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The Year Of The Sex Olympics (BBC Scifi, Leonard Rossiter)



The Year of The Sex Olympic was a scifi drama broadcast under the Theatre 625 strand on BBC-2 on 29 July 1968. It was set in an England of the future when the population is split in two, those who make TV Programmes and those who watch. One family agree to have their lives broadcast 24 hours a day.

The Stage of Thursday 6 June 1968 announced the production of the play and noted that some location work was being done on Kneale’s native Isle of Man.

The Sunday Mirror of 14 July 1968 offered up a preview that was guaranteed to get viewers watching…

THE BBC are sitting quietly on a sociological sex bombshell timed to go off at the end of this month. It is one of the most disturbing and daring plays ever to be made for the screen and is called The Year of the Sex Olympics. Leading the cast are Suzanne Neve, Leonard Rossiter, and Vickery Turner of Up The Junction fame.

The story is set in the twenty-first century, in which world population problems are solved by nightly sex orgies shown on TV.

The idea is that the human race receives sufficient sexual satisfaction on the telly that it no longer lusts for real lovemaking. The play is to be shown about July 29 on BBC-2. Its author, Nigel Kneale, who also wrote the science fiction Quatermass serials, told me last night: ” I foresee the time when television will take complete control of our lives, when audience measurement will be so refined and controlled that it will anticipate an audience’s every need before the desire has been formed.” The play is a satire and tricky stuff. But it is not a dirty play.

Kneale: In the beginning you get an impression of two people making love, in the classic pose of any 1968 play – a pair of bare shoulders and that sort of thing. Then you realise there are number plates between the shoulders. You hear voices and you realise you are looking at a TV rehearsal. It is shown only in back projection on a monitor screen – very oblique indeed. The idea is that TV is used for scenes of applied pornography in order to have a completely soporific effect on viewers, so that they lose all appetite for the real thing. My play shows how you can give people synthetics so strong that they will accept them instead of the genuine article. I think my play will be disturbing, but it is very serious in content.”

The Year Of The Sex Olympics The Live Life Show

Reviewing the show in the Daily Mirror of 30 July 1968, Mary Malone said: In the Sex Olympics. the sex experts performed in displays calculated not to whet the appetite for doing it yourself, but to satiate all taste for it. There were gluttony programmes and hate programmes to siphon off old-time hungers and passions—put out by an international TV network called Output that had replaced all governments and was in total command. They put on a custard pie show, but what made the audience laugh was the fear and pain and tragedy that struck the little rebel family when it left the automated world to try to go it alone on an island. This play about substitute living was given most imaginative sets which all helped to put over the idea that if nobody is super – human, many of us may be on the way to being subhuman. This BBC-2 play was frightening. We are half there already.

The production was also reviewed by John L. Phillips in The Stage of Thursday 1 August 1968: On Monday.BBC-2 presented Nigel Kneale’s The Year of the Sex Olympics, which was a play about a world whose elite consisted entirely of the Television Programme Makers, whose output is beamed continuously at the other ninety- eight per cent of the population. A couple (marriage no longer exists here) decided to escape from the stifling environment of the television studios, and go to live on a deserted and bleak island where they will have to fend for themselves and where they themselves become a television programme, with the cameras watching their every action. Basically, the idea was a good one. The situation was deliberately placed at only one remove from our society today, and from an overall point of view it worked, but where it fell down slightly was over some of the de tails. One thing which worried me was the dialogue. The idea was to show that as verbal communication decreased, and as more and more feelings were removed from life, so vocabulary began to shrink. As a result the characters spoke in a kind of “Me Tarzan – You Jane” way, which, although consistent with what the play was saying, became very difficult to listen to after a while. The occasional glimpse we were given of the rest of the world sitting bored and sad watching these awful programmes was more frightening than anything that took place inside the studios themselves, and the last part of the play which took place on the almost deserted island was very effectively shot, with long film sequences showing the coldness and bleakness existing outside the all-embracing warmth of the television world.

Linda Dyson also reviewed the show in the Birmingham Daily Post of Saturday 3 August 1968: The one outstanding piece of television this week was Nigel Kneale’s riveting, brilliant play The Year of the Sex Olympics. In his imaginary society. war and tension, both international and personal, have been disposed by television. To save the world from destroying itself, the leaders fed the masses with continuous television, providing them substitute experience which eventually replaced all action. People were totally apathetic. To inhibit their breeding (over-population being the prime cause of tension in the world) they were fed a diet of sex on the television screens. This went to the length suggested in the title of sex Olympics, in which competitors were given points as in Come Dancing or the Horse of the Year Show. These antics were viewed with vague disinterest. Rather than provoking the audience to imitate, they produced even greater apathy and listlessness. It took an unscheduled violent death in the studio to stir them to laughter. A couple who wanted to escape from the sham life of Output, where all the programmes were made. had to suggest they became part of a television show to do this. They were to be left on an island, accompanied only by the cameras, to discover what life was like in the ‘old days.’ This was The Live Life Show which became a horrible human tragedy and had the audience falling about in hysterical laughter. Grief. despair. fear. even the tentative awakenings of love and affection, could arouse no response in the perpetual viewers. The total inadequacy of the couple and their little girl went far deeper than their inability to keep themselves warm and well fed. Their language was that of the lowest television drama. Complex words were no longer used. When the girl asked her father to tell her a story, he couldn’t use his imaginational though he was considered a highly intelligent person. He resorted to repeating over and over. “I like you, I like you,” which was a breakthrough too.

One viewer, Mrs A. Lee from Edgware, Middlesex was less than impressed, telling the Sunday Mirror of 4 August 1968 via their Be A TV Critic column that she had seen some rubbish on TV never such nonsense as The Year of the Sex Olympics. Was there a hidden meaning that normal people like myself (I hope) were not meant to find out.

The drama was given a repeat showing on BBC One under The Wednesday Play strand on Wednesday 11 March 1970.

Cast: LEONARD ROSSITER as Co-Ordinator Ugo Priest / SUZANNE NEVE as Deannie Webb / TONY VOGEL as Nat Mender / VICKERY TURNER as Misch / BRIAN COX as Luger Opie

Writer: Nigel Kneale / Design: Roger Andrews / Producer: Ronald Travers / Director: Michael Elliott

UK / BBC2 ‘Theatre 625’ / 1×105 minute episode / Broadcast 29 July 1968