Birth of Our Four-Letter Universe

Just fifty-five years ago today, viewers and listeners in the UK were shocked to hear for the first time on the BBC someone saying the word “fuck” without it being bleeped.

The protagonist of this drama was the theatre critic and essayist Kenneth Tynan, a well-known provocateur.

“On 13 November 1965, Tynan participated in a live TV debate, broadcast as part of the BBC‘s late-night satirical show BBC-3. He was asked whether he would allow a play to be staged in which sexual intercourse was represented on the stage, and replied: “Well, I think so, certainly. I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word ‘fuck’ would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden. I think that anything which can be printed or said can also be seen.” 

Paul Johnson later called Tynan’s use of the word “his masterpiece of calculated self-publicity”, adding “for a time it made him the most notorious man in the country”. There were apologies from the BBC and even a House of Commons debate about it.

Now, a generation and more after, we are more surprised by TV and film dramas where that word — and many others — are not used.

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