s work happened under a Labour government.
The twenty-year ban imposed on The War
Game. a truly harrowing account of the effects of a nuclear strike on Kent and the subsequent
breakdown of law and order. marked the end of
the relationship between the BBC and the
‘Television is holding a lot of people in front of the screen for mercantile reasons — there’s no other purpose to it now. It is so disgusting to see the medium has slid down to that level.’
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Culloden: Peter Watkins’s Innovative 1964 portrayal of the Jacobite rout made his name
promising young director. Disgusted at the BBC‘s craven attitude to his film. Watkins left Britain shortly after and has lived more or less in exile ever since. During the 70s he worked in Scandinavia making films about painter Edvard Munch and Swedish dramatist Strindberg. Now ()0. he lives in Lithuania but. 30 years on. the bitterness at his treatment by the BBC remains almost undiminished. Watkins vows he will never make another film. ‘l‘m not prepared to go through the harassment and the unpleasantness — I’m just not prepared to do it.‘ he says. Before the acrimonious split over The War Game. Watkins was regarded as one of the BBC‘s most talented and original directors at a time when the corporation‘s stable of bright young things also included Ken Loach and Ken Russell. Watkins’s reputation was based largely on his 1964 film ("u/laden which reconstructed the historic Jacobite rout in the style of a television newsreel. Like The War Game. it focused on the effects of war on ordinary