British Board of Film Classification

Last updated

British Board of Film Classification
BBFC (Age Ratings You Trust) logo.svg
Formation1912;107 years ago (1912)
Type NGO
Purpose Film ratings, television ratings
Headquarters London, W1
United Kingdom
Region served
United Kingdom
Patrick Swaffer
Chief executive
David Austin

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC, previously the British Board of Film Censors), is a non-governmental organisation, 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 all video works released on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (including 3D and 4K UHD formats), and to a lesser extent, some video games under the Video Recordings Act 1984. [3] The BBFC is also the designated regulator for the forthcoming UK age-verification scheme. [4]

Non-governmental organization organization that is neither a part of a government nor a conventional for-profit business

Non-governmental organizations—also called nongovernmental or nongovernment organizations—commonly referred to as NGOs, are usually non-profit and sometimes international organizations independent of governments and international governmental organizations that are active in humanitarian, educational, health care, public policy, social, human rights, environmental, and other areas to effect changes according to their objectives. They are thus a subgroup of all organizations founded by citizens, which include clubs and other associations that provide services, benefits, and premises only to members. Sometimes the term is used as a synonym of "civil society organization" to refer to any association founded by citizens, but this is not how the term is normally used in the media or everyday language, as recorded by major dictionaries. The explanation of the term by is ambivalent. It first says an NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level, but then goes on to restrict the meaning in the sense used by most English speakers and the media: Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information.

Trailer (promotion) advertisement for a feature film

A trailer is a commercial advertisement for a feature film that will be exhibited in the future at a cinema, the result of creative and technical work. The term "trailer" dates back to the distribution of movies on reels of film. The reels were always distributed un-rewound. Therefore, the end of the movie was the most accessible part, to which previews were spliced, "trailing" the film.

VHS Consumer-level analog video tape recording and cassette form factor standard

VHS is a standard for consumer-level analog video recording on tape cassettes. Developed by Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in the early 1970s, it was released in Japan on September 9, 1976 and in the United States on August 23, 1977.


History and overview

British Board of Film Censors 'U' certificate for Berlin Airlift (1949) BBFCCert.png
British Board of Film Censors 'U' certificate for Berlin Airlift (1949)

The BBFC was established in 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. [6] Although the clergy were invited to see it and found little to be affronted by, [6] the controversy resulted in the voluntary creation of the BBFC, which began operating on 1 January 1913. [7]

<i>From the Manger to the Cross</i> 1912 film by Sidney Olcott

From the Manger to the Cross or Jesus of Nazareth is a 1912 American motion picture that was filmed on location in Egypt and in Palestine. It tells the story of Jesus' life. Directed by Sidney Olcott who also appeared in the film, actress and screenwriter Gene Gauntier wrote the script and portrayed the Virgin Mary.

Jesus The central figure of Christianity

Jesus, also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament.

Queens Hall former oncert hall in Langham Place, London (1893-1941)

The Queen's Hall was a concert hall in Langham Place, London, opened in 1893. Designed by the architect Thomas Knightley, it had room for an audience of about 2,500 people. It became London's principal concert venue. From 1895 until 1941, it was the home of the promenade concerts founded by Robert Newman together with Henry Wood. The hall had drab decor and cramped seating but superb acoustics. It became known as the "musical centre of the [British] Empire", and several of the leading musicians and composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries performed there, including Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss.

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 [8] 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 Cinematograph Act 1909 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was the first primary legislation in the UK which specifically regulated the film industry. It is notable for having unintentionally provided the legal basis for film censorship, leading to the establishment of the British Board of Film Censors in 1912.

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. [9] 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. [10] 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". [11]

Oxford Street major road in the City of Westminster in London

Oxford Street is a major road in the City of Westminster in the West End of London, running from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch via Oxford Circus. It is Europe's busiest shopping street, with around half a million daily visitors, and as of 2012 had approximately 300 shops. It is designated as part of the A40, a major road between London and Fishguard, though it is not signed as such, and traffic is regularly restricted to buses and taxis.

Wardour Street street in Soho, London

Wardour Street is a street in Soho, London. It is a one-way street that runs north from Leicester Square, through Chinatown, across Shaftesbury Avenue to Oxford Street.

