British Film Council Classification Essay

"BBFC" redirects here. For other uses, see BBFC (disambiguation).

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), previously the British Board of Film Censors, is a non-governmental organization, founded by the film industry in 1912 and responsible for the national classification and censorship of films exhibited at cinemas and video works (such as television programmes, trailers, adverts, public Information/campaigning films, menus, bonus content etc.) released on physical media within the United Kingdom.[1][2] It has a statutory requirement to classify videos, DVDs and, to a lesser extent, some video games under the Video Recordings Act 1984.[3]

History and overview[edit]

The BBFC was established in late 1912 as the British Board of Film Censors by members of the film industry, who would rather manage their own censorship than have national or local government do it for them. The immediate impetus for the Board's formation stemmed from the furore surrounding the release in the UK in October 1912 of the film From the Manger to the Cross, about the life of Jesus. The film, shown at the Queen's Hall, London, gained considerable publicity from a great outcry in the Daily Mail, which demanded: "Is nothing sacred to the film maker?", and waxed indignant about the profits for its American film producers. Although the clergy were invited to see it and found little to be affronted by, the controversy resulted in the voluntary creation of the BBFC, which began operating on 1 January 1913.[6]

The Board's legal basis was the Cinematograph Act 1909, which required cinemas to have licences from local authorities. The Act was introduced for safety reasons after a number of nitrate film fires in unsuitable venues (fairgrounds and shops that had been hastily converted into cinemas) but the following year a court ruling[7] determined that the criteria for granting or refusing a licence did not have to be restricted to issues of health and safety. Given that the law now allowed councils to grant or refuse licences to cinemas according to the content of the films they showed, the 1909 Act therefore enabled the introduction of censorship.

The film industry, fearing the economic consequences of a largely unregulated censorship infrastructure, therefore formed the BBFC to take the process 'in house' and establish its own system of self-regulation. By paying a fee of £2 for every reel of film viewed, and by appointing a panel of viewers under a censor, none of whom had any film trade interests, the growing cinema industry neatly created a censorship body which was both self-supporting and strictly impartial, and therefore was not swayed by any sectional interests inside the film trade or outside it. The Board's offices were originally at 133-135 Oxford Street, London; the building is located at the junction of Wardour Street, a centre of the British film industry for many years.[9] Some decisions from the early years are now subjected to derision. In 1928, the Board's examiners report famously claimed that Germaine Dulac's surrealist film The Seashell and the Clergyman was "Apparently meaningless" but "If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable".[10]

Informal links, to varying degrees of closeness, have been maintained between the BBFC and the Government throughout the Board's existence. In the period before the Second World War, an extensive but unofficial system of political censorship was implemented by the BBFC for the Home Office. As the cinema became a socially powerful mass-medium, governments feared the effect of its use by others for propaganda and as happened in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany discouraged any expression of controversial political views in British films. This trend reached its climax during the 1930s. Following protests from the German Embassy after the release of a film depicting the execution of Edith Cavell (Dawn, 1928, dir. Herbert Wilcox), intense political pressure was brought to bear on the BBFC by the Home Office. A system of script vetting was introduced, whereby British studios were invited to submit screenplays to the BBFC before shooting started. Interestingly, imported Hollywood films were not treated as strictly as British films, as the BBFC believed that audiences would recognise American cinema as representing a foreign culture and therefore would not apply any political messages therein to their own lives. So while the Warners gangster films and other 1930s Hollywood films that dealt explicitly with crime and the effects of the Great Depression were released in the UK largely uncut, these subjects were strictly off-limits for British film-makers.

During the Second World War, the BBFC's political censorship function effectively passed to the Films Division of the Ministry of Information, and the BBFC never regained this to the same extent as before the war. The increasing climate of post-war liberalism ensured that from the 1950s onwards, controversies involving the BBFC centred more on depictions of sex and violence than on political expression. There were some notable exceptions: Yield to the Night (UK, 1956, dir. J. Lee Thompson), which opposed capital punishment; Room at the Top (UK, 1959, dir. Jack Clayton), which dealt with class divisions; Victim (UK, 1961, dir. Basil Dearden), which implicitly argued for the legalisation of homosexuality, all involved the BBFC in controversy.

In autumn 1972, Lord Longford and Raymond Blackburn decided to pursue a matter of pornography classification for the film Language of Love[11] into the Court of Appeal of Lord Denning, MR, and lost the writ of mandamus against the Police Commissioner, who had refused to intrude upon the BBFC remit.[12][13][14]

Change of name and scope[edit]

In 1984 the organisation changed its name to "reflect the fact that classification plays a far larger part in the Board's work than censorship".[15][16] At that time it was given responsibility for classifying videos for hire or purchase to view in the home as well as films shown in cinemas. Home video and cinema versions of a film usually receive the same certificate, although occasionally a film may receive a more restrictive certificate for the home video market (sometimes due to the bonus features), as it is easier for children to watch a home video than to be admitted into a cinema.

