Up the Junction (The Wednesday Play)

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Up the Junction is an episode of the BBC anthology drama series The Wednesday Play first transmitted on the 3 November 1965 on BBC 1. Adapted by Nell Dunn from her short story collection and (uncredited) Ken Loach,[1] the play was directed by Loach and produced by James MacTaggart.


Recounting the experiences of three young women in North Battersea and Clapham Junction and, to a lesser degree, their boyfriends, the play has an episodic structure.[2] As story editor Tony Garnett's biographer Stephen Lacey has written, the play "is less concerned with its narrative high-points ... and is motivated more by the seemingly haphazard interplay of accident and incident".[3]

Featuring pop songs of the time on the soundtrack, it was edited to match the rhythm of those songs, then a relatively new approach.[4] The play's soundtrack juxtaposes a song about male sexual desire with one of the female characters undergoing an induced miscarriage during an illegal backstreet abortion.[5]



Audience research found that the programme was viewed by about 10 million people, but the corporation received 400 complaints about the broadcast.[6]

Some commentators objected to the merging of documentary elements with drama at the time of the play's transmission, but Loach rejected the criticism. Christian morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, responding to Up the Junction, wrote in her book Cleaning-up TV (1967):

"The sooner these terrible back-street abortionists are put out of business the better! True. But what about a play which would make it clear that any kind of abortion, legal or otherwise, has dangers to mental and bodily health far greater than natural childbirth. How about a programme which demonstrate that clean living could cut out a great deal of this problem at the root?"[7]

The antagonism to the play included the upper echelons of the BBC itself. A proposal to repeat the play was rejected by the governors in the summer of 1966 who noted the "great offence" the piece had caused at its first screening.[8] Trade unionist Dame Anne Godwin, a BBC governor who had not herself seen the play,[9] was minuted at a meeting in June 1966 as complaining of "too great a tendency ... to concentrate on the 'sick" elements in society as sources from which to illustrate contemporary problems."[10]

The play contributed to the debate which led to the Abortion Act 1967 which legalised the termination of a pregnancy in the UK.[4] Tony Garnett, whose work on the project was more extensive than his formal brief as story editor, commented in 2013 about the "very, very personal" nature of this play. His mother had died following a back street abortion while Garnett was a child, and his father committed suicide less than a month later.[11]

A film version based on Dunn's original short stories was released in 1968. In 2011 the television play was included in the 6 DVD box set, Ken Loach at the BBC.


  1. ^ Although uncredited in this context, Loach contributed to the script and was paid a fee for his work. See Jacob Leigh The Cinema of Ken Loach: Art in the Service of the People, London: Wallflower Press, 2002, p.183, n.13. Dunn has acknowledged Loach's work on the script, see Stephen Lacey Tony Garnett, Manchester: Mancheter University Press, 2007, p.39
  2. ^ Leigh The Cinema of Ken Loach, p.26
  3. ^ Lacey Tony Garnett, p.40
  4. ^ a b Ros Cranston "Up the Junction (1965)", BFI screenonline
  5. ^ Leigh The Cinema of Ken Loach, p.31
  6. ^ Ian Aitken (ed.) The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, Abingdon: Routledge, 2013, p.949
  7. ^ Mary Whitehouse Cleaning Up TV: From protest to participation, London: Blandford Press, 1967, p.167-68, quoted in Leigh, p.184, n.18
  8. ^ Asa Briggs The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume V: Competition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p.523, n.32
  9. ^ Briggs, p.524 n.33
  10. ^ Minutes of governor;'s meeting in June 1966 cited by Briggs, p.524, 523 n.32
  11. ^ Jason Deans and Maggie Brown "Up the Junction's Tony Garnett reveals mother's backstreet abortion death", The Guardian, 28 April 2013

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