Cinema of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has had a significant film industry for over a century. While film production reached an all-time high in 1936, the "golden age" of British cinema is usually thought to have occurred in the 1940s, during which the directors David Lean, Michael Powell, and Carol Reed produced their most critically acclaimed works. Many British actors have achieved worldwide fame and critical success, such as Maggie Smith, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Some of the films with the largest ever box office returns have been made in the United Kingdom, including the third and fourth highest-grossing film franchises.

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. 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.

Home Office United Kingdom government ministerial department

The Home Office (HO) is a ministerial department of Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom, responsible for immigration, security and law and order. As such it is responsible for policing in England and Wales, fire and rescue services in England, and visas and immigration and the Security Service (MI5). It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs, counter-terrorism and ID cards. It was formerly responsible for Her Majesty's Prison Service and the National Probation Service, but these have been transferred to the Ministry of Justice. The Cabinet minister responsible for the department is the Home Secretary.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

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.

Ministry of Information (United Kingdom) United Kingdom government ministry

The Ministry of Information (MOI), headed by the Minister of Information, was a United Kingdom government department created briefly at the end of the First World War and again during the Second World War. Located in Senate House at the University of London during the 1940s, it was the central government department responsible for publicity and propaganda.

<i>Yield to the Night</i> 1956 British crime drama film directed by J. Lee Thompson

Yield to the Night is a 1956 British crime drama film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Diana Dors. The film is based on the novel of the same title published in 1954 by Joan Henry. The storyline bears a superficial resemblance to the Ruth Ellis case, which had occurred the previous year. The film received much positive critical attention, particularly for the unexpectedly skilled acting of Dors, who had previously been cast solely as a British version of the typical "blonde bombshell". The movie was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

J. Lee Thompson

John Lee Thompson was a British film director, active in London and Hollywood, best known for such movies as Ice Cold in Alex, Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone.

In autumn 1972, Lord Longford and Raymond Blackburn decided to pursue a matter of pornography classification for the film Language of Love [12] 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. [13] [14] [15]

Change of name and scope

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". [16] [17] 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. [18] The first computer game to receive an 18 certificate, on 11 December 1987, [19] 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. [20] 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. [21] 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. [22]

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. [23] Initially expected to take effect from 1 April 2011, [24] the legislation was put into effect on 30 July 2012. [25]

Responsibilities and powers

The Board is a self-funded QUANGO. [26] [27] [28] 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 imposed an X certificate, on Monty Python's Life of Brian , which the BBFC had rated as AA (Suitable for ages 14+). [29]

Conversely, in 2002, a few local authorities regraded Spider-Man from 12 to PG, allowing 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, the BBFC reclassified Spider-Man as 12A. The first 12A certificate awarded was for The Bourne Identity . [30]

Film certifications

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. [31] 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

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. [31]

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. [32]


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. [33]

Video games

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. [34] 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

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. [35]


The BBFC is the regulator responsible for designating which of the websites accessible in the UK are commercial pornographic websites. If those websites do not age-verify their users, the BBFC is empowered to take action against them, including placing restrictions on their payment transactions or ordering their blocking by Internet service providers. This is the case regardless of whether the websites are UK-based or foreign-based. The introduction of such a regulator was a consequence of the Digital Economy Act 2017. The BBFC had been informally named as the likely regulator in 2016 [36] [37] and in November of that year it was invited to take on the role and agreed to do so. The formal appointment of the BBFC took place in February 2018. Before beginning its role, the BBFC conducted a public consultation on its draft guidance. The consultation began in March 2018. [38] [39] In 2018 the BBFC estimated that 5 million commercial pornographic websites existed on the Internet. [40]

In March 2019 the BBFC published its guidance, which stated that social media would not fall under the BBFC's jurisdiction, and nor would websites where pornography makes up a third or less of the website's material. The BBFC proposed that a voluntary certification scheme should cover age verification providers. Margot James, the UK government's digital minister, said that the government had asked HM Treasury to provide indemnity of up to £10 million to the BBFC to protect it against legal challenges, as the uncertainty surrounding the possibility of such challenges would leave the BBFC unable to get commercial insurance. [41]

Current certificates

The BBFC currently issues the following certificates. The current category symbols were introduced in September 2002, replacing the previous ones that had been in place since the 1980s.

