One day in February 2001 a researcher at the BBC called one of us up and asked if we might be interested in doing a study along the lines of the Stanford Prison Experiment. We said that we weren’t interested in simply repeating what Zimbardo had already done. But we were very interested in revisiting the ideas raised by his study. We were also interested in trying to conduct a large-scale field study which – like earlier ‘classic’ studies – would reveal the power of social factors to shape human behaviour.
We convinced the BBC that the new idea was to look at tyranny and resistance together. We agreed to go ahead if they would let us devise a study that could address these issues. We also persuaded them that the project would only have credibility if we had full control to design and conduct the study.
The BBC agreed to this. This meant that we were in charge of running the study. The BBC's role was to record what happened and to turn our ideas and analysis into accessible television.
In short, this was to be an experiment filmed, not a drama made for television. This agreement was written into a formal contract, and we set to work.