Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Up the Junction (1965)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Up the Junction (1965)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 3/11/1965
75 minutes, black & white
DirectorKen Loach
ProducerJames Mactaggart
ScreenplayNell Dunn
Story EditorTony Garnett

Geraldine Sherman (Rube); Carol White (Sylvie); Vickery Turner (Eileen); Michael Standing (Terry); Tony Selby (Dave)

Show full cast and credits

The lives and loves of three young working class women, set in the pubs, terraced houses and factories of Battersea, South London.

Show full synopsis

Nell Dunn's 'Up the Junction', directed by Ken Loach, was a controversial and mould-breaking TV drama, watched by an audience of nearly 10 million on first transmission. A record 400 viewers complained to the BBC, mostly about the programme's bad language and depiction of sexual promiscuity. Now, these aspects seem relatively mild. At the time, Up the Junction's depiction of abortion had a major impact, contributing to the national debate which led to the legalisation of abortion in 1967.

The drama is striking for its inclusion of documentary elements, including an interview with a doctor, who talks of the need for a change in the law, to prevent the "35 deaths per year that we know are directly attributable to the back street abortions." This interview is used over shots of Rube visiting the abortionist.

Not everyone approved of the combining of factual and fictional techniques. As with Ken Loach's later Cathy Come Home (1966), some critics found it confusing and one declared that "viewers have a right to know whether what they are being offered is real or invented." Loach, though, was unrepentant.

Loach also commented that the use of documentary elements reflected the programme's scheduling. The Wednesday Play appeared immediately after the evening news and, he said, "we were very anxious for our plays not to be considered dramas but as continuations of the news." Like Dunn's source novel - based on conversations she overheard among young women in Clapham - the dramatisation is fragmented, containing snippets of other people's stories as well as those of the three main characters, all adding to the impression of authenticity.

The film has a liveliness and lyricism of style, partly arising from its use of '60s pop music and its fragmentary structure. Editing to music was then a fairly new approach, and it gave the drama an immediacy and raucousness. Though the production has a pick-up-your-camera-and-go feel, in fact it is technical accomplishment that is largely responsible for its sense of spontaneity. As one reviewer wrote: "It was written and filmed with remarkable technical brilliance - to give viewers the impression that they had been set down in the middle of it all, the streets, dance hall, laundries, factories, teeming with people and noise. I don't remember a television play that created such a vivid sense of participation and made one feel so physically close to the characters."

Ros Cranston

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Pub scene (3:54)
2. Factory scene (4:29)
3. Abortion scene (3:31)
Production stills
Mike Leigh: The Guardian Interview (1983)
This Week 473: Abortion - A Law for the Rich? (1965)
Garnett, Tony (1936-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Newman, Sydney (1917-1997)
Ken Loach: The Controversies
Ken Loach: Television Drama
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)