BBFC U.svg UniversalSuitable for all.There is nothing unsuitable for children. Until 2009, there was also a Uc "Universal Children" certificate, for videos that are particularly suitable for young children.
BBFC PG.svg Parental
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.May contain mild language (frequent/aggressive use may result in the work being passed at a higher category), mild violence or sex/drug references.
BBFC 12.svg BBFC 12A.svg 12/12ASuitable only for persons of 12 years and over. (Not to be supplied or shown (Until 2002) to any person below that age). (12)

Generally suitable for those aged 12 and over (cinema only); those under 12 admitted, but only if accompanied by an adult (12A)

The 12 category applies to cinema releases from August 1989 to 2002, and home media since 1994, The 12A category applies to cinema releases since 2002

May have adolescent themes, May contain 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.

BBFC 15.svg 15Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over. (Not to be supplied or shown to any person below that age)May have fairly mature themes, May contain (frequent) strong language, strong violence, strong sex references, nudity without graphic detail and hard drugs. 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.
BBFC 18.svg 18 Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over (Not to be supplied or shown to any person below that age)Will always have mature themes, May contain (very) strong language, very strong violence (Including strong sexual violence), explicit sex references (Including sexual activity and real sex), nudity and hard drugs. (Sex works cannot be placed at "18").
BBFC R18.svg Restricted 18 To be supplied only in sex shops and shown only in licensed cinemas to persons of not less than 18 years [42] Will always contain hard-core pornography, defined as material intended for sexual stimulation including:

clear images of real sexual activity

strong fetish material

explicit animated images

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 including:
strong images of injury in BDSM or spanking works


scenes suggesting incest even if staged

The following are not permitted:
references to underage sex or childhood sexual development

aggressive behavior such as hair-pulling or spitting on a performer

More cuts are demanded in this category than any other category. [43]

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. [44] 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.

Age-verification certificate

As part of the implementation of the Digital Economy Act 2017, the BBFC and NCC Group are introducing an age-verification certificate (AVC or AV Certificate), a voluntary, non-statutory certificate awarded to Internet age-verification providers who meet standards of privacy and data security. Online age-verification is being introduced to deny those who do not prove they are aged over 18 access to pornographic website content such as that awarded the adult rating certificates 18 and R18. [45]

Attitudes to censorship

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. [46]

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, [47] 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 film Revenge 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. 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" [48] 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

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

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. [43]

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". [49] 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. [50]

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. [51]

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. [52] The film was eventually passed 18 after cuts were made. [53]


Presidents of the BBFC

Directors of the BBFC

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. [55] 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.

