Monday, 28 March 2011

How has the Board and the process of film classification changed?

  • The board has become much less strict from that of the past. I think this reflects the way in which society has progressed and significantly influenced what is now acceptable.
  • The catergories for classification has changed a lot over the years, I think now it has a much better structure. Its changed from 'A' and 'X' to UC,U, PG, 12, 12a, 15, 18, R18
  • There has been lots of change of people who manage the BBFC
  • New technologies have had a major effect on the way films are classified. For example the introduction of things such as the home cinema system, DVD, Blu Ray
  • Lots more public involvement nowadays, they have input into the classification process, and have a voice within the BBFC

Sunday, 27 March 2011


New Guidelines 2000
  • In 1999, the Board embarked on an extensive consultation process to gauge public opinion before the compilation of new Classification Guidelines
  • Many surveys and questinaires were done involving a wide range of people and The major outcomes were that the depiction of drugs and drugs use was the cause of greatest concern to parents, as was the issue of violence in the lower classification categories. Use of bad language on screen provoked a range of responses, reflecting varying tolerances in the general public. Portrayal of sexual activity, however caused less concern than previously

KEY FILM: In 1999 the BBFC had received three European films that challenged the Board's standards on sex.  These were The Idiots, Romance and Seul Contre Tous.  All three films contained scenes of unsimultated sex that would not normally have been be acceptable at '18'.  In the case of Seul Contre Tous it was decided that the images in question were too explicit - and of too great a duration - to be acceptable at '18' and the images were removed.  However, in the cases of Romance and The Idiots, it was decided that the comparative brevity of the images, combined with the serious intentions of the films, meant that both films could be passed without cuts.  This was in line with earlier 'exceptional' decisions in the cases of WR - Mysteries of the Organism (passed 'X' uncut in 1972) and L'Empire des Sens (passed '18' uncut in 1991).  However, as the Board moved into the new millennium it soon became clear that these were not to be isolated examples.  A whole generation of European film makers seemed determined to push the boundaries of what was sexually acceptable on the screen.

  • Fortunately, the 1999-2000 consultation exercise had revealed a general desire on the part of the public that the BBFC should relax its attitudes to sex at '15' and '18'
The DCMS and Ofcom

  • In June 2001, governmental responsibility for film and video classification moved from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
  • Ofcom is the new regulator for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services. The regulation of films, videos and DVDs does not fall under Ofcom's remit and remains the responsibility of the BBFC. The BBFC is still the only regulator which regulates material before it is seen by the public .

The '12A' rating
  • In 2002, the new '12A' category replaced the '12' category for film only, and allows children under 12 to see a '12A' film, provided that they are accompanied throughout by an adult.
  • The Board considers '12A' films to be suitable for audiences OVER the age of 12, but acknowledges that parents know best whether their children younger than 12 can cope with a particular film.  The first '12A' film was The Bourne Identity.
Consumer Advice
  • While the BBFC has been producing Consumer Advice for films which appeared on the website, it was the introduction of the '12A' category which saw its appearance on film posters, TV advertisements and in cinema listings for '12A' films.
  • This is particularly helpful for parents deciding what films are suitable for their children, and in particular whether to take children younger than 12 to a '12A' film
Robin Duval's retirement
  • In late 2004, David Cooke was appointed Director, following Robin Duval's retirement
New Guidelines 2005

  • On 9 February 2005, the BBFC published a new set of Guidelines based on an even more extensive research programme than the one which resulted in the 2000 Guidelines
  • Over 11,000 people contributed their views on the BBFC's Guidelines, 7000 more than in 1999/2000.
Moving on in 2007

  • 2007 saw the introduction of Parents’ BBFC, a website designed to help parents and guardians make what they consider to be sensible choices for their children’s viewing.
  • The website provides up -to -date information about films and video games in the junior categories, offering a brief plot summary and details of why the film or game received its U, PG or 12A/12.
  • The purpose of the website is to take the guesswork out of making an informed decision about what is suitable viewing for any particular child, a decision best made by a parent or guardian.
New Guidelines 2009

  • On 23 June 2009, the BBFC published its most recent set of Guidelines based on another detailed public consultation exercise conducted in 2008-2009
  • Over 8,700 people contributed their views on the BBFC's Guidelines, in the form of lengthy questionnaires and focus groups

