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Thin blue lines: product placement and the drama of pregnancy testing in British cinema and television

  • JESSE OLSZYNKO-GRYN (a1)
Abstract

This article uses the case of pregnancy testing in Britain to investigate the process whereby new and often controversial reproductive technologies are made visible and normalized in mainstream entertainment media. It shows how in the 1980s and 1990s the then nascent product placement industry was instrumental in embedding pregnancy testing in British cinema and television's dramatic productions. In this period, the pregnancy-test close-up became a conventional trope and the thin blue lines associated with Unilever's Clearblue rose to prominence in mainstream consumer culture. This article investigates the aestheticization of pregnancy testing and shows how increasingly visible public concerns about ‘schoolgirl mums’, abortion and the biological clock, dramatized on the big and small screen, propelled the commercial rise of Clearblue. It argues that the Clearblue close-up ambiguously concealed as much as it revealed; abstraction, ambiguity and flexibility were its keys to success.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
References
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1 But see Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, ‘Pregnancy testing in Britain, c.1900–67: laboratories, animals and demand from doctors, patients and consumers’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 2014.

2 Leavitt, Sarah A., ‘“A private little revolution”: the home pregnancy test in American culture’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2006) 80, pp. 317345 , 339. See further Leavitt's online exhibition, A Thin Blue Line: The History of the Pregnancy Test, at http://history.nih.gov/exhibits/thinblueline.

3 Rosenwarne, Lauren, Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012, pp. 180184 .

4 Holt, Douglas and Cameron, Douglas, Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 202219 . On consumers’ perception of Clearblue Digital as the ‘Rolls Royce of pregnancy tests’ see Emily Jane Ross, ‘Exploring tentativeness: risk, uncertainty and ambiguity in first time pregnancy’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2015, p. 120.

5 On 1980s Britain see Brooke, Stephen, ‘Living in “new times”: historicizing 1980s Britain’, History Compass (2014), 12, pp. 2032 ; Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Florence, ‘Observing the 80s’, Twentieth Century British History (2014), 25, pp. 484495 .

6 Mulkay, Michael, The Embryo Research Debate: Science and the Politics of Reproduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 ; Wilson, Duncan, The Making of British Bioethics, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014 .

7 Durham, Martin, Sex and Politics: The Family and Morality in the Thatcher Years, Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1991 ; Franklin, Sarah, Lury, Celia and Stacey, Jackie (eds.), Off-Centre: Feminism and Cultural Studies, London: HarperCollinsAcademic, 1991 ; Pilcher, Jane, ‘Gillick and after: children and sex in the 1980s and 1990s’, in Pilcher, Jane and Wagg, Stephen (eds.), Thatcher's Children? Politics, Childhood and Society in the 1980s and 1990s, London: Falmer Press, 1996, pp. 7793 ; Arai, Lisa, Teenage Pregnancy: The Making and Unmaking of a Problem, Bristol: Policy, 2009 .

8 On ovulation test kits see Chapter 4 of Jenna Healey, ‘Sooner or later: age, pregnancy, and the reproductive revolution in late twentieth-century America’, unpublished PhD thesis, Yale University, 2016.

9 See Day, Patricia and Klein, Rudolf, ‘The politics of modernization: Britain's National Health Service in the 1980s’, Milbank Quarterly (1989) 67, pp. 134 ; de Chadarevian, Soraya, ‘The making of an entrepreneurial science: biotechnology in Britain, 1975–1995’, Isis (2011) 102, pp. 601633 ; Mold, Alex, Making the Patient–Consumer: Patient Organisations and Health Consumerism in Britain, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015 . On the lucrative market for home diagnostic tests see Green, Kenneth, ‘Shaping technologies and shaping markets: creating demand for biotechnology’, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management (1991) 3, pp. 5776 ; Jones, Geoffrey and Kraft, Alison, ‘Corporate venturing: the origins of Unilever's pregnancy test’, Business History (2004) 46, pp. 100122 .

10 Voss, Simon, ‘The usage of pregnancy tests in one health district’, British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (1992) 99, pp. 10001003 .

