Keeping it all in the (nuclear) family: Big Brother, Auntie BBC, Uncle Sam and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Morris, Nigel (2012) Keeping it all in the (nuclear) family: Big Brother, Auntie BBC, Uncle Sam and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Frames Cinema Journal . ISSN UNSPECIFIED

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Abstract

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), following, yet challenging, early television drama aesthetic assumptions and technical constraints, created shockwaves. A closely contemporaneous cinematic version, 1984 (1956) – often confused with it -- offers opportunity to compare adaptations in different media and institutional and ideological determinants.

Accolades and notoriety prompted telerecording of the play’s live ‘repeat.’ ‘Horrific’ and ‘subversive,’ it attracted numerous complaints. Parliamentary motions and amendments blamed and praised the BBC during controversy around forthcoming independent television that would break the corporation’s monopoly. Up to seven million watched the repeat: the largest audience since the Coronation.

Epoch-defining status as television event fitted a Cold War agenda, spreading awareness of totalitarianism, propaganda and indoctrination. What made it pertinent and convincing was grounding in social realism, a nascent trait in British television drama and cinema. Equally important was self-reflexive looking forward rather than back from the primitiveness of 1950s television, during rapid take-up amid contestation over its future. Fears about effects fed concerns that advertising constituted brainwashing. Conversely, independent television’s advocates opposed the BBC monopoly not just for stifling competition and advertising but because it laid the corporation open to charges of government propaganda. ITV’s promised consumer heaven posed dangers of commercialism and cultural degradation, matching Orwell’s denigration of ‘prolefeed’ and telescreens’ endless misinformation.

The novel and its adaptations conclude with Winston and Julia’s mutual betrayal and capitulation to Big Brother. The 1956 film, some accounts maintain, distorts Orwell. Rumours persist of alternative UK and US versions, the latter ending heroically. Investigation reveals no evidence. Nevertheless, the film meshed into paranoia at official and secret levels, and cultural concerns which suggest how this apocryphal account gained purchase.

1984 is officially British. Yet $100,000 came from the US Information Agency, to make ‘the most devastating anti-Communist film of all time.’ American investment was common, as were (to maximize box office) American leading actors – Winston and Julia here. However, a CIA front influenced the screenplay and ensured distribution, appreciative editorials, and attendance. The producer, a former Hollywood studio president, belonged to a propaganda organization financing and distributing films worldwide. 1984 resulted from a network of bodies with euphemistic titles and abbreviations as obfuscating as anything Orwell satirised.

Winston, Julia and the authoritative voice-over narration are American; the Inner Party and Thought Police British. Telescreens use British Received Pronunciation. Numerous details dissociate 1984 from American politics and identify Ingsoc with the Labour Government that instigated the Welfare State.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), following, yet challenging, early television drama aesthetic assumptions and technical constraints, created shockwaves. A closely contemporaneous cinematic version, 1984 (1956) – often confused with it -- offers opportunity to compare adaptations in different media and institutional and ideological determinants. Accolades and notoriety prompted telerecording of the play’s live ‘repeat.’ ‘Horrific’ and ‘subversive,’ it attracted numerous complaints. Parliamentary motions and amendments blamed and praised the BBC during controversy around forthcoming independent television that would break the corporation’s monopoly. Up to seven million watched the repeat: the largest audience since the Coronation. Epoch-defining status as television event fitted a Cold War agenda, spreading awareness of totalitarianism, propaganda and indoctrination. What made it pertinent and convincing was grounding in social realism, a nascent trait in British television drama and cinema. Equally important was self-reflexive looking forward rather than back from the primitiveness of 1950s television, during rapid take-up amid contestation over its future. Fears about effects fed concerns that advertising constituted brainwashing. Conversely, independent television’s advocates opposed the BBC monopoly not just for stifling competition and advertising but because it laid the corporation open to charges of government propaganda. ITV’s promised consumer heaven posed dangers of commercialism and cultural degradation, matching Orwell’s denigration of ‘prolefeed’ and telescreens’ endless misinformation. The novel and its adaptations conclude with Winston and Julia’s mutual betrayal and capitulation to Big Brother. The 1956 film, some accounts maintain, distorts Orwell. Rumours persist of alternative UK and US versions, the latter ending heroically. Investigation reveals no evidence. Nevertheless, the film meshed into paranoia at official and secret levels, and cultural concerns which suggest how this apocryphal account gained purchase. 1984 is officially British. Yet $100,000 came from the US Information Agency, to make ‘the most devastating anti-Communist film of all time.’ American investment was common, as were (to maximize box office) American leading actors – Winston and Julia here. However, a CIA front influenced the screenplay and ensured distribution, appreciative editorials, and attendance. The producer, a former Hollywood studio president, belonged to a propaganda organization financing and distributing films worldwide. 1984 resulted from a network of bodies with euphemistic titles and abbreviations as obfuscating as anything Orwell satirised. Winston, Julia and the authoritative voice-over narration are American; the Inner Party and Thought Police British. Telescreens use British Received Pronunciation. Numerous details dissociate 1984 from American politics and identify Ingsoc with the Labour Government that instigated the Welfare State.
Keywords:Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, Nigel Kneale, 1984, Rudolph Cartier, Michael Anderson, CIA, ideology, Cold War, film noir, ITV, Public Service Broadcasting, prolefeed, anti-Communism
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V147 Modern History 1950-1999
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V320 Social History
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V232 USA History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Media
ID Code:6527
Deposited By: Nigel Morris
Deposited On:11 Oct 2012 14:35
Last Modified:11 Aug 2014 16:59

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