Theatre Censorship – 16: Edward Bond’s Saved (Part Four)

Herbert Kretzmer

Herbert Kretzmer

Saved is about the capacity of good to overcome evil despite the latter’s pressure to dominate. Just as, for example, although (in my opinion!) The Merchant of Venice is primarily concerned with showing that “the world is…deceiv’d with ornament” (III.ii.74), one’s first reaction to these plays is that The Merchant is about Shylock and Saved is about baby-battering. The other elements of the plays tend to pale in comparison, and as a result they are both easily misread. Hay and Roberts note, of Saved, that “the shock of one image in one scene became the focus for most of the rage directed against the whole play, and it consequently became transcribable in terms that guaranteed it notoriety, and, equally, an almost total lack of analysis”. Indeed, neither Irving Wardle of The Times (“the play…does nothing to lay bare the motives for violence”) nor Herbert Kretzmer of the Daily Express (“the infanticide is entirely unmotivated and unexplained… [the theatre] cannot be allowed, even in the name of freedom of speech, to [reflect the horrific undercurrents of contemporary life] without aim, purpose or meaning”) understood the violence at all.

William Gaskill

William Gaskill

Saved bears the dubious honour of being the last play to be cut heavily by the censor. It had originally been commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre, and, when he read the script, William Gaskill, the director, knew that they would face difficulties with the Lord Chamberlain’s office. Gaskill consulted George Devine, who had just left the Royal Court as Artistic Director, for advice as to how to present the play at St. James’ Palace. Devine sent a lengthy memorandum:

“I have read this play from the point of view of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.

1) The intrinsic violence will automatically disturb the reader.
2) I have marked with pencil all the things I could spot that are like to meet with objections. I may have missed some. It should be checked.
3) My advice is to cut out all the words we know will not be passed – such as bugger, arse, Christ, etc, before submission. To have them in creates immediate hostility. The problem is to get the play on with a licence: not to alter the L. C. I presume.
4) I suggest that Charles Wood’s technique is a good one. Swallow pride and reinvent, even one’s own swear words and phrases. Rewrite scenes, if necessary, to retain intrinsic rhythms etc, rather than arguing over words or phrases which he will never yield on.
5) Cut out stage directions which suggest sexual situations. I have bracketed these.
6) I think you might get away with the stockings scene if you present it carefully, as I have indicated. Often things are said, which don’t always need to be said – except in free circumstances which you don’t have.
7) As for the baby, I don’t think the scatological bits will get through under any circumstances. Worse kinds of violence may well be passed but references to shit and piss will never pass in my opinion.
8) I suggest EB works on all this – show it to me again if you like.
9) The passages I’ve marked with a squiggle are dubious – finally it’s give and take, but the shorter the list of dubious passages and obvious disallowances (piss, bugger, etc) the better chances you have.

P. S. A few less bloodies would help – esp. Act II.”

George Devine

George Devine

In the end, the censor asked for countless verbal changes and small cuts throughout the play, but insisted that both scenes six and nine should be cut in their entirety. That would have meant proceeding directly from the scene with Pam in bed waiting expectantly for Fred’s arrival and ignoring the baby, to Pam’s visiting Fred in prison, where it would have taken a long time for his crime to have become evident, and even longer for the audience to discern the reason for it. Similarly, we would not have known of the scene between Len and Mary, so much of scene eleven – the violent scene with the teapot – would have been incomprehensible. However, you can appreciate the censor’s difficulty. Especially when taken out of context, the death of the baby is a highly emotive issue; nearly everyone would find it shocking, disgusting and sick. Given the laws and the guidelines, the censor really had very little choice.


Lord Stonham

Not surprisingly, though, Bond did not agree to comply with the Lord Chamberlain’s demands, and so Saved was staged by the Royal Court as a club performance, although the Royal Court was not strictly a theatre club. However, this had been a tactic employed successfully in the past, for example when the Royal Court wished to stage Osborne’s A Patriot for Me a few months earlier. Nevertheless, in March 1966, the Director of Public Prosecutions summonsed the English Stage Company because the theatre was not being run as a genuine club. The prosecution failed, but the magistrate fined the company £50 because, as the play had not obtained a licence, and it was technically “for hire”, it contravened the 1843 Theatres Act. In the short run, this was a grave blow as it meant theatre clubs could no longer be guaranteed exempt from censorship. However, in the long run, it added pressure to the anti-censorship lobby and it was only two months later when Lord Stonham moved to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to review stage censorship.

If you read my four posts about Saved, thank you very much! In my next post, I’m looking at another very significant play of the mid 20th century, Look Back in Anger. This will also be split over three blog posts, but I hope you will join me for the battle!

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