11 Smith, Justin and McDonald, Paul (eds.), Channel 4 and British Film Culture, special issue of Journal of British Cinema and Television (2014) 11, pp. 413516 ; Andrews, Hannah, British Cinema: Convergence and Divergence since 1990, Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014 .

12 Williams, Raymond, Television: Technology and Cultural Form, London: Fontana, 1974 ; Polan, Dana, ‘Raymond Williams on Film’, Cinema Journal (2013) 52, pp. 118 .

13 Film studies of the close-up have typically concentrated on the face. See, for example, Doane, Mary Ann, ‘The close-up: scale and detail in the cinema’, differences (2003) 14, pp. 89111 ; Landecker, Hannah, ‘Cellular features: microcinematography and film theory’, Critical Inquiry (2005) 31, pp. 903936 ; Balázs, Béla, Early Film Theory: Visible Man and the Spirit of Film, New York: Berghahn, 2010, pp. 3845 , 100–111; Coates, Paul, Screening the Face, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 .

14 Olszynko-Gryn, Jesse, ‘The demand for pregnancy testing: the Aschheim–Zondek reaction, diagnostic versatility, and laboratory services in 1930s Britain’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (2014) 47, pp. 233247 .

15 Olszynko-Gryn, op. cit. (1), p. 15. See also Bingham, Adrian, Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life, and the British Popular Press 1918–1978, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 129 .

16 Gurdon, John B. and Hopwood, Nick, ‘The introduction of Xenopus laevis into developmental biology: of empire, pregnancy testing and ribosomal genes’, International Journal of Developmental Biology (2000) 44, pp. 4350 .

17 I have not been able to locate a copy of Stanford's film, which may well be lost, but traces of both films are abundant, for example, in the British Journal of Photography (1948) 95, p. 445 ; Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1948) 118, p. 539 ; and The Year's Work in the Film, 1949, p. 40, 1954, p. 54. See also the relevant entries in the BFI collection at http://collections-search.bfi.org.uk/web/Details/ChoiceFilmWorks/150120712; http://collections-search.bfi.org.uk/web/Details/ChoiceFilmWorks/150015227. Ciba, alongside Schering and Organon, controlled much of the market for sex hormones in the 1920s and 1930s. See Ratmoko, Christina, Damit die Chemie stimmt: Die Anfänge der industriellen Herstellung von weiblichen und männlichen Sexualhormonen 1914–1938, Zurich: Chronos, 2010 .

18 In the US, for example, a storyline about pregnancy testing with frogs was excised from the script of a major Hollywood production in 1944. See David A. Kirby, this issue.

19 Olszynko-Gryn, op. cit. (1), p. 119.

20 Joan Seaward, ‘Pregnancy test … a modern scientific achievement’, Woman, 24 June 1961, p. 27; Olszynko-Gryn, op. cit. (1), pp. 188–202. Marketed from 1950 to 1978 by the West German pharmaceutical company Schering, Primodos contained the same hormones as in the contraceptive pill. As with ‘the pill’, Primodos was also prescribed therapeutically as a treatment for irregular menstruation. When used diagnostically as a pregnancy test, Primodos was intended to induce menstrual bleeding in non-pregnant women only (a ‘negative’ result); no bleeding meant pregnancy (a ‘positive’ result). Primodos was significantly cheaper and more convenient than ordering a laboratory test and so it was widely prescribed, on the NHS, especially by overworked doctors in less affluent parts of the country.

21 Olszynko-Gryn, JesseWhen pregnancy tests were toads: the Xenopus test in the early NHS’, Wellcome History (2013), 51, pp. 13 .

22 Emma L. Jones, ‘Abortion in England, 1861–1967’, unpublished PhD thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2007, p. 234.

23 See Brookes, Barbara L., Abortion in England, 1900–1967, London: Croom Helm, 1988 ; Marks, Lara V., Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001 ; Weeks, Jeffrey, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800, 3rd edn, London: Routledge, 2013, pp. 321356 ; Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880, 2nd edn, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 148–164.

