As it draws to a close, the Rio Olympics has had its share of romance, lust, betrayal, and missing underwear to titillate the prurient tastes of a global audiences. Or is that just in my street?
Sporting and other prowess aside, it was the audience that was the real subject of a 1968 BBC2 television play, The Year of The Sex Olympics. Written by Nigel Kneale, who had chilled the nation with three Quatermass serials and adaptations of George Orwell’s 1984 and Wuthering Heights, it was broadcast as part of a showcase series, Theatre 625. Kneale’s uncredited script examined the social effects of television on society and somehow drew on a finely focused crystal ball. It posited a future where a small elite keeps the population docile with an endless steam of crap tv shows and pornography. If the general public is busy watching other people at it then they won’t be over populating the world by doing it themselves.
You know it’s the future because everyone talks in a txt-speak patios that matches their hippy-dippy clothing and sparkly make up. The only problem is that viewing ratings for The Sex Olympics are beginning to flag.
One of the production team, Nat Mender (played by Tony Vogel who would later become Southern Television’s Dick Barton) argues for programmes that will educate the “low-drive” sections of society. However, Coordinator Ugo Priest, (played by Leonard Rossiter, fresh off the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey) decides to commission The Live Life Show where a group of people will be stranded on a remote Scottish Island where they will be observed living life as it happens.
Mender, his wife and daughter are part of the group who are sent to the island. But another member of the production team, Lasar Opie (played by Brian Cox), decides to add some tension to the mix by fudging the selection process and allowing a psychopath on to the island.
Tension rises when this rogue participant goes on a murderous rampage. Priest is appalled but the audience respond to the deaths with laughter. They are enjoying the killing and Priest is horrified when told the show is a success.
Whether intentional allegory or satire, Kneale managed to anticipate the advent of reality television shows such as Big Brother, Castaway and Love Island. Was he merely taking contemporary trends and following them to a logical extreme?
He had long expressed dissatisfaction with the counter-culture of the day which he described as “let it all hang out and stop thinking.” They were themes he would return to in other productions.
The Year of The Sex Olympics was broadcast in colour although only black and white recordings now exist. It also came under fire from Clean-Up TV Mary Whitehouse who had obtained a copy of the script before production.