Wednesday, 30 March 2011

History of the BBFC: 1980s

The decade started in dramatic fashion for the BBFC with the submission of Tinto Brass' Caligula. The film achieved notoreity in the USA and arrived in the UK with the reputation of being 'the most controversial film of the eighties'. All sexually explicit material was removed in order to conform with Customs regulations (specifically the Customs Act 1876), and further cuts made to material which was potentially actionable under the Obscene Publications Act - the later including sexually violent material. The cut film was then viewed again by the Board, who had already indicated that further cuts to sex and violence would be necessary in order to secure a nation-wide release under BBFC 'X' category standards.   

Throughout the decade there were a number of films involving gangland characters.  1981 saw the release of Tom Clegg's McVicar, a criminal biopic passed 'X'; and John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday, the story of a criminal determined to preserve his manor against incursions by the IRA, also passed 'X'.  This has remained '18' on video since 1987, with the most recent classification in 2008. Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa, was passed '18' in 1986, with Bob Hoskins playing the role of chauffeur to a prostitute.  David Green's Buster, passed '15' in 1988, told the story of Great Train Robber 'Buster' Edwards on the run from the law.  The decade concluded with Peter Medak's tale of infamous twin gangland figures, The Krays, passed '18', after cuts to an horrific mutilation scene.

Another film based on real-life was Michael Caton-Jones' Scandal, an account of the Profumo affair, a political scandal of the 1960s.  Although for some the events were considered too recent for comfort, the problem for the BBFC was of a different kind.  An orgy scene revealed the presence of an erect penis in the backgound of the shotThe image was obscured by soft-focus lighting and the film released with an '18' certificate.

The first of the Rambo series, First Blood (Ted Kotcheff), was passed '15' uncut in 1982, and the second, George Pan Cosmatos' Rambo - First Blood Part II was passed '15' uncut in 1985.  However, Rambo III was cut in 1988 to obtain an '18' certificate.  In addition to a horse-fall removed under the terms of the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, the violence was reduced by the excision of spatter shots, and cuts were made to counteract the glamorisation of weapons which constituted a significant classification issue. 

John Milius' Conan The Barbarian required cuts to a sex scene between Conan and a serpent-woman, and to remove horse-falls, for an 'AA' category in 1982.  The second Conan film, Richard Fleischer's Conan The Destroyer also required horse-fall and animal cruelty cuts in 1984.

The decade also saw the establishment of the 'stalk and slash' genre with the Friday 13th series of films, with parts I and II passed 'X' uncut on film in 1980 and 1981 respectively. Part III was also passed 'X' uncut on film in 1982, but with two cuts to violence/horror to obtain an '18' on video in 1987.

1981 saw the second in the Halloween series passed 'X' uncut on film, but a scene where a woman was scalded to death in a jacuzzi was reduced for an '18' video release in 1990. 
The development of the video recorder created new anxieties about the home viewing of feature films. Legally, there was no requirement that videos should be classified, which meant that films that had not been approved by the BBFC or which were suitable for adults only, were falling into the hands of children. In particular the tabloid press led a campaign against so called 'video nasties'. This term was not always clearly defined, but there were 70 titles that had either been prosecuted by the DPP under the Obscene Publications Act, or were awaiting prosecution. Some of these were horror films that had never been submitted to the BBFC. Others had been cut for their cinema release, and the video versions sometimes included restored cuts. The outcome of this concern was new legislation, introduced as a private member’s Bill by Conservative MP, Graham Bright. The Video Recordings Act 1984, makes it an offence for a video work to be supplied if it has not been classified, or to supply a classified work to a person under the age specified in the certificate.
No record of the decade of the so-called 'video nasties' would be complete without mention of Sam Raimi's zombie film, The Evil Dead. This was submitted in 1982 and required 49 seconds of cuts to violence and horror.  The video was placed on the Director of Public Prosecution's (DPP) list and seized, with a number of retailers charged under the Obscene Publications Act - although the work was never tested in court as the retailers pleaded guilty.  In 1985 the distributor, Palace Video, was prosecuted and acquitted.  The film cuts were increased for the video version in 1990 as a precautionary measure against possible future prosecution, but in 2000 the full version was passed '18' on video.  
When former 'video nasties', they are examined under current Guidelines, and their legal history considered.  It is usually possible to make cuts to ensure a modern release, although many of them continue to test the Guidelines for sexual violence.