In December 1986, the first computer game to be certified by the BBFC was an illustrated text adventure called Dracula, based on the Bram Stoker novel, published by CRL, the game received a 15 certificate.[17] The first computer game to receive an 18 certificate, on 11 December 1987,[18] was another illustrated text adventure called Jack the Ripper, also by CRL, which dealt with the infamous real life murders in Victorian London. The horror in both games came through largely in their detailed prose. Had the game publishers reprinted the games' text in book form, it would not have carried a certificate, as the BBFC has no oversight over print media. Both games had numerous certificate stickers all over their covers to emphasise to parents and retailers that they were not intended for children, as computer games carrying BBFC certificates were previously unheard of.

The first video game to be refused classification by the BBFC was Carmageddon in 1997, however a modified version of the game was later awarded an 18 certificate. In June 2007, Manhunt 2 was refused classification in both its PlayStation 2 and Wii versions, meaning that the game was illegal to sell or supply.[19] A modified version was made that was accepted by the ESRB but was still refused classification from the BBFC. The second decision was later overturned by the Video Appeals Committee (an independent body set up by legislation); the BBFC then asked the High Court for a judicial review of the VAC decision.[20] The High Court ruled that the VAC had made errors in law and instructed it to reconsider its decision, the VAC subsequently ruled that the modified version of the game should receive an 18 certificate, which the BBFC accepted.[21]

On 16 June 2009, the UK's Department of Culture, Media and Sport ruled in favour of the PEGI system to be the sole classification system for videogames and software in the UK. This decision would also, unlike beforehand, allow PEGI ratings to be legally enforced much like the BBFC ratings.[22] Initially expected to take effect from 1 April 2011,[23] the legislation was put into effect on 30 July 2012.[24]

Responsibilities and powers[edit]

The Board is a self-funded QUANGO.[25][26][27] Its business affairs are controlled by a council of management selected from leading figures in the manufacturing and servicing sectors of the film industry. This council appoints the President, who has statutory responsibility for the classification of videos and the Director who has executive responsibility and formulates policy. The Board, which is based in Soho Square, London, is financed from the fees it charges for classifying films and videos and is run on a not-for-profit basis.


In the case of films shown in cinemas, local authorities have the final legal authorisation over who can view a particular film. The majority of the time, local authorities accept the Board's recommendation for a certificate for a film. There have been some notable exceptions – particularly in the 1970s when the Board allowed films such as Last Tango in Paris and The Exorcist to be released with an X certificate (essentially the same as today's "18") – but many local authorities chose to ban the films regardless. Thirty-nine local authorities in the UK either imposed an outright ban, or effectively banned by imposing X certificate, on Monty Python's Life of Brian, which the BBFC had rated as AA (Suitable for ages 14+).[28]

Conversely, in 2002, a few local authorities, apparently under pressure from distributors and cinema chains, ignored the BBFC's ruling that Spider-Man receive a 12 rating, and allowed children younger than 12 to see the film. However, the BBFC were already in the process of replacing the 12 rating with a new 12A, which allowed under-12s to see the film if accompanied by an adult, so shortly afterwards, Spider-Man was reclassified as 12A. The first 12A certificate awarded was for The Bourne Identity.[29]

Film certifications[edit]

All films rated by the BBFC receive a certificate, along with "consumer advice" detailing references to sex, violence and coarse language. If a certificate specifies that a film or video game is only suitable for someone over a certain age, then only those over that age may buy it.

The BBFC rates theatrically released films, and rates videos and video games that forfeited exemption from the Video Recordings Act 1984, which was discovered in August 2009 to be unenforceable until the act was re-enacted by the Video Recordings Act 2010.[30] Legally, local authorities have the power to decide under what circumstances films are shown in cinemas, but they nearly always choose to follow the advice of the BBFC.

Video releases[edit]

The Video Recordings Act requires that video releases not exempt (music, documentary, non-fiction, video games, etc.) under the Act had to be classified, making it illegal to supply any recording that had not been certified. Certificates could restrict release to any age of 18 or under, or to only licensed sex-shops. The government currently designate the BBFC as the authority for certifying video releases. As the law requires the certificate to be displayed on the packaging and media labels of the video recording, in practice only UK releases can be legally sold or hired in the UK, even if a foreign release had identical content.[30]

Local authorities do not have such power for video recordings. Under the Video Recording Act 1984, all non-exempt recordings must be classified by an authority chosen by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. This classification is legally binding, in that supply of material contrary to its certificate (recordings that have been refused a certificate, or supplying to someone younger than the certified age) is a criminal offence. However, possession is not an offence in itself, other than in the case of "possession with intent to supply". 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, since most local authorities simply don't have the resources needed to do such things as remove cuts, pass films that the BBFC rejected and vice versa, put in place new cuts, etc., regularly.[31]


The BBFC can also advise cuts for a less-restrictive rating. This generally occurs in borderline cases where distributors have requested a certificate and the BBFC has rated the work at a more-restrictive level; however, some cuts are compulsory, such as scenes that violate the Protection of Children Act 1978 or Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937. The final certificate then depends on the distributor's decision on whether or not to make the suggested cuts. Some works are even rejected if the distributor refuses the cut.

