The Tunnel (1962 film)

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The Tunnel was a 90-minute black-and-white documentary film that chronicled how three West Berlin university students organized the escape of 26 friends and family members by digging a tunnel underneath the Berlin Wall from a former factory in West Berlin into the Communist East.[1] Produced by Reuven Frank and narrated by Piers Anderton, it was an NBC White Paper installment that was broadcast on December 10, 1962 and sponsored by the Gulf Oil Corporation.[2]

The Tunnel earned three Emmy Awards in 1963. It was the only documentary to receive the award as The Program of the Year.[3] It was also honored for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Documentary (awarded to Frank) and Outstanding Achievement in International Reporting (awarded to Anderton).[4][5]

The Tunnel was the basis for a pair of similarly named German projects (Der Tunnel) which were released just under four decades after the original. One was the 1999 documentary directed by Marcus Vetter, which featured the NBC footage accompanied by firsthand accounts from the actual participants.[6] The other was the 2001 television movie production directed by Roland Suso Richter, which was loosely based on the events recorded in the original.[7]


NBC, who were in competition with CBS to be first to film a tunnel escape for their news programs, financed the excavation project, giving the students the equivalent of about $150,000 in 2016 funds for exclusive rights to film them digging.[1]

An internal memo issued by Frank to the crew working on the documentary included the following outline of the goals of television news production:

Every news story should, without sacrifice of probity and responsibility, display the attributes of fiction, of drama. It should have structure and conflict, problem and denouement, rising and falling action, a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are not only the essentials of drama; they are the essentials of narrative. We are in the business of narrative because we are in the business of communication.[8]

Controversy & postponement[edit]

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) officially announced on October 11, 1962 that it was going to televise the documentary on October 31 from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (EST).[9] Reluctant to add to global tensions in light of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the television network decided on October 23 to indefinitely postpone the broadcast.[10]

The Kennedy administration had opposed airing the documentary, worried that NBC was increasing tensions between the United States and Russia at the height of the Cold War. Robert Kennedy, the president's brother and attorney general, was reported to have commented "That was a terrible thing you people did, buying that tunnel." Concerns about the ethics of NBC's involvement and the safety of the students were also expressed.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kulish, Nicholas (November 16, 2016). "Escape From East Berlin". The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  2. ^ Bliss, Edward. Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism. New York City: Columbia University Press, 1991.
  3. ^ "Former NBC News Exec Reuven Frank Dies," Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Monday, February 6, 2006.
  4. ^ 1962–1963 Emmy Awards – infoplease.
  5. ^ Piers Barron Anderton (death notice), San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, September 23, 2004.
  6. ^ Der Tunnel (The Tunnel) – Filmperspektive.
  7. ^ Der Tunnel (The Tunnel) – Under The Radar (magazine).
  8. ^ Braun, Joshua A. "The Imperatives of Narrative: Health Interest Groups and Morality in Network News," The American Journal of Bioethics, August 2007.
  9. ^ Adams, Val. "N.B.C.-TV Plans Documentary On Berlin Tunnel It Helped Build," The New York Times, Friday, October 12, 1962.
  10. ^ Shepard, Richard F. "N.B.C. Postpones Tunnel Telecast," The New York Times, Wednesday, October 24, 1962.

External links[edit]