1982 - Review of the category system

  • 'A' was changed to 'PG'
  • 'AA' was changed to '15' and
  • X' became '18'.
A new category 'R18' was introduced which permitted more explicit sex films to be shown in members-only  clubs.  Previously, such clubs had shown material unclassified by the BBFC, but a change in the law closed this loopholeSince the mid 1980s most 'R18' material is released on video, only available from a limited number of sex shops which must be specially licensed by local authorities.

Further changes to the category system in the 80s
In 1985: 'Uc' was introduced for video only, to identify works suitable for very young children to watch alone.

In 1989: '12' introduced on film, to bridge the huge gap between 'PG' and '15'. This was extended to video in 1994. The first film to be given a '12' rating was Batman

History of the BBFC: 1970s

During the sixties it was recognised that teenagers had specific concerns of their own which ought to be reflected in the category system.
  • Introduction of 'AA' : over 14 only
  • 'A' split to 5+ but warning to parents that material may not be suitable for under 14
  • Raising of 'X' from 16 to 18
The idea was that this would protect adolescents from material of a specifically adult nature and would permit more adult films to be passed uncut for an older, more mature audience.  It recognised the earlier maturity of many teenagers by giving them access to certain films at the age of 14, without being accompanied by an adult.  It also indicated to parents the difference between films wholly suitable for children of all ages, which would continue to be classified 'U', and those which, while not generally unsuitable, might contain some material which some parents might prefer their children not to see.

The seventies did indeed see the release of a number of provocative films, in particular those that linked sex and violence, for example Straw Dogs (1971), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), both of which contained controversial rape scenes. There were a number of other controversies during the seventies, for example Ken Russell’s The Devils(1971), which was accused of blasphemy, Last Tango in Paris (1972), which was accused of being 'obscene' and The Exorcist (1973), which was accused of having a psychologically damaging effect on young people. In the case of each of these films, the decision of the BBFC to award an 'X' was overturned by a number of local authorities. Pressure groups such as The Festival of Light, and Lord Longford’s Committee on Pornography also placed immense pressure on the BBFC, in a backlash against what was perceived as liberalisation having gone too far. The Festival of Light mounted a campaign against alleged links between teenage suicide and screenings of The Exorcist.
Stephen Murphy, who became Secretary of the Board in July 1971, resigned in 1975 and was succeeded by James Ferman.  One of the first films Ferman looked at was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which his predecessor had already refused to classify shortly before his departure.  Ferman agreed with Murphy that the violence and terrorisation in the film (directed largely towards a woman over a sustained period) was unacceptable.  In an early interview, Ferman remarked that it wasn't the sex that worried him but the violence and, in particular sexual violence.  During his time at the BBFC, Ferman permitted increasingly explicit sexual material whilst clamping down on sadistic violence (especially when perpetrated by heros) and sexual violence (particularly where it seemed that the portrayal of rapes and assaults were intended as a 'turn on' to viewers).  

