Intolerable flippancy: the Arnot Robertson v. MGM libel case (1946-1950) and the evolution of BBC policy on broadcast film criticism

Selfe, M. (2011) Intolerable flippancy: the Arnot Robertson v. MGM libel case (1946-1950) and the evolution of BBC policy on broadcast film criticism. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 31(3), pp. 373-398. (doi: 10.1080/01439685.2011.597995)

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This article examines the ultimately unsuccessful libel case brought by the novelist and BBC film critic E. Arnot Robertson against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The action followed a letter the film company sent to Robertson’s employer in 1946, asserting she was ‘out of touch’ with public taste, excluding her from their press screenings and requested the broadcaster’s assistance in preventing her from reviewing further MGM films on air. Robertson charged the film company with libelling her professional competence and imperilling her earnings. This article explores the origins and outcomes of the ensuing three-year legal dispute. Drawing on trade journals, law reports, press coverage and BBC records, the article considers the contrasting models of the ‘audience’ underpinning the wider conflict between the film trade and the ‘quality’ critics. It explores the role of BBC policy and ‘broadcast style’ in making radio criticism a flashpoint and traces the specific circumstances that led the two parties into court. Finally, it considers the lasting legal and cultural consequences of the case. Turner (Robertson) v. MGM redefined the legal meaning of ‘fair comment’, it reshaped BBC policy on broadcast criticism, and shifted the consensus on what constituted responsible and professional criticism – making wit a less respectable critical tool.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Selfe, Dr Melanie
Authors: Selfe, M.
Subjects:K Law > KD England and Wales
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Journal Name:Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN (Online):1465-3451
Published Online:15 September 2011
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2011 Taylor and Francis
First Published:First published in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 31(3)
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
526621The mediated performance of film criticism in post-war British culture (1945-1960)Melanie SelfeThe Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (CARNEGIE)UNSPECIFIEDCCA - THEATRE FILM AND TV STUDIES