The examiners and the directors of the BBFC are hired on a permanent basis. Examiners are required to watch 5 hours 20 mins of media, to a maximum of 35 hours a week. Turnover is low and vacancies, when available, appear on its London job vacancies website.[32]

Video games[edit]

The BBFC has also rated some video games. Normally these are exempt from classification, unless they depict human sexual activity, human genital organs or gross acts of violence, in which case the publishers should submit the game for classification. Publishers may opt to submit a game for classification even if they are not obliged to.

Under the Digital Economy Act 2010, the responsibility for rating video games in the United Kingdom has passed from the BBFC to the Video Standards Council using the PEGI system.[33] A game is only submitted to the BBFC if it contains strong pornographic material or if it includes video material that is not directly accessible through the game itself (e.g. a documentary).

Mobile operators[edit]

The BBFC also provide a classification service for mobile phone operators. BBFC guidelines for film and video are used to calibrate the filters used by the operators to restrict access to internet content. The default assumption is that mobile phone users are under 18 years of age. The BBFC guidelines are based on public consultations conducted every 4–5 years.[34]


Under the Digital Economy Act 2017, a regulator will be responsible for designating websites as pornographic, and issuing penalties for UK based and foreign based sites who do not age verify users. The BBFC has been informally named as the likely regulator.[35][36]

Current certificates[edit]

See also: History of British film certificates

The BBFC currently issues the following certificates. The current category symbols were introduced on 1 January 2003, replacing the previous ones that had been in place since the 1980s.

UniversalAll ages admitted. There is nothing unsuitable for children aged 4 years and over.May contain infrequent very mild language. May contain very mild sex references and mild violence, if justified by the context.
All ages admitted, but some certain scenes can be unsuitable for young children. They should not disturb children aged 8 or older.May contain mild language (frequent/aggressive use may result in the work being passed at a higher category) or sex/drug references. May contain moderate violence if justified by context (e.g. fantasy). A parent may wish to check the content before they let their children watch or play it.
12AThis category has applied to cinema only releases since 2002. Films under this category are considered to be unsuitable for young children. Cinemas in the United Kingdom are only permitted to supply tickets to see a 12A film to children under the age of 12 if they are accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over. However, it is unlikely to be suitable for children under the age of 12.May contain adolescent themes, discrimination, soft drugs, moderate language, moderate violence, sex references and nudity. Sexual activity may be briefly and discreetly portrayed. Use of strong language may be permitted based on frequency and how they are used, as well as contextual justification. Sexual violence may be implied or briefly indicated.
12This category applies to cinema releases from August 1989 to 2002, and home media since 1994. Suitable for people aged 12 and older. It is illegal to supply a video work with a 12 certificate to anyone under that age even if under supervision.

12A-rated films are usually given a 12 certificate for the VHS/DVD version unless extra material has been added that requires a higher rating.

15Suitable only for people aged 15 and older. No one younger than 15 may see a 15 film in a cinema. It is illegal to supply a video work with a 15 certificate to anyone under that age.May contain mature themes, hard drugs, (frequent) strong language, strong violence and strong sex references, and nudity without graphic detail. Sexual activity may be portrayed but without any strong detail. Sexual violence may be shown if discreet and justified by context. Use of very strong language may be permitted based on frequency and how they are used, as well as contextual justification.
18Suitable only for people aged 18 or older, No one younger than 18 may see an 18 film in a cinema. It is illegal to supply a video work with an 18 certificate to anyone under that age.Films under this category do not have limitation on the foul language that is used. Portrayals of illegal drug misuse are generally allowed, and explicit sex references along with detailed sexual activity are also allowed. Scenes of strong real sex may be permitted if justified by the context (Sex works cannot be placed at "18"). Very strong, gory, and/or sadistic violence is usually permitted. Strong sexual violence is permitted unless it is eroticized or excessively graphic, in which a work will require compulsory cuts where possible.
Restricted 18Can only be shown at licensed adult cinemas or sold at licensed sex shops. To be supplied only to adults, and it is illegal to supply a film with this rating by mail order.Works under this category always contain hard-core pornography, defined as material intended for sexual stimulation and containing clear images of real sexual activity, strong fetish material, explicit animated images, or sight of certain acts such as triple simultaneous penetration and snowballing. There remains a range of material that is often cut from the R18 rating: strong images of injury in BDSM or spanking works, urolagnia, scenes suggesting incest even if staged, references to underage sex or childhood sexual development and aggressive behavior such as hair-pulling or spitting on a performer are not permitted. More cuts are demanded in this category than any other category.[37]

Material that is exempt from classification sometimes uses symbols similar to BBFC certificates, for example an E "certificate". There is no legal obligation, nor a particular scheme, for labelling material that is exempt from classification.[38] On the BBFC's online classification database, material that has been refused a classification uses a red serif R in place of a rating symbol.