Ferman's attitudes and policies reflected a more general shift of public concern during the 1970s, away from arguments about the explicitness of screen representations towards a consideration of any possible corrupting influence. This has been understood more and more in terms of whether the viewer is encouraged to enjoy the pain of victims of violence, and, often, sexual violence.   Prior to 1977 the Obscene Publications Act did not apply to cinema films and films were judged on the basis of whether any individual scene might be considered 'indecent', regardless of context.  However, the extension of the OPA to films in 1977 gave the BBFC more latitude when considering depictions of sex in films since they now had to be considered 'as a whole'.  Therefore, the BBFC was able to waive, in 1978, a cut for sexual explicitness made in 1973 to Last Tango in Paris.  On the other hand, the OPA required that the Board consider whether a scene might deprave and corrupt its likely audience.  Therefore, in 1978, the BBFC demanded that an additional cut should be made to the sex film Emmanuelle, (originally passed 'X' in 1974) to remove a rape scene that, although not 'indecent', might deprave and corrupt viewers by suggesting that rape was erotic and could teach the victim a valuable 'lesson'. The film was finally passed '18' uncut in 2007 after further viewings, in accordance with our guidelines and sexual violence policy, determined that the film did not endorse the rape myth.

History of the BBFC: 1960s

Challenges to the Obscene Publications Act (1959), in cases such as the successful defence in 1960 of D. H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, suggested a strong shift in public opinion, when a jury acquitted this work. John Trevelyan, as Secretary to the Board, responded to the new spirit of liberalism by stating: "The British Board of Film Censors cannot assume responsibility for the guardianship of public morality." It cannot refuse for exhibition to adults films that show behaviour that contravenes the accepted moral code, and it does not demand that ‘the wicked’ should also be punished. It cannot legitimately refuse to pass films which criticise ‘the Establishment’ and films which express minority opinions".

However, the decade began with a challenge in the form of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, which had been seen by the Board at the script stage and provoked a remark from Trevelyan about its 'morbid concentration on fear'. Various cuts had been suggested at script stage, and the film was passed 'X' in 1960 with cuts. Critics greeted the film with a torrent of abuse and it failed to please the public, damaging Powell's reputation.

New realism took hold in British films, with the submission of a number of 'kitchen sink' dramas from the British New Wave directors - Karel Reisz's Saturday Night And Sunday Morning in 1960, Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962, both passed 'X', the latter with cuts. Saturday Night... had been submitted to the Board at script stage. Concerns were expressed about the language, violence and the theme of abortion, and the script was modified to meet these concerns This might have been the 'swinging Sixties', but in spite of the film's BBFC uncut release at 'X', Warwickshire Council deemed it too strong and demanded that cuts be made for a local certificate. The film was passed 'PG' on video in 1990.

By 1966, Lewis Gilbert's Alfie was passed uncut, with the remark  that it contained a 'basically moral theme' in spite of some misgivings at the Board about the abortion theme. Attitiudes to sexuality were on the change in the wake of the 1957 Wolfenden Report which recommended a relaxation of the laws concerning homosexuality, although no new legislation was to appear for another ten years. Trevelyan claimed that the BBFC had never banned the subject of homosexuality from the screen but 'the subject was one that would probably not be acceptable to the British audience'. Basil Dearden's Victim contributed to the debate in 1961, containing the line 'they call the law against homosexuality the blackmailer's charter'. The film was passed 'X' with a brief cut. When the film version was submitted for a modern classification in 2005, it was passed 'PG'.

As public tolerance increased in the sweeping social change of the sixties, films became more explicit, but in practice the Board still requested cuts, usually to verbal and visual 'indecency'. Ingmar Bergman's 1964 The Silence created a stir because of its treatment of sexual matters . After extensive consultation with the distributor and the director, Trevelyan passed the film 'X' with 35 seconds of cuts to sex scenes. The decade also saw the establishment of the Carry On.. series, characterised by its use of seaside postcard humour, some of which was trimmed for the 'A' category -for instance in Carry On Cleo (1964) and Carry On Camping (1969).

Violence in Walter Grauman's Lady In A Cage proved too strong for the Board in 1964 and the film was rejected on the grounds that it could 'invite and stimulate juvenile violence and anti-social behaviour by young people'. The Greater London Council granted a cut version of the film an 'X' certificate. After However, there was no holding back the inevitable, and in 1967 Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, with its notorious denouement of the charismatic outlaws being riddled with bullets, was passed 'X' uncut in 1967. By the end of the decade in 1969 Sam Pekinpah's classic Western The Wild Bunch pushed levels of violence still further in spite of some ten seconds of cuts for 'X'.

