IBA Archive at Bournemouth University

Documents | Correspondence

Mr. R. McWhirter v IBA (Warhol) Vol.2

Document Information

File: 3078/2/79

Box: 3995529

Summary of Document

This file is full of correspondence concerning the Andy Warhol documentary. The documentary was transmitted by ATV on 27/3/1973. The file contains many response letters to complaints about the suitability of Warhol’s art for broadcasting. In a letter dated 3/4/1973 the IBA state that the purpose of the documentary was to display Warhol’s art as it cannot be ignored however distasteful they or his lifestyle seem to some. This is sent to multiple people and stamped rather than signed by Brian Young (the director general). The programme received positive letters too. The House of Commons received complaints from constituents which were sent onto the IBA. Additionally the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough sent a letter on 6/4/1973 with a petition against airing the documentary. There are also quite a few handwritten letters in this file.

A letter from A. B. Burton dated 29/3/1973 can give us an indication of why there were so many complaints about the programme. Burton quotes section 3 (a) of the 1964 Television Act. He then lists what he feels breaches that act: Women swearing like ill-bred soldiers, discussing sex without reference to human respect, Warhol illustrating his beliefs by being filmed in bed with another man and the woman painting her breast. Burton also states that the telegraph poll of complaint phone calls has reached 2000. The “explicit” broadcast of homosexuality seems to be a big focus in complaints about this documentary.

There is a letter from the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association dated 20/4/1973. In this letter the writer states that his earlier letter to the IBA seems to be in line with public reaction and the programme was totally out of taste with the man-in-the-street. He comments on the authority’s address to the Parliamentary Press Gallery Luncheon the previous day and also a nationwide petition that was presented to prime minister on 17/4/1973 which contained 1,350,000 signatures.  The file also contains some press clippings about the authority’s decision to show the Warhol documentary and the defence made by the chairman Lord Aylestone. It quotes the chairman’s view that it was up to the individuals in this instance to decide what was offensive.

The file also has replies to telephone calls, again this is the same letter sent out to multiple people and not signed. There are some replies from the authority to complaints that refer to specific parts of the complaints, indicating more thorough responses. The letters give the researcher an idea of how many people were writing to the authority about this programme. For example in a letter from the IBA to Mr Wells dated 18/5/1973 states that there were over 7000 letters to the authority before the programme was aired and 2000 after it had been shown. In the response letters, the Authority says that it values the opinions of audiences and will use these opinions in their research.

In the complaints, people seem to have accused the IBA of having a lack of responsibility in allowing this programme to be aired by feeding what they believe to be filth into decent family homes. There is a letter from the Evangelical Alliance (30/5/1973). This letter suggests that future programmes of this manner should be aired in a “minority” time slot. The tone of the letter however is not too harsh.


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