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


  • Since the regulation of video in 1984, there was since public concern about the influence of videos in the 90's
Key Film
  • The Jamie Bulger case. The trial judge linked this murder of a two year-old by two ten year-old boys to the viewing of violent videos, with the media singling out the horror video Child's Play 3 (1991).
  • Though subsequent enquiries refuted this connection, public opinion rallied behind calls for stricter regulation. Parliament supported an amendment to the Video Recordings Act, contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which requires the Board to consider specific issues, and the potential for harm, when making video classification decisions.
  • The Board has always been stricter on video than on film. This is partly because younger people are more likely to gain access to videos with restrictive categories than such films at the cinema (where admissions can be screened).  But it is also because, on video, scenes can be taken out of context, and particular moments can be replayed.
The BBFC was being asked to look at a number of extremely violent and drug-filled films, which further fuelled the debate about media effects

In 1997 the BBFC's President, Lord Harewood, stepped down after 12 years in the job.  His replacement, Andreas Whittam Smith, announced his intention to steer the BBFC towards a greater 'openness and accountability'.  This included the publication of the BBFC's first set of classification guidelines in 1998, following a series of public 'roadshows' in which public views were canvassed and the launching of a BBFC website.

Digital Media

  • The 1990s also saw rapid developments in the world of computer games, which seemed to become more realistic and sophisticated with each passing year.  Although the majority of video games were automatically exempt from classification, those that featured realistic violence against humans or animals, or human sexual activity, did come under the scope of the Video Recordings Act.  From 1994 the BBFC started to receive some of the stronger video games for formal classification, which necessitated a different way of examining (because it was impossible to see everything that might happen in a game).  
  • 1999 also saw the removal of the BBFC's controversial policy on oriental weaponry


Home Cinema
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Board was designated as the authority with responsibility for classification in 1985, with a consequent increase in staff to deal with a massively increased workload consisting of a backlog of titles already on the market and all new titles
Review of Catergory System
  • In 1982 'A' was changed to 'PG'
  •  'AA' was changed to '15' 
  •  '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 loophole. 
  • Since 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.
Key Film

  • 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 shot.  The image was obscured by soft-focus lighting and the film released with an '18' certificate.


  • During the sixties it was recognised that teenagers had specific concerns of their own which ought to be reflected in the category system
  • The introduction of the 'AA' was finally approved by local authorities and the industry in 1970
New Catergories

The principal changes to the category system were:

- the raising of the minimum age for 'X' certificate films from 16 to 18. 
-The old 'A' (advisory) category was split to create a new advisory 'A' which permitted the admission of children of five years or over whether accompanied or not, but which warned parents that a film in this category would contain some material that parents might prefer their children under fourteen not to see
-New 'AA' certificate which allowed the admission of those over 14, but not under 14, whether accompanied or not.

  • 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.
  • A new ratings system in the United States included an uncensored 'X' category, left to the sole control of the criminal law
  • The seventies did indeed see the release of a number of provocative films, in particular those that linked sex and violence
  • 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.
  • 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

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


  • Challenges to the Obscene Publications Act (1959),  suggested a strong shift in public opinion
  •  New spirit of liberalism:
"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".

  • 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. The video remained an '18' work until 2007 when it was reclassified and passed '15'.

  • New realism took hold in British films
  • 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. It was then passed '15' on video in 1986 and reclassified to '12' in 2003. When the film version was submitted for a modern classification in 2005, it was passed 'PG'.
  • 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'.
  • 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


  • The Fifties saw the end of rationing and a gradual increase in prosperity
  • 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
  • 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.
  •  'X' category-excluded children under 16
  • 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'. Marlon Brando stars as the leader of a biker gang who rides into a small American town and creates mayhem, fighting with a rival gang leader and defying adult authority. 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, (Margate and Clacton in 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.
  •  The Board did not allow anti-social behaviour and teen violence
  • The BBFC  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- overturned in 1958
  • The topic of drugs exercised the BBFC to a considerable degree during the decade
  • The Code was amended in 1956 to allow for the treatment of narcotics as a theme
  • 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