One of the most commercially successful series of films of the decade began in 1962 with Terence Young's Dr No (James Bond), the first of the long running James Bond movies. Passed 'A' with cuts, this set a pattern for what followed, with From Russia With Love passed 'A' with cuts to sexual innuendo in 1963, Goldfinger passed 'A' in 1964 with cuts to nudity and violence, and Thunderball passed 'A' in 1965 with a cut to a sexy massage scene.


In 1968 Lindsay Anderson's controversial If..., a metaphorical look at British society through the microcosm of a boys' public school, proved to be a box-office success. Only one cut was made, not to violence but to male nudity. In the decade of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, The Trip fell foul of BBFC concerns about drugs and was rejected in 1967. This Roger Corman work about the delights and drawbacks of taking LSD was not classified until 35 years had elapsed and it was no longer considered a danger. It was for years the Board's stance that the film presented LSD use as normal and legitimate, rather than as a dangerous and criminal, practice. It was finally passed '18' on video in 2002 under Guidelines that allowed for a balanced and realistic depiction of class A drugs use at the adult category,

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

History of the BBFC: 1950s

The Fifties saw the end of rationing and a gradual increase in prosperity for those who, as Prime Minister MacMillan stated, “have never had it so good”. One development that stemmed from this apparent affluence was the emergence of 'youth' as a group with a defined identity and as a target for consumer goods, as young people with disposable income became an attractive proposition for those selling records, clothes and all the trappings of the teenager.

Controversial subjects on film were accommodated in the UK under the new 'X' category, introduced in 1951and incorporating the former advisory 'H' category given to horror films. As the growth of television ownership eroded the adult/family cinema audience, films like Rock Around The Clock(1956) drew teenage audiences. Cut for U, this film caused rioting in cinemas and fuelled increasing concern about teenage criminality, although there was in fact no evidence of a teenage crime wave as suggested by the popular Press.

The new 'X' category, which excluded children under 16, was sufficient to contain the cynical La Ronde, Max Ophuls' 1951 film about a chain of sexual encounters. Records suggest that the film was cut, unsurprising in an era when the Board was disinclined to relinquish its role as protector of public morals, to the extent that even in 1956 dialogue cuts were made to Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night because the sex references were considered too risqué.

Concerns about what were then known as juvenile delinquents delayed the classification of Laslo Benedek's 1954 film, The Wild One, for thirteen years because the Board described the contents as 'a spectacle of unbridled hooliganism'. Repeated attempts were made to secure a classification, and eventually some local authorities overturned the Board's rejection, allowing local releases. The riots in English seaside towns involving Mods and Rockers (1964) were cited as providing justification for the Board's continuing objections to the film. The Board maintained its stance until 1967, when the dangers associated with the film's release were judged to be over.

Nicholas Ray's 1955 Rebel Without A Cause also ran into trouble because of its depiction of what the Board considered to be anti-social behaviour and teen violence, but substantial cuts were agreed for the film's release at 'X'. In the same year, Richard Brook's The Blackboard Jungle was submitted. The first reaction of the BBFC 's Secretary, Arthur Watkins, was to reject it, on the grounds that 'filled as it is with scenes of unbridled revolting hooliganism (it) would, if shown in this country, provoke the strongest criticism from parents...and would have the most damaging and harmful effect on...young people'. The film was withdrawn from the Venice Film Festival after pressure from the US ambassador to Italy, who felt that it presented an unflattering impression of American schools. The rejection decision was challenged by MGM, the distributor, and the film was viewed again by the Board President which resulted in another rejection, although the artistic merits of the film were acknowledged and cuts were considered. A series of negotiations then began, resulting in substantial cuts for an 'X' certificate.