24 Delia Davin, ‘Using commercial pregnancy test in the 1960s’, email to author, 19 January 2014.

25 Olszynko-Gryn, op. cit. (1), p. 242.

26 Eric Schaefer, Sex Scene: Media and the Sexual Revolution, Durham, NC: Duke University Press; Hopwood, Nick, Jones, Peter Murray, Kassell, Lauren and Secord, Jim, ‘Introduction: communicating reproduction’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2015) 89, pp. 379404 .

27 Lay, Samantha, British Social Realism: From Documentary to Brit-Grit, London: Wallflower, 2002 ; Fran Bigman, ‘“Nature's a wily dame”: abortion in British literature and film, 1907–1967, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 2014.

28 Waris Hussein, email to author, 13 August 2014.

29 ‘Pregnancy testing: opposition by B.M.A.’, Pharmaceutical Journal, 20 September 1969, p. 319.

30 On Women's Hour and British radio's female listeners more generally see Murray, Jenni, The Woman's Hour, London: BBC Books, 1996 ; Mitchell, Caroline (ed.), Women and Radio: Airing Differences, London: Routledge, 2000, pp. 6472 ; Andrews, Maggie, Domesticating the Airwaves: Broadcasting, Domesticity and Femininity, London: Continuum, 2012 . See also Kavanagh, Jacqueline, ‘The BBC's written archives as a source for media history’, Media History (1999) 5, pp. 8186 .

31 Letter to Mrs Helen Graham, 9 November 1971, ‘Predictor home pregnancy test’, Wellcome Library, London (PP/GRA/B.4). Predictor was invented and patented in the late 1960s by New York graphic designer Meg Crane. See Pagan Kennedy, ‘Could women be trusted with their own pregnancy tests?’, New York Times, 29 July 2016, at www.nytimes.com/2016/07/31/opinion/sunday/could-women-be-trusted-with-their-own-pregnancy-tests.html?_r=0.

32 ‘Home pregnancy test kit’, Pharmaceutical Journal, 13 November 1971, p. 475.

33 Sex with Health: The Which? Guide to Contraception, Abortion and Sex-Related Diseases, London: Consumers’ Association, 1974, pp. 53–54. See further Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, ‘The feminist appropriation of pregnancy testing in 1970s Britain’, Women's History Review, forthcoming in 2018.

34 ‘Pregnancy testing’, Which?, February 1982, pp. 106–107.

35 Irwin, Mary, ‘What women want on television: Doreen Stephens and BBC television programmes for women, 1953–1964’, Westminster Papers (2011) 8, pp. 99122 .

36 Coronation Street, Episode 3, 16 December 1960; Richard Dyer et al., Coronation Street, London: BFI, 1981; Caughie, John, ‘Television and serial fictions’, in Glover, David and McCracken, Scott (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 5067 . Smoking in pregnancy emerged as a public-health concern and social problem only in the 1970s. See Oaks, Laury, Smoking and Pregnancy: The Politics of Fetal Protection, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001 .

37 Coronation Street, Episode 1587, 31 March 1976.

38 See Bromley, Tom, All in the Best Possible Taste: Growing Up Watching Telly in the 1980s, London: Simon & Schuster, 2010, p. 285 .

39 On science, technology and medicine on British television see, for example, Nathoo, Ayesha, Hearts Exposed: Transplants and the Media in 1960s Britain, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp. 86110 ; Boon, Tim, ‘“The televising of science is a process of television”: establishing Horizon, 1962–1967’, BJHS (2015) 48, pp. 87121 .

40 See Greg Dyke, ‘The doctor's warning that was eight years on the way’, The Guardian, 6 June 1978, p. 9; Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, ‘Drug scandals and the media: the unresolved case of Primodos’, The Guardian H Word, 22 March 2017, at www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2017/mar/22/drug-scandals-and-the-media-the-unresolved-case-of-primodos. The Ciba footage was again reused in a recent Sky News documentary, Primodos: The Secret Drug Scandal, now available on YouTube.

41 Williams, Peter and Stevens, Gordon, ‘What now for test tube babies?’, New Scientist (4 February 1982) 93(1291), pp. 311316 .

42 On the origins of BPAS see Paintin, David, Abortion Law Reform in Britain, 1964–2003: A Personal Account, Stratford: BPAS, 2015, pp. 6674 .