Attitudes to censorship[edit]

Historically the Board has faced strong criticism for an over-zealous attitude in censoring film. Prior to the liberalising decade of the 1960s, films were routinely and extensively censored as a means of social control. For example, Rebel Without a Cause was cut to reduce the "possibility of teenage rebellion". Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night was cut to remove "overtly sexual or provocative" language.[39]

The BBFC's attitude became more liberal during the 1960s, and it concentrated on censoring films that featured graphic sex and violence. However, some Board decisions caused controversy in the 1970s when it banned a series of films that were released uncut and were popular in other countries (such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Last House on the Left), or released other controversial films, such as Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange. However, under recent President Andreas Whittam Smith and current incumbent Sir Quentin Thomas, guidelines have been relaxed again, allowing the release, usually uncut, of these previously banned films on video and in cinemas. Some films from the 1970s remain unreleased,[40] but many of these titles remain banned primarily because their distributors have not chosen to re-submit the films to the BBFC, almost certainly for commercial reasons. If they were, they would be likely to receive a more sympathetic hearing than 30 to 40 years ago. Two notable examples from this period include the 1969 film Love Camp 7, rejected in 2002, and Women in Cellblock 9, released in 1977 and rejected in 2004. Both films contain substantial scenes of sexual violence and have remained completely banned following a re-submission since 2000.

In general, attitudes to what material is suitable for viewing by younger audiences have changed over the years, and this is reflected by the reclassification of older films being re-released on video. For example, a 1913 film given the former A rating could very probably be rated PG today. An extreme example of this is the rating of the horror filmRevenge of the Zombies, with a U certificate upon its video release in the late 1990s, whereas, when it was first examined as a film in 1951, it was given one of the first X ratings. The Bela Lugosi horror film Island of Lost Souls was refused a certificate when first submitted in 1932, was granted an X in the 1950s, and a 12 for home video release in 1996 – when submitted for a modern video classification in 2011, it was re-classified as a PG.

The BBFC are also known to cut the words "spaz" and "retard" from U certified films and videos on the grounds of discrimination (though "spaz" is not considered as derogatory in the United States as it is in the United Kingdom: "spaz" in American slang means "someone who overreacts to a minor problem": in British English it is a slang word for spastic (The British Spastics Society changed its name to Scope (charity) because the word was used as a general term of abuse and not in its former sense of someone with particular mental or physical disabilities.) "Retard," however, has been censored on some American TV shows for being derogatory). One example of this was when Marmaduke was passed U after the word "spaz" was removed. The uncut version would have been rated 12. They also award higher ratings to films that contain potentially imitable and dangerous behaviour; this includes all three Jackass films being passed 18, and Fred: The Movie being passed 12. They are also very serious about suicide themes, references, or attempts, and will either cut them or award a higher rating. An example of this was in 2010, when the Board cut the Hindi film Anjaana Anjaani by two minutes and thirty-one seconds to remove references to and sight of someone attempting suicide by asphyxiation so the distributor could get a cinema 12A certificate. In its uncut form the film was released on home video with an 18 certificate. The Hunger Games was assessed before formal classification, with the film's studio wishing to obtain a 12A for financial and marketing reasons. To get this, seven seconds of footage was cut and blood splashes were digitally removed to reduce emphasis on blood and injury, as an alternative to the uncut film being rated 15.


There has been considerable relaxation since 1999 onwards. 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 licensed sex shops, of which there are about 300 in the UK. They may also be seen in specially licensed cinemas.

There are also examples of films with stronger sexual content, some including real images of sexual intercourse, being approved at '18' level. Recent examples include the passing of Irreversible, 9 Songs, Antichrist, and numerous other films uncut for cinema and video viewing. Despite this trend towards liberalisation, anti-censorship campaigners are still critical of the BBFC. It has attracted 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 in 1997 when the Board released the David Cronenberg film Crash without cuts. The following day (19 March 1997) the Mail led with the banner headline "CENSOR'S YES TO DEPRAVED SEX FILM"[41]Westminster City Council imposed its own ban on the film after the decision, although anyone wanting to watch the film in a cinema only had to walk along to the non-Westminster half of Shaftesbury Avenue, which is in the neighbouring borough of Camden.