1955 also saw the rejection of a very different film, The Garden of Eden, about a mother and daughter who decide to become nudists. The film only showed bare breasts and buttocks, but the film was regarded as unacceptable, the BBFC having had a long-standing policy against screen nudity, partly on the grounds that if they encouraged more nudity on screen, they would be inviting sexual exploitation. However, a large number of local authorities saw fit to overturn the BBFC decision, to the extent that in 1958, the Board was obliged to classify the film at 'A'.

The topic of drugs exercised the BBFC to a considerable degree during the decade. Devil's Weed was rejected in 1951, because the Board felt that the moral lessons about the evils of drugs use were not made sufficiently clear. In 1954, however, the Board passed L'Esclave, another film dealing with the subject of drugs, albeit with cuts.

1955 saw the submission of Otto Preminger's The Man With The Golden Arm, a story about a recovering drug addict who is lured back into his habit. The Home Office had made it known that they had no objection to films dealing with the subject of addiction, provided that drug-taking was not seen to be attractive and that the profits from dealing were not emphasised. Given this basis, the Board felt able to offer an 'X' in 1956 with cuts to details of drug-preparation and some incidental violence. It is interesting to note that while the film had a fairly smooth passage past the Board in the UK, it met with problems with the Production Code in the USA, where the theme of drugs in films was proscribed by the MPAA. The Code was amended in 1956 to allow for the treatment of narcotics as a theme. The video was later classified at '15'.

In the same year, Lee Thompson's Yield To The Night was passed uncut at 'X'. At the same time in 1956 Ruth Ellis, was the last woman to be hanged in the UK for murder, but the theme of capital punishment for women was much on the public agenda. The  Examiners expressed concerns at an early stage about how such a theme might be handled, and even before the film was scripted Arthur Watson was warning the distributor that an 'X' certificate was the most likely outcome, and only if the treatment was discreet. The distributor argued strongly for an 'A' category at the script stage and the Board's examiners considered whether there was any possibility of an 'A', but felt that parents of girls aged between 12 and 16 would not endorse such a decision. The film was passed 'X' and it remains a '15' on video.

The year 1956 also saw the resignation of Arthur Watkins, who was replaced for the next two years as Secretary by John Nichols. In 1958 John Trevelyan became Board Secretary.

The upheaval in social and class barriers that followed the war is reflected in films like Jack Clayton's Room At The Top (1958). The BBFC required the removal of 'lust' and 'bitch' from the dialogue, and also required a softening of the words used to describe the death of a female character. It was clear that Trevelyan wished to establish the 'X' category for serious adult British films - the category that had previously been used mostly for horror and continental films. However, the American League of Decency attacked the film, describing it as involving 'gross suggestiveness' and costuming, dialogue and situations. It moreover tends to arouse undue sympathy for an adulteress'. The video version is currently classified at '15'.

At the end of the decade came Beat Girl. The Board was not impressed with the script for this film about a teenage girl who seeks to rebel against her father by hanging around with a bad crowd in Soho and considers becoming a stripper. The script was judged to be 'the product of squalid and illiterate minds' and several amendments were made before it was cut for 'X'. It is now classified '12' on video, having lost its appeal to shock.

History of the BBFC: 1912-49

1916 - T. P. O’CONNOR
T. P. O’Connor was appointed President of the BBFC. He summarised the Board's Policy by listing forty-three grounds for deletion laid down for the guidance of examiners. This list was drawn from the Board’s annual reports for 1913-1915. The list shows the strictness felt necessary if the Board was to earn the trust of the public and relevant bodies.
1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
25. Executions
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. 'First Night' scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to 'race suicide'
41. Confinements
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialization of the conventional figure of Christ

  • Horror
  • Gangster films
  • Sexuality.
Some councils were beginning to bar children from films classified 'A', even when they had been cut by the BBFC to achieve a certificate. For example, the London County Council (LCC) and Manchester City Council (MCC) banned children from Frankenstein (1931), although a sequence in which the monster drowns a small girl had already been cut. In response to such material, the advisory category 'H' (for horror) was agreed in 1932, to indicate the potential unsuitability for children of the horror theme.