43 Bignell, Jonathan and Lacey, Stephen, ‘Introduction’, in Bignell, and Lacey, (eds.), British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future, 2nd edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 115 . On the production of meaning and affect through close-up shots and editing see, for example, Prince, Stephen and Hensley, Wayne E., ‘The Kuleshov effect: recreating the classic experiment’, Cinema Journal (1992) 31, pp. 5975 .

44 Geraghty, Christine, ‘British soaps in the 1980s’, in Strinati, Dominic and Wagg, Stephan (eds.), Come On Down? Popular Media Culture in Post-war Britain, London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 133149 ; Geraghty, , ‘Social issues and realist soaps: a study of British soaps in the 1980s/1990s’, in Allen, Robert C. (ed.), To Be Continued … Soap Operas around the World, New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 6680 .

45 Phil Redmond, ‘Brookside: the technology backstory’, in Bignell and Lacey, British Television Drama, op. cit. (43), pp. 62–69, 65.

46 Redmond, op. cit. (45), p. 67.

47 Hobson, Dorothy, Channel 4: The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy, London: I.B. Tauris, 2008, pp. 37 , 41.

48 Geraghty, Christine, ‘ Brookside: no common ground’, Screen (1983) 24, pp. 137–41; Cooke, Lez, British Television Drama: A History, 2nd edn, London: Palgrave/BFI, 2015, pp. 164165 .

49 Buckingham, David, Public Secrets: EastEnders and Its Audience, London: BFI, 1987, p. 1 .

50 Buckingham, op. cit. (49), p. 16.

51 Buckingham, op. cit. (49), p. 1.

52 Buckingham, op. cit. (49), p. 14.

53 Buckingham, op. cit. (49), p. 25.

54 W. Stephen Gilbert, ‘Programme notes’, The Listener, 18 February 1988, p. 27.

55 Buckingham, op. cit. (49), p. 85.

56 Buckingham, op. cit. (49), p. 149.

57 Hilary Kingsley, ‘Good girls do get pregnant too!’, Daily Mirror, 23 September 1985, p. 9. Though taken off the market in 1978, Primodos may have been responsible for the rumour that pregnancy tests caused abortions.

58 See Feasey, Rebecca, Mothers on Mothers: Maternal Readings of Popular Television, Bern: Peter Lang, 2016, pp. 8182 .

59 Documentaries include Schoolgirl Mums (Granada, 1989); Sonia's Baby (ITV, 1990); Frankenstein's Baby (ITV, 1990); and Teenage Diaries (BBC2, 1993).

60 See Thomas, Lyn, ‘In love with Inspector Morse: feminist subculture and quality television’, Feminist Review (1995) 51, pp. 125 .

61 Clive Cookson, ‘Two new babies on the way’, Financial Times, 7 July 1988, p. 13.

62 Positively Negative was O'Keefe's last role. The talented young actor best known for her performance in Threads (1984), the iconic BBC television drama about nuclear war, tragically died in a car accident shortly after shooting. On literacy in pregnancy and the readability (or not) of home test instructions see Papen, Uta, ‘Pregnancy starts with a literacy event: pregnancy and antenatal care as textually mediated experiences’, Ethnography (2008) 9, pp. 377402 ; Wallace, Lorraine S., Zite, Nikki B. and Homewood, Virginia J., ‘Making sense of home pregnancy test instructions’, Journal of Women's Health (2009) 18, pp. 363368 .

63 Ford, Celia, ‘Biotechnology products start to roll’, Unilever Magazine (1985) 57, pp. 1011 . See also ‘Monoclonal pregnancy test’, New Scientist (30 May 1985) 106(1458), p. 22.

64 Ford, op. cit. (63). Advertising campaigns, as a Carter Wallace marketing executive later explained, did not need to target women who dreaded pregnancy because they would ‘buy tests anyway’. Companies promoting ovulation kits also preferred to emphasize the planning of pregnancy rather than its avoidance. See Sue Platt, ‘Testing times on TV’, Community Pharmacy, 1 November 1995, pp. 12–14.

