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The British Board of Film Classification is the organisation that rates films before they can be shown in cinemas in the UK. We see its logo, along with the signatures of two of its senior staff, every time we watch a film screening.

Until 1984, the BBFC was called the British Board of Film Censors; and censorship has always been, and continues to be, part of its role. The list below comes from the BBFC annual report of 1926. It details a wide variety of material that was typically cut from films at that time – everything from ‘degrading exhibitions of animal passion’ to ‘the Salvation Army shown in an unfavourable light’, and (like Theda Bara below) ‘female vamps’!

As one friend commented after seeing the list, it might have been quicker if the BBFC had just set out what could be shown.

Theda Bara, the original "female vamp".

Theda Bara, the original “female vamp”.

“RELIGIOUS

  • the materialized figure of Christ;
  • irreverent quotations;
  • travesties of familiar biblical quotations and well-known hymns;
  • titles to which objection would be taken by religious organisations;
  • travesty and mockery of religious services;
  • holy vessels amidst incongruous surroundings;
  • comic treatment of incidents connected with death;
  • painful insistence of realism in death-bed scenes;
  • circumcision;
  • themes portraying the Hereafter and the Spirit World;
  • the Salvation Army shown in an unfavourable light.

POLITICAL

  • lampoons of the institution of Monarchy;
  • propaganda against Monarchy, and attacks on Royal Dynasties;
  • references to Royal persons at home and abroad;
  • references to the Prince of Wales;
  • unauthorized use of Royal and University arms;
  • themes which are likely to wound the just susceptibilities of our allies;
  • British possessions represented as lawless sinks of iniquity;
  • white men in a state of degradation amidst native surroundings;
  • American law officers making arrests in Britain;
  • inflammatory sub-titles and Bolshevist propaganda;
  • equivocal situations between white girls and men of other races.

MILITARY

  • officers in British regiments shown in a disgraceful light;
  • horrors in warfare and realistic scenes of massacre.

SOCIAL

  • the improper use of the names of well-known British institutions;
  • incidents which reflect a mistaken conception of the Police;
  • sub-titles in the nature of swearing, and expressions regarded as objectionable in this country;
  • painful hospital scenes;
  • scenes in lunatic asylums and particularly in padded cells;
  • workhouse officials shown in an offensive light;
  • girls and women in a state of intoxication;
  • “orgy” scenes;
  • subjects which are suitable only for scientific or professional audiences;
  • suggestive, indecorous and seminude dancing;
  • nude and semi-nude figures;
  • girls’ clothes pulled off, leaving them in scanty undergarments;
  • men leering at exposure of women’s undergarments;
  • abortion;
  • criminal assault on girls;
  • scenes in, and connected with, houses of ill repute;
  • bargain cast for a human life which is to be terminated by murder;
  • marital infidelity and collusive divorce;
  • children following the example of a drunken and dissolute father;
  • dangerous mischief, easily imitated by children;
  • venereal disease;
  • reflections on the medical profession;
  • marriages within the prohibitative degree;
  • son falling in love with his father’s mistress;
  • employee selling his wife to cover defalcations;
  • harem scenes;
  • psychology of marriage as depicted by its physical aspects;
  • liaison between coloured men and white women;
  • intimate biological studies;
  • immodest scenes of girls undressing.

QUESTIONS OF SEX

  • the use of the phrase “sex appeal” in sub-titles;
  • themes indicative of habitual immorality;
  • women in alluring or provocative attitudes;
  • procuration;
  • degrading exhibitions of animal passion;
  • passionate and unrestrained embraces;
  • incidents intended to show clearly that an outrage has been perpetrated;
  • lecherous old men;
  • indecorous bathroom scenes;
  • extenuation of woman sacrificing her honour for money on the plea of some laudable object;
  • female vamps;
  • indecent wall decorations;
  • men and women in bed together.

CRIME

  • hanging, realistic or comic;
  • executions;
  • objectionable prison scenes;
  • methods of crime open to imitation;
  • stories in which the criminal element is predominant;
  • crime committed and condoned for an ostensibly good reason;
  • “crook” films in which sympathy is enlisted for the criminals;
  • “Third Degree” scenes;
  • opium dens;
  • scenes of, traffic in and distribution of illegal drugs;
  • the drugging and ruining of young girls;
  • attempted suicide by asphyxiation;
  • breaking bottles on men’s heads;
  • criminals shown in affluence and apparently successful in life without retribution;
  • severed human heads.

CRUELTY

  • cruel treatment of children;
  • cruelty to animals;
  • brutal fights carried to excess;
  • knuckly fights;
  • girls and women fighting;
  • realistic scenes of torture.”
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