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The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)

Related: film censorship - British cinema

The first film ever censored in Great Britain was about a piece of Stilton. The British cheese industry protested that Charles Urban's 1898 work, showing a magnified piece of cheese squirming with microbes, might put customers off their products, and the 90-second short was withdrawn from public exhibition.


The British Board of Film Classification (common short form - BBFC) is the organisation responsible for film classification (see Motion picture rating systems) within the UK.

The BBFC was established in 1912 as the British Board of Film Censors. In 1984 it changed to its current name to 'reflect the fact that classification plays a far larger part in the Board's work than censorship'[1]. At that time it also took responsibility for classifying videos for hire or purchase to view in the home as well as films shown in cinemas. It is very often the case that home video and cinema versions of a film will receive the same certificate, although occasionally a film may receive a more restrictive certificate for the home video market, as it is easier for children to watch a home video than to be admitted into a cinema.

The Board is an independent, non-governmental organisation. In the case of films shown in cinemas, local authorities have the final legal say about who can watch a particular film. Almost always local authorities accept the Board's recommendation for a certificate for a film. There have been some notable exceptions. In 2002, local authorities, apparently under pressure from distributors and cinema chains, threatened to ignore the BBFC's ruling that Spiderman receive a 12 rating, and allow children younger than 12 to see the film. The issue was resolved with the replacement of the 12 rating by the new 12A which allowed under 12s to see the film, provided that they are accompanied by an adult. Spiderman was reclassified as 12A. Local authorities do not have such power for video recordings. Under the Video Recording Act 1984, all such recordings must be classified by an authority chosen by the Home Secretary. This classification is then legally binding. Since the introduction of the Act the BBFC has been the chosen authority. In theory this authority could be revoked, but in practice such a revocation has never been suggested.

Historically the Board faced strong criticism for an over-zealous attitude in censoring film. The Board reached the height of its notority in the 1970s when it banned a series of films that were released uncut and were popular in other countries. Notable titles include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Straw Dogs and The Last House on the Left. However under recent Presidents James Ferman and Andreas Whittam Smith and current incumbent Sir Quentin Thomas, more relaxed guidelines have been followed, allowing the release, usually uncut, of these previously banned films on video and in cinemas. Some films from the 1970s remain unreleased, (see [1] for a list) however many of these titles remain banned primarily because they are not as high profile as the above-mentioned films and thus their distributors have not chosen to re-submit the films to the BBFC - where they are likely to receive a more sympathetic hearing than 30 years ago. Only one film from the 70s, Love Camp 7 which contains substantial scenes of sexual violence, has remained completely banned following a re-submission during the 2000s.

The relaxation of guidelines has also made hardcore pornography widely available to adult audiences through the R18 rating. Films with this rating are only legally available from licenced sex shops of which there about 100 in the UK. Violent or films with mixed sexual and violent themes are more likely to be acceptable at an 18 rating than ever before. Recent examples include the passing of Baise Moi and Irreversible uncut for cinema and video viewing. Despite this trend towards liberalisation, anti-censorship campaigners are still critical of the BBFC. A prominent online campaign group is the Melon Farmers', which criticises both the laws that BBFC is required to uphold and the BBFC's interpretation of that law in specific cases. Conversely BBFC has attracted more criticism from conservative press, in particular the Daily Mail, on the grounds that the release of sexually explicit and violent films was corrupting the nation. The newspaper's most famous clash with the BBFC came when the Board released Crash without cuts. The following day (19th March 1997) the Mail led with the banner headline "CENSOR'S YES TO DEPRAVED SEX FILM".

Despite this guideline relaxation, film certificates generally remain more restrictive than in the other European countries such as France and Germany and the United States. One extreme example in 2003 saw the release of cut More with an 18 certificate in Britain (the cuts related to detailed drug use). The film was released with the equivalent of a 12 certificate in France. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Board_of_Film_Classification

Article in Bizarre Magazine

this article is taken from the UK magazine Bizarre (Jan/Feb '98 issue...)

Great Britain has the strictest film censorship in Europe. According to David McGillvray, author of the history of softcore sex films 'Doing Rude Things', "Britain is one of only three countries in the world (the others are Germany and Egypt) enduring stricter censorship today than 25years ago". But if you think New Labour might mean new liberalism, think again. During the moral panic over Childs Play 3 Tony Blair, then leader of the Opposition, loudly supported David Alton's bill for harsher video censorship.

Today it's easier to watch or make mucky movies in post-Communist Russia than it is in Britain. Under Home Office regulations explicit pornography is automatically 'obscene' because of its potential to 'corrupt and deprave'. Selling, importing or distributing hardcore porn carries penalties of fines, imprisonment or both. While the American pornmeister John 'Buttman' Stagliano and his English counterpart Steve 'Ben Dover' Perry have shot uncensored features in England, these vids are only sold to foreign markets. Even the sight of an erect todger is a no-no in films, videos or printed matter, unless it's the kind of 'educational' stiffy that pops up in 'Lovers' Guide' vids. [...] --http://www.geocities.com/pentagon/2666/censorship.html

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