Current concerns[edit]

The BBFC's current guidelines identify a number of specific areas considered when awarding certificates or requiring cuts. These are:

  • Depictions of cruelty and harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability,
  • Adult themes and situations that may be considered too distressing for younger or more sensitive viewers,
  • Offensive language (i.e., profanity and use of racial and ethnic slurs),
  • Nudity
  • Sexual content (including scenes of sexual activity and spoken/visual references to sex),
  • Violence
  • Gore and injury detail
  • Sexual violence (rape and forced disrobing especially),
  • Dangerous actions that can easily be imitated by younger, more naive viewers (certain combat moves [ear-claps, headbutts, and neck-breaking in particular]),
  • All visual and verbal references to suicide [particularly if it involves hanging oneself or slashing one's wrists],
  • Detailed criminal acts [such as breaking into a house using a credit card to jimmy the lock or hotwiring a car],
  • Actions that result in injury or death in real life, but are almost always shown in the media (especially on shows aimed at younger audiences, such as cartoons) with no negative consequences, such as hiding in appliances that can trap and kill small children [i.e., tumble driers and old refrigerators], ingesting or misusing common household chemicals, or creating dangerous devices from common household items [such as a flamethrower from an aerosol can and a cigarette lighter] – fall under this category),
  • Scenes of horror, threat, and danger and their intensity on audience members, and,
  • Drug abuse being condoned or glamorised.

The BBFC also continues to demand cuts of any material it believes breaches the provisions of the Obscene Publications Act or any other legislation (most notably the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 [which forbids the depiction of animals being abused or in distress] and the Protection of Children Act 1978 [which, as amended, forbids the depiction of minors engaged in sex or in sexually suggestive poses or situations]). In 2009, 2% of cinema films had material cut, and 3.6% of videos. Most cuts actually occur in videos rated for 18 or R18, rather than videos intended for viewing by under-18s. In 2009, 16.8% of 18 videos, and 27.3% of R18 videos, had material cut.[37]

There is no theme or subject matter considered inherently unsuitable for classification at any level, although more controversial topics may drive a movie to be given a more restrictive rating. This is in keeping with current practice in most liberal democracies, but in sharp contrast to the early days of the BBFC in which such adult themes as prostitution, incest, and the relations of capital and labour were unacceptable regardless of the rating.

'Adult' or 'strong' language can earn a film a more restrictive certificate, though BBFC policy states that there are no constraints on language use in films awarded an 18 certificate. It is difficult to compare the BBFC's policies in this area with those in other countries as there are different taboos regarding profanity in other languages and indeed in other English-speaking countries. For example, the use of 'strong' language has little effect on a film's classification in France. The BBFC's policy proved particularly controversial in the case of Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen in 2002, which was passed uncut only at 18 certificate, even though its main characters were teenagers who frequently used profanities that the director argued were typical of the social group his film depicted. The film received similar certificates in Ireland (also an 18 certificate) and the United States. Shane Meadows' film This Is England was also passed uncut only at 18 due to its repeated use of racist terms, and the climatic scene where Combo becomes irate and pummels his friend Milky while insulting him. On the other hand, some films feature strong language but nevertheless do not carry particularly restrictive certificates. The King's Speech was passed for a 12A rating despite its repeated use of the word "fuck" in two scenes, which would normally raise the rating to a 15 certificate; the BBFC justified its decision, saying that the profanity was "in a speech therapy context".

There are minimal restrictions of the depiction of non-sexual nudity, which is allowed in even U and PG certificate films (for example, The Simpsons Movie—which was given a PG-13 rating in the US – was given a PG certificate in the UK, leaving the sequence where Bart skateboards naked through town and his genitals are shown through an open space in a hedge unedited), but scenes of (simulated) sexual activity are limited to more restricted certificates. With regard to material that is intended primarily as pornographic the Board's policy, as stated on its website is "Material which appears to be simulated is generally passed '18', while images of real sex are confined to the 'R18' category." However, for some years depictions of real sex have been allowed in 18 certificate videos intended as educational, and in recent years a number of works such as Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy and Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, which feature apparently unsimulated sex have been passed uncut for theatrical release.

Violence remains one of the most problematic areas for censorship in the UK, especially when it's in conjunction with sex or likely to sway more impressionable viewers into thinking the violence depicted is "glamorous" or "fun" and "risk-free." However, the Board takes into account issues of context and whether it considers scenes of sexual violence to "eroticise" or "endorse" sexual assault. In 2002, the board passed Gaspar Noé's Irréversible uncut, but less than a month later cut Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer by three and a quarter minutes to remove scenes of sexual violence. A Serbian Film suffered from forty-nine individual cuts by the BBFC, which totalled to four minutes and eleven seconds of cuts. The cuts were made to remove "portrayals of children in a sexualised or abusive context and images of sexual and sexualised violence which have a tendency to eroticise or endorse the behaviour" as the Board's website states.

