Monday, 28 March 2011

How has the BBFC changed throughout its history?

  • The basis upon which the BBFC classify films has changed with social and moral views in society.

  • The board has gone from a censorship body, who determine what we can and cant see, to a much

  •  less strict regulatory body, working on the basis that all adults should be free to watch what they want.

  • The categories of classifcation have changed as the board has developed

  • The board hsa also had to adapt to certain legislation, eg The Video Recordings Act

  • The board has had to broaden its thinking in order to classiffy things like DVDs and games, which may be much more easily accessible to children

BBFC: 2000s

New Guidelines

The board embarked on an extensive consultation process to gauge public opinion before making new guidelines. These found that depictions of drug use was the greatest cause for concern for parents, as was violence in lower classifications. However sex and nudity was less of an issue than previously.


  • The Idiots and Romance (both 1999) contained unsimulated sex that would normally be unsuitable for 18. However, because of the brevity of the images and the serious intentions of the film, the scenes were passed uncut.
  • The torture scene in Casino Royale had to be cut to get a 12A classification
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 decision to introduce this new category was taken after a pilot scheme and research had been conducted to assess public reaction. The new category was also conditional on the provision and publication of Consumer Advice for 12A films.  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.

BBFC: 1990s

Video legislation

Dispite the video legistlation in place since 1984 public concern about the new technology, particularly surrounding the James Bulger case (Child's Play III). Parliament supported the amendment to the Video Recordings Act, and contained it in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This requires the board to make separate and more specific decisions when classifying video material, because children are more likely to be able to access the material at home.

Digital Media

The 1990s saw a rapid development in video game technology, becoming more realistic and sophisticated every year. From 1994 the BBFC started recieving some stronger video games for classification. Carmageddon became the first film to be refused classification in 1997 on the grounds that it encouraged anti social behaviour, although this was later overturned.

BBFC: 1980s

The 1980s was when we saw the Uc, PG, 12, 15, 18 and R18  ratings that we are more familiar with nowadays.

  • Uc was introduced for video, indicating films suitable for all
  • PG took the place of  'A'
  • 15 took the place of 'AA'
  • 18 took the place of 'X'
  • R18 was introduced for sex works
  • 12 was introduced to bridge the gap between PG and 15
The 80s saw the release of the Rambo series, with 1 and 2 passed uncut at 15, and 3 cut to obtain an 18 certificate. Batman became the first film to get a 12 certificate.

BBFC: 1970s

Changes to the category system

  • The 'AA' category (for those over 14) was approved in 1970
  • The 'A' rating allowed children under 5 to see the film wether accompanied or not, but the BBFC said that A rated films may contains material that parents may not want their children under 14 seeing
  • The minimum age for 'X' rated films was raised from 16 to 18
The idea was to allow more content to be passed uncut for adult audiences while at the same time protecting children from this content.


  • A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Straw Dogs (1971) came under scrutiny due to controversial rape scenes
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was denied certification due to sadistic violent content

BBFC: 1960s

There was an apparent strong shift in the public social and moral views in the late 50s and 60s, such as various challenges to the Obscene Publications Act (1959). John Trevelyan, the Secretary of the Board responded by saying:

 "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 60s saw the birth of the Carry On... series, famous for its risque humour, eg. comedic nudity and innuendos. Some of these films had to be trimmed to get an 'A' certificate. We also saw the beginning of the Bond series, beginning with Dr No in 1962. They were all passed at 'A' with mild cuts to scene involving sex/ nudity.

BBFC: 1950's

The 50's was when we first saw the 'youth' as a social group, who were quickly targeted specifically as consumers.

  • The 'X' rating was introduced and incorporated the former 'H' category and excluded children under 16.
  • Examples of X rated films are La Ronde (sex themes) and Smiles of a Summer Night (sex references)
  • Films such as Rock Around the Clock (1956) drew teenage audiences and caused  controversy after there was rioting in some cinemas
  • The Wild One (1954) was denied certification for 13 years because of its 'unbridled hooliganism', and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) had to be substantially cut to be shown at X due to its depictions of teen violence