See also


  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. at 11:17, Rebecca Hill 17 Oct 2018. " to press ahead with online smut checks (but expects £10m in legals in year 1)". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  5. Berlin Airlift. National Archives. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  6. 1 2 Wood 1947, p. 167.
  7. Conrich, Ian (October 2003). "Film Classification and the BBFC". BBC. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  8. LCC v. Bermondsey Bioscope Co., [1911] 1 K.B. 445
  9. Wood 1947, p. 168.
  10. "133–135, Oxford Street, Westminster". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  11. 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
  12. Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "K" (part 2)
  13. "Raymond Blackburn". The Herald. 5 November 1991. Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  14. (1975) 21 McGill L.J. 269: "Private Prosecutions in Canada: The Law and a Proposal for Change" (Burns)
  15. Reported as [1973] 1 Q.B. 241 (C.A.)
  16. Briggs, Adam; Cobley, Paul (2002). The Media: An Introduction (second; illustrated ed.). Pearson Education. p. 480. ISBN   978-0-582-42346-6.
  17. Caughie, John; Rockett, Kevin (1996). The Companion to British and Irish Cinema (reissue, illustrated ed.). Cassell. p. 35. ISBN   0-304-34158-4.
  18. Reed, Kristan (26 October 2007). "Bram Stoker's Dracula Review • Reviews • Retro •". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  19. "Jack The Ripper classification". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  20. Staff (19 June 2007). "Censors ban 'brutal' video game". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  21. "Censors battle for Manhunt 2 ban". BBC News. 18 December 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  22. "Manhunt 2 Receives 18 Certificate from BBFC". Gamers Hell. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  23. Fahey, Mike (16 June 2009). "PEGI Triumphs Over The BBFC". Kotaku . Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  24. Parlett, Ben (15 July 2010). "PEGI ratings delayed until 2011". MCV. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  25. 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.
  26. "About the BBFC". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  27. Petley, Julian (2011). Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain. Edinburgh University Press Series. Edinburgh University Press. p.  35. ISBN   9780748625383. In its statutory role the BBFC will become a large quango accountable to no one but the Secretary of State.
  28. "The Listener". 11. British Broadcasting Corporation. 1984: 5. The BBFC (in its role of video censor) will become a quango, accountable to no one but the Secretary of State, undemocratic and secretive.
  29. "Monty Python's Life of Brian". BBFC. 24 August 1979. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  30. Chrisafis, Angelique (30 August 2002). "Spider-Man seizes the under-12s". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  31. 1 2 "Loophole over DVD age rating law". BBC News. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  32. "Local Authority Decisions". Students' British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  33. "London Job Vacancies". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  34. "Ukie: PEGI ratings become UK's single video game age rating system".
  35. "Mobile Content". BBFC. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  36. "BBFC Tapped as New Porn Age-Verification Regulator". xbiz.
  37. "Britain's First Official Internet Censor Is… The BBFC". Sex and Censorship.
  38. Damien Gayle (12 March 2018). "Porn site age checks are delayed to make sure officials 'get it right'". BBC News. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  39. Colin Drury (13 May 2018). "Newsagents to sell 'porn passes' to visit X-rated websites anonymously under new government plans". The Independent.
  40. Billy Perrigo (20 August 2018). "The U.K. Is About To Regulate Online Porn, and Free Speech Advocates Are Terrified". Time. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  41. Hill, Rebecca (17 October 2018). " to press ahead with online smut checks (but expects £10m in legals in year 1)". The Register. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  42. "R18 Certificate". BBFC. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  43. 1 2 "BBFC Statistics". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 20 November 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  44. 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.
  45. "AV Certificate". Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  46. "Smiles of a Summer Night". British Board of Film Classification. 17 September 1956. Archived from the original on 16 May 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  47. "BBFC Banned Cinema Films". Melon Farmers. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  48. Daily Mail. 19 March 1997.
  49. "The Ren & Stimpy Show – Fake Dad rated PG by the BBFC". British Board of Film Classification. 6 March 2006. Archived from the original on 9 July 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  50. "Paranoia Agent rated 18 by the BBFC". British Board of Film Classification. 3 April 2006. Archived from the original on 9 July 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  51. "North West New Wave Campaigns". North West New Wave. 19 December 2009. Archived from the original on 11 February 2010. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  52. "The Human Centipede sequel just too horrible to show, says BBFC". The Guardian. UK. 6 June 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  53. John Underwood (7 October 2011), "The Human Centipede II is passed for UK release", Best For Film, retrieved 7 October 2011
  54. "BBFC Announces New President" (Press release). British Board of Film Classification. 17 October 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  55. 1 2 "BBFC welcomes new Chief Executive Officer" (Press release). British Board of Film Classification. 11 March 2016.
  56. "BBFC announces New Director" (Press release). British Board of Film Classification. 30 June 2004. Archived from the original on 6 July 2009. Retrieved 10 June 2009.
  57. "David Cooke reflects on high profile classification decisions from his tenure as BBFC Director" (Press release). British Board of Film Classification. 22 February 2016.

Related Research Articles

A motion picture content rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content. A particular issued rating can be called a certification, classification, certificate or rating. Most countries have some form of rating system, typically carrying age recommendations in an advisory or restrictive capacity ranging up to adulthood, and are often given in lieu of censorship. In some jurisdictions the legal obligation of administering the rating may be imposed on movie theaters.

Video nasty is a colloquial term in the United Kingdom to refer to a number of films distributed on video cassette that were criticised for their violent content by the press, social commentators and various religious organisations. The term was popularised by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) in the UK in the early 1980s.

Video Recordings Act 1984 United Kingdom legislation

The Video Recordings Act 1984 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that was passed in 1984. It states that commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK must carry a classification that has been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office. The British Board of Film Classification, which had been instrumental in the certification of motion pictures since 1912, was designated as the classifying authority in 1985. Works are classified by the BBFC under an age-rated system ; it is an offence under the Act to supply video works to individuals who are under the age of the classification designated. Works that are refused classification cannot, under the Act, be legally sold or supplied to anyone of any age unless it is educational, or to do with a sport, religion or music and does not depict violence, sex or incite a criminal offence. The BBFC may also require cuts to be made, either to receive a certain age rating, or to be allowed a classification at all.

This article chronicles the history of British film certificates.