Criminal and dangerous acts that can be easily imitated, as well as scenes condoning, glamorising, or showing clear instruction of how to abuse drugs have also been the subject of UK editing. The issue of depicting dangerous acts that can easily be imitated in real life is one that does not seem to figure especially highly in the censorship systems of most other countries (though the US has done this on occasion, often as the result of public backlash, as seen on the MTV shows Beavis and Butt-head and Jackass). In the UK, numerous minor cuts have been made, primarily to films whose distributors want a PG or 12A certificate, to scenes of characters performing acts that would be considered dangerous, criminal, or harmful if done in real life. For example, in 2006, issues involving suicide by hanging became problematic; The Ren & Stimpy Show Series 1 DVD set (classified PG) was edited to remove the song "The Lord Loves a Hangin'" because the song implied that hanging is "comedic, fun, and risk-free".[42]Paranoia Agent Volume 3 DVD set (classified 18) was also cut to remove the depiction of a child nearly hanging herself for the same reason.[43]

The requirement to have films classified and censored can cost film producers up to thousands of pounds. The North West New Wave, a blanket term recently used by both film makers and local press to describe independent filmmakers in the Northwest of England, is currently campaigning for the introduction of a Voluntary 'Unrated 18' Certificate in the UK.[44]

On 6 June 2011, the BBFC refused a classification for the horror film The Human Centipede II. The previous film in the series was passed uncut at 18, but due to a shift in context and focus, the BBFC judged that the sequel could fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act.[45] The film was eventually passed 18 after cuts were made.[46]



Directors of the BBFC[edit]

During James Ferman's time, the title of the chief executive officer at the BBFC changed from "Secretary of the Board" to the current "Director". With David Austin's appointment in 2016 however, this title reverted to CEO.[48] At the same time, the title card displaying a film's certificate, which opens all theatrically screened films in the United Kingdom, stopped carrying the chief executive's signature. The President's signature is now used instead.

  • Joseph Brooke Wilkinson (1 January 1913 – 15 July 1948) (died in office)
  • A.T.L. Watkins (26 July 1948 – 23 January 1957)
  • John Nicholls (23 January 1957 – 30 April 1958)
  • John Trevelyan (22 May 1958 – 1 July 1971)
  • Stephen Murphy (1 July 1971 – 18 June 1975)
  • James Ferman (18 June 1975 – 10 January 1999)
  • Robin Duval (11 January 1999 – 19 September 2004)
  • David Cooke (20 September 2004 – 10 March 2016)[49][50]
  • David Austin OBE (10 March 2016 – present) [48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Nelmes, Jill (2003). An introduction to film studies. Routledge. p. 41. ISBN 0-415-26268-2. 
  2. ^"BBFC Video ratings". BBFC. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  3. ^"welcome to the bbfc". bbfc. Archived from the original on 20 November 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  4. ^Berlin Airlift. National Archives. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  5. ^Conrich, Ian (October 2003). "Film Classification and the BBFC". BBC. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  6. ^LCC v. Bermondsey Bioscope Co., [1911] 1 K.B. 445
  7. ^"133–135, Oxford Street, Westminster". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  8. ^Quoted as "The film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable" on p.39 of James Crighton Robertson's The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913–1975, 1993, ISBN 0-415-09034-2, and at p. 70 of Rachael Low's History of British Film, 1970, ISBN 0-415-15451-0
  9. ^Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "K" (part 2)
  10. ^"Raymond Blackburn". The Herald. 5 November 1991. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 
  11. ^(1975) 21 McGill L.J. 269: "Private Prosecutions in Canada: The Law and a Proposal for Change" (Burns)
  12. ^Reported as [1973] 1 Q.B. 241 (C.A.)
  13. ^Briggs, Adam; Cobley, Paul (2002). The Media: An Introduction (second; illustrated ed.). Pearson Education. p. 480. ISBN 978-0-582-42346-6. 
  14. ^Caughie, John; Rockett, Kevin (1996). The Companion to British and Irish Cinema (reissue, illustrated ed.). Cassell. p. 35. ISBN 0-304-34158-4. 
  15. ^Reed, Kristan (26 October 2007). "Bram Stoker's Dracula Review • Reviews • Retro •". Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  16. ^"Jack The Ripper classification". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2011. 
  17. ^Staff (19 June 2007). "Censors ban 'brutal' video game". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  18. ^"Censors battle for Manhunt 2 ban". BBC News. 18 December 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  19. ^"Manhunt 2 Receives 18 Certificate from BBFC". Gamers Hell. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  20. ^Fahey, Mike (16 June 2009). "PEGI Triumphs Over The BBFC". Kotaku. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  21. ^Parlett, Ben (15 July 2010). "PEGI ratings delayed until 2011". MCV. Retrieved 15 July 2010. 
  22. ^Towell, Justin (30 July 2012). "PEGI becomes the sole age rating system for UK games. But is there any point when so few people look at them?". gamesradar. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  23. ^"About the BBFC". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  24. ^Petley, Julian (2011). Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain. Edinburgh University Press Series. Edinburgh University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780748625383.  
  25. ^"The Listener". 11. British Broadcasting Corporation. 1984: 5.  
  26. ^"Monty Python's Life of Brian". BBFC. 24 August 1979. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  27. ^Chrisafis, Angelique (30 August 2002). "Spider-Man seizes the under-12s". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  28. ^ ab"Loophole over DVD age rating law". BBC News. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009. 
  29. ^"Local Authority Decisions". Students' British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  30. ^"London Job Vacancies". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 29 August 2009. 
  31. ^"Ukie: PEGI ratings become UK's single video game age rating system". 
  32. ^"Mobile Content". BBFC. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  33. ^"BBFC Tapped as New Porn Age-Verification Regulator". xbiz. 
  34. ^"Britain's First Official Internet Censor Is… The BBFC". Sex and Censorship. 
  35. ^ ab"BBFC Statistics". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 20 November 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2010. 
  36. ^Staff. "What does the 'E' symbol mean, and it is an official category?". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 16 May 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2009.