Arthur Watkins was appointed Secretary to the Board in 1948, under the Presidency of Sir Sidney Harris. Both men had come from the Home Office, and Watkins was also a successful playwright. Many film-makers sought the Board's advice on scripts before films went into production. Watkins and Harris formulated new terms of reference for the Board based on three principles:
• was the story, incident or dialogue likely to impair the moral standards of the public by extenuating vice or crime or depreciating moral standards?
• Was it likely to give offence to reasonably minded cinema audiences?
• What effect would it have on children?

The effect on children was of major importance since, apart from the advisory 'H' category, from which some councils already chose to bar children, there was no category that excluded children. An 'adults only' category was increasingly seen as desirable, not only to protect children, but as an extension of the freedom of film-makers to treat adult subjects in an adult fashion.

Monday, 14 March 2011

PCC Case Studies

CASE STUDY 1: A man v the Northwich Guardian
  • 3) Privacy, but the video was uploaded to youtube by the child so it's already on the public domain due to his own actions.
  • 6) Children, but in public interest to publicise the serious anti-social behaviour of the 15 year old.

CASE STUDY 2: A man v Zoo magazine
  • 3) Privacy, but the people were in a public place at a football match so this doesn't apply.
  • 6) Children, but the young girl was with her dad and if he was worried about how she would be percieved, he shouldn't have let her make such obscene gestures in the first place.

CASE STUDY 3: A man v The Sunday Times
  • 6) Children. the Code says that children should be able to complete their time at school without unneccesary intrusion, so the journalist should have not persisted. The child was also paid, which is a breach of the clause.
  • However, there was no photo or article published.

CASE STUDY 4: A woman v The Independant
  • 1) Accuracy "The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures" - they published inaccurate information about the actress' pregnancy being the reason for her leaving roles.
  • 2) Privacy, she should have been allowed to tell people about the pregnancy before the publication.
    • The journalist didn't know that this wasn't public information and the article has been removed and a letter and apology made so they can't really do much more they can do now.

CASE STUDY 5: A woman v The Sun
  • 5)  Intrusion to grief or shock, although the matter was very sensitive, the coverage was 'brief and factual' amd didn't dwell on details of suicide.

CASE STUDY 6: A woman v Eastbourne Gazette
  • 4) Harrassment, the journalist was clearly told to dissist but ignored this and is wrong.
  • 8) Hospitals, after being told that the man did not want to talk, the journalist still went and did not make his identity known so is even more in the wrong

CASE STUDY 7: A police officer v The Sunday Telegraph
  • 10) Clandestine devices and subterfuge, as subterfuge had been admitted there was a definite breach of this clause but since the woman is a police officer in the public eye, this could be overruled by public interest especially since her job is to investigate racial crimes and her husband is a Nazi.
  • Also, since the husband had been 'caught out' before and said he would never talk to a reporter, it was a bit thoughtless to let someone into his house and take photos, even if they had not revealed their real identity.

CASE STUDY 8: Paul McCartney v Hello!
  • 2) Privacy, this was a clear intrusion into Sir Paul's personal life. Even though he is in the public eye, Notre Dame where anyone should be allowed privacy as it's a place of worship. 

    Friday, 11 March 2011

    PCC Seminar

    This week, we visited the PCC office in London. It was great to cover the Code of Practice in more detail, which specific regard to Public Interest which I wasn't very clear on.

    Before the talk, I felt like there were some conflicting points such as allowing journalists to have freedom of speech yet still respecting people's privacy, but this was straightened out with current examples.

    I had thought that all commissioners were ordinary members of the public, but 7 are from the media industry and 10 are laymen.