1 9 8 1 (UK)
1 x 73 minute episode
This instalment of Play For Today, broadcast on 12 May 1981, had three suspected terrorists arrested and interrogated in a special unit after a bomb has been left in a pub in Aldershot. Three different psychological techniques are used to break each one down.
The story tells how the three react to the different methods, which provides surprising revelations about the suspects and their interrogators.
The three suspected terrorists – Richards (Derrick O’Connor), Turner (Rosalind Ayres) and Stone (John Duttine) – are held in spartan, sterile cells and locked in wire mesh cages.
They are then stripped, screamed at, humiliated and abused by their military jailers, Stevens (Warren Clarke), Hooper (Julian Cury), Northey (Colin Blakely) and Warren (Anthony Bate).
John Duttine’s performance as Stone, a large part of it played naked with a sack over his head, was particularly gripping.
When Stone is thrown (off-camera) out of a helicopter that he’s told is hovering high above the Thames but is really just four feet from the ground, he suddenly demands to be withdrawn from the project.
It turns out that the interrogation has all been part of a military exercise and that the three “prisoners” are in fact members of the British army. The exercise was meant to establish a psychological warfare unit, modelled along the lines of similar American teams.
But having come this far, the interrogators – who are revealed to be army psychologists – have invested too much in the project and, in an effort to keep it afloat and attract the required funding from the top brass, continue their experiments.
Where at first they were looking for effective psychological warfare techniques, they’re now looking for a way to create better, emotionally stronger soldiers
The play was written by David Leland and directed by Alan Clarke. Considered shocking at the time, subsequent revelations – particularly about the abuses meted out to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and at the Abu Ghraib prison following the 2003 invasion of Iraq – have dulled much of the shock value.