British Board of Film Censors 'U' certificate for Berlin Airlift (1949)[4]

The Council of Management

In order to preserve its independence, the BBFC's income is derived solely from the fees it charges for its services, calculated by measuring the running time of films, DVDs/videos and other works submitted for classification. The BBFC is not organised for profit, and its fees are adjusted only as required to cover its costs. 

The BBFC's financial affairs are administered by the Council of Management. Members of the Council are drawn from the manufacturing and servicing sections of the film industry, as well as from banking, corporate accountancy, TV broadcasting and production and the charity sector. Council of Management members are excluded from classification decisions and policy making. There must be no actual or perceived conflict of interest, while at the same time members have to command the confidence of our customers. The Council of Management is also responsible for the senior appointments at the BBFC. 

The Council membership is:

  • Maggie Carver, Chair of The Council
  • Sonita Alleyne
  • Mel Alcock
  • Lesley Mackenzie
  • Jonathan Teckman

The Board of Classification

The Board of Classification is the BBFC Chief Executive plus the President and two Vice Presidents. They are designated with statutory responsibility for the classification of video works under the Video Recordings Act 1984. The Board of Classification is consulted on difficult decisions. They are appointed by the Council of Management.  

The President

The President is Patrick Swaffer, a former Senior and Managing Partner of Goodman Derrick solicitors. He is a Consultant to that firm, sits as a Recorder in the Crown Court and is a partner in Media Compliance Services LLP.

Patrick had been the BBFC's legal adviser for many years, a role which he relinquished when he was appointed President.



The Vice Presidents

The Vice Presidents are Gerard Lemos and Alison Hastings. 

Alison Hastings is a non-executive Director of Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, a Council Member of Durham University, a member of the Pagefield Advisory Board and of the Sharing Economy UK Expert Advisory Panel, a specialist partner with Alder Media, and a Gambling Commissioner. Until recently she was the BBC Trustee for England and was formerly a Press Complaints Commissioner.




Gerard Lemos is a Partner in Lemos and Crane Social Research. He is also Chairman of the Money Advice Service, appointed by the FSA and an independent director of the Payments Council. He chaired the Board of Trustees of the British Council from 2008 to 2010 having been a trustee since 1999 and Deputy Chair from 2005. He was a visiting Professor at Chongqing Technology and Business University between 2006 and 2010. Gerard has formerly been Chair of Akram Khan Dance Company, an Audit Commissioner, a Civil Service Commissioner and a non-executive director of Crown Prosecution Service. He received a CMG in the Queens' Birthday Honours List in 2001 for services to the British Council.

Chief Executive

The Chief Executive is delegated to make executive decisions on behalf of the Board of Classification. He is responsible for formulating and ensuring the execution of policy, management of the BBFC and handling external relations with the industry, the public and relevant bodies. The Chief Executive was previously referred to as the Director.

The Chief Executive is David Austin. David joined the BBFC in 2003 as an Examiner following a career in the Diplomatic Service, serving in South Asia, Central Africa and the former Yugoslavia.  In 2011 David moved to the role of Assistant Director Policy and Public Affairs, before becoming Chief Executive in March 2016. 

David is a member of the Executive Board of the United Kingdom Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and the Board of the Cinema Advertising Association (CAA).

Executive Leadership

The Executive Leadership team can make executive decisions in the Chief Executive's absence.

Chief Operating Officer

The Chief Operating Officer is responsible for the management of all parts of the classification process, focussing on speed and effectiveness of service, quality of classification decisions for BBFC customers and also on the most efficient performance management of the BBFC Operation. The role also includes acting as the principal adviser on business development to the Chief Executive, coordinating the Board's business development work.

