History of the BBC

History of the BBC

Party Manners 1950

Val Gielgud
Val Gielgud author of the radio play, Party Manners


Today politics is fair game for broadcast comedy ranging from Yes, Minister to House of Cards and The New Statesman, and indeed Party Manners, Val Gielgud's fictional tale of a Labour minister facing a comic dilemma over nuclear energy in 1950, aroused little protest when performed as a play, first on the stage and then on BBC radio.


Lord Simon
Lord Simon

A first airing on television was similarly unremarkable, but by the time a repeat showing was scheduled, the political landscape had changed. Labour's previously healthy majority had been reduced to just five seats in the February General Election, and the party was bruised. When it was relayed to the BBC's chairman, Lord Simon, that the Labour leadership found the play offensive, he ruled that plans for the repeat should be scrapped. The play, he said, was "capable of being misunderstood".


Lord Hailsham
Lord Hailsham

It was, he quickly discovered, a serious blunder. He was pilloried in the press, carpeted by the BBC's own General Advisory Council, and criticised in a debate in the House of Lords, where Lord Hailsham accused him of "humourless sensitivity to criticism".


Lord Simon apologised in the House, admitting he did not foresee the "hurricane" of feeling his decision would stir. The storm, he concluded in his memoirs, was so violent that "quite obviously no Chairman will ever dream of doing anything of the sort again".

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