65 Lindsay Cook, ‘How the cuts cause a pregnant pause’, The Guardian, 4 November 1985, p. 21.

66 Ford, op. cit. (63).

67 Cookson, op. cit. (61). See further Berrige, Virginia and Loughlin, Kelly, ‘Smoking and the new health education in Britain 1950s–1970s’, American Journal of Public Health (2005) 95, pp. 956964 ; Elliot, Rosemary, Women and Smoking since 1890, London: Routledge, 2008 ; Al-Gailani, Salim, ‘Pregnancy, pathology and public morals: making antenatal care in early twentieth-century Edinburgh’, in Greenlees, Janet and Bryder, Linda (eds.), Western Maternity and Medicine, 1880–1990, London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013, pp. 3146 .

68 After Clearblue comes Clearplan’, Unilever Magazine (1987) 65, pp. 78 .

69 ‘Clearblue one step by Unipath Limited’, Design Council Archive, Brighton (GB 1837 DES/DCA/30/7/1989/5/1).

70 Cookson, op. cit. (61); ‘New pregnancy test cuts out the chemistry lesson’, New Scientist (21 July 1988) 119(1622), p. 39.

71 Cookson, op. cit. (61).

72 Conway, Linda, ‘Frontier of medical diagnostics’, Unilever Magazine (1989) 72, pp. 3539 .

73 Ross, Karen, Black and White Media: Black Images in Popular Film and Television, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996, p. 47 .

74 Farah's subsequent discovery of a letter from Maryam's gynaecologist confirming her pregnancy irritated at least one critic, who complained that ‘pregnancy test kits featured confusingly in all the bedrooms’: Farrah Anwar, review of My Sister Wife, Sight & Sound (May 1992) 2(1), pp. 62–63, 63.

75 Bhattacharyya, Gargi and Gabriel, John, ‘Gurinder Chadha and the Apna generation: black British film in the 1990s’, Third Text (1994) 8, pp. 5563 .

76 Stuart, Andrea, ‘Blackpool illumination’, Sight & Sound (February 1994) 4(2), pp. 2627 , 26.

77 Meera Syal, quoted in an email from Emma Paterson to the author, 24 August 2015.

78 Hackley, Chris and Tiwsakul, Rungpaka Amy Hackley née, ‘Observations: unpaid product placement’, International Journal of Advertising (2012) 31, pp. 703718, 708. See further Tiwsakul, Rungpaka Amy, Hackley, Chris and Szmigin, Isabelle, ‘Explicit, non-integrated product placement in British television programmes’, International Journal of Advertising (2005) 24, pp. 95111 .

79 Graeme Atkinson, email to the author, 20 August 2015. See also Sarah Ryle, ‘When is a prop not a prop? When it's a plug’, The Observer, 12 August 2001, p. 33.

80 Segrave, Kerry, Product Placement in Hollywood Films: A History, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004 .

81 Platt, op. cit. (64), p. 12.

82 Platt, op. cit. (64), p. 12.

83 In the US in 1997 David Lynch directed a fifteen-second television commercial for Clearblue Easy One Minute pregnancy test as part of a $7 million campaign. Leavitt, op. cit. (2), p. 333.

84 Andrews, Hannah, Television and British Cinema: Convergence and Divergence since 1990, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 7580 .

85 Leggott, James, Contemporary British Cinema: From Heritage to Horror, London: Wallflower Press, 2008, pp. 6871 ; Robert Murphy, ‘Citylife: urban fairy tales in late 90s British cinema’, in Murphy (ed.), The British Cinema Book, 2nd edn, London: BFI, pp. 296–300; Mather, Nigel, Tears of Laughter: Comedy–Drama in 1990s British Cinema, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006 .

86 Peter Matthews, review of Sliding Doors, Sight & Sound (June 1998) 8(6), pp. 55–56.

87 See Devereux, Cecily, ‘“Chosen representatives in the field of shagging”: Bridget Jones, Britishness, and reproductive futurism’, Genre (2013) 46, pp. 213237 .