Dave Barrett became Chief Operating Officer in October 2011 after holding a number of BBFC posts including Head of Operations.


Policy Director

The Policy Director is the principal adviser on policy and public affairs to the Chief Executive, responsible for coordinating the BBFC's policy work and managing and leading on its public affairs effort. The role is also responsible for managing the BBFC’s research, communications and education programmes.

The Policy Director is David Miles. David joined the BBFC as a consultant in February 2017, before his appointment as Policy Director in June 2017. Prior to this David held a wide range of executive leadership roles in the technology and charitable sector, including IBM and the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). He is currently a member of UNICEF’s Expert Panel for the Global Fund to End Violence against Children, as well as former Executive Board member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and chair of several key working groups.

David is a Freeman of the City of London and a member of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT), one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company received its Royal Charter in 2010.

Finance Director

The Finance Director ensures proper financial controls and reporting are in place. The Finance Director is Siobhan Smedley-Wild. Siobhan joined the BBFC in April 2017. She has 14 years post qualification experience and is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Prior to joining the BBFC Siobhan was Finance Director at Take 2 Films and a Senior Financial Accountant at The British Land Company PLC.



Other Principal Officers

Head of the DEA

The Head of the DEA is the principal adviser on the Digital Economy Act to the Chief Executive and is responsible for managing the BBFC's ongoing responsibilities under the Act.

The Head of the DEA is Murray Perkins. Murray joined the BBFC as a Film and Video Examiner in May 2000. In 2005 he became a Compliance Manager (the role previously titled Senior Examiner).

Prior to coming to the UK, Murray worked for the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Compliance Managers

The BBFC's Compliance Manager is Craig Lapper. Ian Mashiah is Acting Compliance Manager.

Compliance Managers are responsible for making classification decisions on the basis of Compliance Officer's reports, policy, Guidelines and precedents. They are responsible for referring any works to the Chief Executive that raise difficult or novel policy issues. Compliance Managers also undertake advice viewings, answer enquiries from distributors and lead a team of Compliance Officers.

Craig Lapper joined the BBFC in 1997 and held a number of posts, including in the Director's Office and in Policy, before becoming a Compliance Manager (the role previously titled Senior Examiner) in 2006.

Ian Mashiah joined the BBFC as a Film and Video Examiner in 2004. In 2017 he became Acting Compliance Manager. Before joining the BBFC, Ian worked in programme acquisitions for the BBC and other British and international terrestrial and satellite broadcasters.

Head of Communications

Catherine Anderson is the BBFC’s Head of Communications. She is responsible for providing the BBFC’s outward communications including press releases and articles for the website and handling any media enquiries. She also helps produce the BBFC podcast and manages projects including the production of the BBFC Annual Report and BBFC marketing materials. Catherine joined the BBFC in 2011, prior to this she was an Account Director at a PR agency and a Press Officer for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA).


Head of Education

The Head of Education coordinates the BBFC education and outreach programme including education visits, creates online resources and runs our series of in house seminars.  The Head of Education is Lucy Brett. She joined the BBFC as an Examiner in 2004 and became Education Officer in 2010. Prior to joining the BBFC, Lucy was a journalist for trade and consumer home entertainment magazines and a media studies teacher.



Head of Business Services

Tom Cairns is the BBFC's Head of Business Services. He is responsible for managing the BBFC’s continuing development of digital services for Video-on-Demand platforms, and other non-statutory uses of our ratings and compliance expertise. Tom joined the BBFC in 2010 and has more than 11 years' experience of working with brands and content including BBC, 3 Mobile, FA Premier League, MTV, Universal Music and Sony Music.



Compliance Officers

Compliance Officers view the submitted works, write detailed reports and recommend a category decision, cuts or other actions. Compliance Officers are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds including journalism, media, research and marketing. Compliance Officers also carry out a range of tasks to support the BBFC's voluntary, best practice regulation of online video content, including data handling tasks.  The BBFC Chief Executive, BBFC President and two Vice-Presidents also carry out viewing duties.

Associated Bodies

The Consultative Council

The Consultative Council is an advisory forum whose members come from UK Local Authority Associations, the screen entertainment industry and other experts in relevant areas. It is chaired by the President of the BBFC or one of the two Vice-Presidents.

The Advisory Panel on Children's Viewing (APCV)

The APCV was set up by the BBFC to provide advice on issues relating to the classification of works for children. The panel is made up of members with a range of relevant professional expertise and responsibilities.

The Video Packaging Review Committee (VPRC)

Introduced in 1987, this committee is administered by the BBFC, but attended by industry representatives. It is a voluntary system to prevent offence to members of the public caused by explicitly violent or sexual imagery on the covers of videos/DVDs. Cinema posters, only for films passed ‘18’, are also reviewed by a joint BBFC / industry body.


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