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Screening black political struggle on 1970s British Television: the case of the Play for Today, A Hole in Babylon (1979)

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This article draws on my interviews with the writer/director Horace Ové and the producer Graham Benson, in order to explore the production history of the Play for Today, A Hole in Babylon. Filmed during a particularly turbulent decade in British race relations, A Hole in Babylon was a fictionalised account of the 1975 Spaghetti House siege. Horace Ové was intent on providing a sympathetic portrayal of three black men, whose botched attempt at an armed robbery escalated into a six-day siege. Ové’s insistence that the underlying motivation for the crime was ideological ensured that the play courted controversy, even before it was actually transmitted on television. Much of A Hole in Babylon was shot on location in and around Ladbroke Grove; an area which was, during the 1970s, inexorably linked to black political expression and struggle. Furthermore, the scenes in A Hole in Babylon depicting the siege were filmed in the restaurant basement that had been the locus of the real-life hostage-taking just four years earlier. In addition to providing valuable insight into the creative partnership between director and producer, this article will argue that the institutional context of the BBC in the late 1970s facilitated the airing of a highly innovative text.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-502
JournalHistorical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2015


  • Sally_Shaw_3_sceening_black_political_struggle_HJFRT

    Rights statement: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television on 26th March 2015, available online: or 10.1080/01439685.2015.1027559.

    Accepted author manuscript (Post-print), 43.8 KB, Word document

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