<i>Romance</i> (1999 film) 1999 French film by Catherine Breillat

Romance is a 1999 French art house film written and directed by Catherine Breillat. It stars Caroline Ducey, Rocco Siffredi, Sagamore Stévenin and François Berléand. The film features explicit copulation scenes, especially one showing Caroline Ducey's coitus with Rocco Siffredi. Romance is one of several arthouse films featuring explicit, unsimulated sex, along with The Brown Bunny (2003), 9 Songs (2004), All About Anna (2005), and Shortbus (2006).

<i>Baise-moi</i> 2000 film by Coralie Trinh Thi, Virginie Despentes

Baise-moi is a 2000 French crime thriller film with elements of a rape and revenge film written and directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi and starring Karen Lancaume and Raffaëla Anderson. It is based on the novel by Despentes, first published in 1993. The film received intense media coverage because of its graphic mix of violence and explicit sex scenes. Consequently, it is sometimes considered an example of the "New French Extremity."

R18 (British Board of Film Classification) BBFC content rating

R18 is a film or video classification given by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It is intended to provide a classification for works that are within British obscenity laws, but exceed what the BBFC considers acceptable for its 18 certificate. In practice, this means hardcore pornography.

The Ontario Film Review Board is an agency of the government of the Canadian province of Ontario that is responsible for that province's motion picture rating system. Until recently the board reported to the Minister of Consumer Services but as of 1 October 2015, the board is overseen by the Ontario Film Authority. The board's activities are based on the Film Classification Act, 2005.

<i>In the Realm of the Senses</i> 1976 film by Nagisa Ōshima

In the Realm of the Senses is a 1976 French-Japanese art film written and directed by Nagisa Oshima. It is a fictionalised and sexually explicit treatment of an incident from 1930s Japan, that of Sada Abe. It generated great controversy during its release; while intended for mainstream wide release, it contains scenes of unsimulated sexual activity between the actors.

18 (British Board of Film Classification) BBFC content rating

The 18 certificate is issued by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), to state that in its opinion, a film, video recording, or game should not be seen at home or elsewhere, watched in a cinema or purchased by a person under 18 years old.

Irish Film Classification Office classification and censorship agecny

The Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) is the organisation responsible for films, television programmes, and some video game classification and censorship within Ireland. Where restrictions are placed by the IFCO, they are legally binding.

The content of Japanese animation (anime) is frequently edited by distributors, both for its release in Japan or during subsequent localizations. This happens for a variety for reasons, including translation, censorship, and remastering.

Film censorship

Film censorship is carried out by various countries to differing degrees, sometimes as a result of powerful or relentless lobbying by organizations or individuals. Films that are banned in a particular country change over time.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) also wrongly known as Censor Board ; is a statutory censorship and classification body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. It is tasked with "regulating the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952". Films can be publicly exhibited in India only after they are certified by the Board, including films shown on television. CBFC is regularly associated with scandals, blamed for thought policing and being right wing dominated.

The Victorian pornographic tradition included French photographs, erotic prints, and printed literature. As technology has advanced, pornography has taken diverse forms and become more widespread in society. In the twentieth century the production of pornographic magazines and films developed, and by the twenty-first century pornography was available by telephone, on television and via the internet. However, access to pornography has generally been more restricted than it has been in comparable Western countries.

Nick Palumbo American film director, producer and screenwriter

Nick Palumbo is an American film director, writer and producer.

Australian Classification Board Australian government agency administering the Australian Classification rating system

The Australian Classification Board is an Australian Government statutory body responsible for the classification and censorship of films, video games and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in Australia. The ACB was established in 1970 and was once part of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which was dissolved in 2006. The Department of Communications and the Arts now provides administrative support to the ACB and decisions made by the ACB may be reviewed by the Australian Classification Review Board. The ACB now operates under the Commonwealth Classification Act 1995.

A pre-certification video is any videotape issued in the UK before the introduction of the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

This is an article about film censorship in the United Kingdom.

Ireland's Film Censors Office, renamed in 2008 as the Irish Film Classification Office, heavily cut films and videos for rental release, or placed high age ratings on them. Since the release of Michael Collins in 1996, which was initially rated PG despite its depictions of strong violence, the censor's office has reduced age ratings in general and never cuts films. Former head censor Sheamus Smith banned several but never cut them as his predecessors did, despite frequent requests from distributors to secure lower certificates and wider audiences – he wasn't fond of his official 'Film Censor' title as he felt that the term was emotive and implied someone who "butchers or bans movies". Smith believed that a director's vision should remain intact regardless of the certificate and that "it's an arrogance for a censor or classifier to be cutting up and changing it".