88 Smith, Zadie, White Teeth, London: Hamish Hamilton, 2000, p. 515 ; Smith, , NW, London: Hamish Hamilton, 2012 , p. 1. For an early discussion of the ‘literary close-up’ see Noxon, Gerald F., ‘The anatomy of the close-up: some literary origins in the works of Flaubert, Huysmans and Proust’, Journal of the Society of Cinematologists (1961) 1, pp. 124 .

89 See Baillie, Rebecca, ‘Exhibition review: Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood’, Studies in the Maternal (2013) 5, pp. 19 . See further Matthews, Sandra and Wexler, Laura, Pregnant Pictures, London: Routledge, 2000 .

90 See Remes, Outi, ‘Replaying the old stereotypes into an artistic role: the case of Tracey Emin’, Women's History Review (2009) 18, pp. 559575 .

91 Franklin, Sarah, Biological Relatives: IVF, Stem Cells, and the Future of Kinship, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 287 .

92 See the artist's professional website at http://happyswappy.co.uk/portfolio/private-view-2002-2006.

93 Private View now hangs in the Salford University Midwifery Department as part of Birth Rites, the ‘first and only collection of contemporary artwork dedicated to the subject of childbirth’. See http://birthritescollection.org.uk.

94 Jill Foster, ‘Thought there was nothing left to shock you in this age of over-sharing? Women who put their pregnancy test videos on YouTube’, Daily Mail Online, 8 January 2015, at www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2901288/Thought-left-shock-age-oversharing-Women-pregnancy-test-videos-YouTube.html. For an introduction to YouTube see Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity, 2009; Michael Strangelove, Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

95 See Layne, Linda L., Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America, New York: Routledge, 2003 .

96 See, for example, Kubey, Robert and Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990 .

97 Ramaswamy, Chitra, Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy, Glasgow: Saraband, 2016, pp. 45 . Some women liken the twelve-week ultrasound scan to ‘watching a television programme’. See Ross, op. cit. (4), p. 173.

98 The phrase ‘thin blue line’ has acquired other meanings beyond Clearblue pregnancy tests, namely the association with law enforcement conveyed in The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988). Massive Attack's debut studio album Blue Lines was released in 1991, around the time Clearblue was taking off, but is probably not a direct reference.

99 Notably dramatic close-ups of reproductive technologies in British cinema and television include a misplaced diaphragm in Robin Redbreast, a Play for Today about pagan ritual murder (10 December 1970); Durex condom packaging in Rita, Sue and Bob Too (Alan Clarke, 1987); and a turkey baster (for artificial insemination) in an infamous episode of Brookside (13 November 1997). Oral contraception features in Educating Rita (Lewis Gilbert, 1983), though not in close-up, and structures the entire plot of Prudence and the Pill (Fielder Cook and Ronald Neame, 1968). In contrast to pregnancy testing, however, these other products did not inspire tropes; not flexible enough to fit a wide range of narratives and ignored by embedded marketing, they may also have been too visually boring or too explicitly linked to sex.

This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust (106553 and 088708). I thank Hannah Elizabeth, Patrick Ellis, Caitjan Gainty, Nick Hopwood, Charlotte Sleigh, participants at the Reproduction on Film conference and two anonymous reviewers for reading and commenting on full drafts, as well as all those who attended seminar presentations of earlier versions at Bremen University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden and the University of Leeds. For television viewing advice I thank Hannah Elizabeth, Audrey Peattie, Nicky Reeves, Natalie Thomlinson, Danny Webster (via Twitter) and contributors to fan-maintained ‘wikis’ for Coronation Street and EastEnders. Invaluable archival assistance was provided by Robin Bray (ITV), Sue Breakell (University of Brighton Design Archives), Philipp Gafner (Novartis Company Archives), Trish Hayes and Jeff Walden (BBC Written Archives Centre), Linda Kaye (British Universities Film & Video Council), Kathleen Luckey and Hannah Prouse (BFI National Archive) and Lesley Owen-Edwards (Unilever Archives). Last, but not least, I thank Delia Davin, Waris Hussein, Meera Syal, Emma Paterson and especially Graeme Atkinson and Scott Shearsmith (Prop Portfolio Limited) for permission to quote from their informative emails.

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