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Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain





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"It's a Government crackdown to protect children from exposure to violence



Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain Julian Petley

Edinburgh University Press

For Mary

© Julian Petley, 201 I © in Chapters 6 and 12 is retained by Sight and Sound © in Chapter 8 is retained by British Journalism Review Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square, Edinburgh Typeset in Monotype Ehrhardt by Iolaire Typesetting, Newtonmore, and printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 ISBN 978

0 0

7486 2538 3 (hardback) 7486 2539 0 (paperback)

The right of Julian Petley to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


Acknowledgements Introduction Part I 'Censorious Rigtnarole and Legalistic Overkill' Introduction to Part I I A Nasty Story 2 Nastier Still 3 Two or Three Things I Know About 'Video Nasties' Part II After the Deluge Introduction to Part II 4 'The Tenor of the Times': An Interview With James Ferman 5 'Reading Society Aright': Five Years after the Video Recordings Act 6 The Video Image Part ill Nineties Nightmares Introduction to Part III 7 'Not Suitable for Home Viewing' 8 Vicious Drivel and Lazy Sluts 9 Doing Harm 10 The Anatomy of a Newspaper Campaign: Crash II The Last Battle, or Why Makin' Whoopee! Matters




23 33 44

51 55


87 102 109

II5 129




Part IV New Millennium, New Beginning? Introduction to Part IV 12 'The Way Things Are Now': An Interview with Robin Duval 13 The Limits of the Possible 14 Full Circle

161 163 173 197

Appendix: The DPP List of 'Video Nasties'


Bibliography Index

217 221


I would like to thank the following publishers for granting me permission to reprint material: Sage, for 'Vicious Drivel and Lazy Sluts', originally published under the title 'In Defence of "Video Nasties'" in British Journalism Review, 5: 3,1994; the British Film Institute for 'The Video Image', Sight and Sound, Winter 1989-90, and 'The Way Things Are Now: An Interview with Robin Duval', originally published under the title 'Raising the Bar' in Sight and Sound, December 2001; and Mirror Group Newspapers for the 'Griffin's Eye' cartoon, Daily Mirror, 12 April 1994. This book would not have been possible in its present form without considerable assistance from the staff of the British Board of Film Classification. They have never been other than friendly and helpful, whatever I may have written about the institution for which they work. In particular I would like to thank Janet Burgis, Sue Clarke, David Cooke, Robin Duval, the late James Ferman, Edward Lamberti, Craig Lapper and Murray Perkins. For inputs into this book of all sorts and kinds I would like to thank Norman Abbott, Martin Barker, Lavinia Carey, Paddie Collyer, Richard Combs, Philip French, Nick James, Stefan Jaworzyn, Alan Jones, Mark Kermode, Tanya Krzywinska, Tom Dewe Mathews, David McGillivray, Xavier Mendik, Paul Moody, Marc Morris, Kim Newman, James Robertson, Judith Vidal-Hall, Jake West and Nigel Wingrove.

A great deal more is at stake in the censorship of films than cuts, bans and boards of censors. Annette Kuhn, Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality Igo9-I925

A state which carries out its routine operations behind closed doors is not a democracy. Enlightenment which requires cover of darkness is not real enlightenment. Censors who call themselves by other names are still censors. Sue Curry Jansen, Censorship: The Knot That Binds Power and Knowledge


ritain, along with the Republic ofIreiand, has the strictest film and video censorship in the European Union. This book will attempt to explain how this situation has been maintained, and indeed strengthened, in recent times, how the censorship system actually works, and why it is maintained. Part I examines the origins of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA), and situates these firmly in the moral panic about 'video nasties' which commenced in 1981. Part II looks at how the Act was interpreted in the second part of the decade, and at some of its consequences for the video industry. Part III, the longest part, deals with the I990S, and begins by focusing on why and how the Act was amended in the wake of the murder of James Bulger; it then goes on to analyse how the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) interpreted the amended Act. Much of the book thus far will have been taken up by accounts of how the majority of British newspapers played a key role in the processes that resulted in the Video Recordings Act coming about in the first place, and then being tightened. However, Chapter 10 shows how the Daily Mail and its stable-mate the London Evening Standard signally failed in their campaign to get David Cronenberg's film Crash banned from cinemas nationally. And Chapter I I, too, charts the failure of an attempt, this time by government (albeit aided by newspapers), to impose stricter censorship on the already heavily regulated 'RI8' category of videos (those which may be sold only in licensed sex shops). The contents of the videos concerned in this case may be absolutely negligible in themselves, but the light this affair sheds on the relationship between the BBFC, the Home Office and the wider state apparatus makes this one of the key chapters in the book. Finally, Part IV brings the story up to date, and focuses in particular on isolating the kinds of material which the BBFC refuses to pass today even in the adults-only '18' and 'RI8' categories. The final chapter, by examining events subsequent to the discovery in August 2009 that the VRA was in fact unenforceable - events




which have received virtually no press coverage and no analysis of any kindshows why the VRA, for all the many problems associated with it and all the criticisms which have been aimed at it, looks set to be a permanent feature on the statute book. Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain consists largely of newly published material. However, Chapters I, 3, 4, 6 and 8 were published at the time of the events which they describe and are reproduced here unchanged (except for the addition of a few explanatory footnotes) in the spirit of reports from the front line. Chapters 5, 9, 10, II and 12 have as their basis alreadypublished pieces, but have been substantially, and mostly very substantially, expanded. This was not in order to take advantage of the undoubted benefits of 20/20 hindsight but simply to add material for which there was not sufficient space in the original publication, or to complete a narrative that was still playing itself out at the time of writing. Chapters 2, 7, 13 and 14 are entirely original to the present work.


In 1984 the British Board of Film Censors changed its name to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). This did not mean, however, that it ceased to be a censor and henceforward performed only a classificatory function. Indeed, quite the reverse, as the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) endowed it with statutory powers in the video domain, and, as explained in Parts I and II of this book, it used these to cut, and in some cases ban outright, a remarkable number of videos. Parts III and IV show that the BBFC gradually became more liberal from the second half of the 1990S onwards, but it is still extremely strict by continental European standards. For example, at the time of writing it has just insisted on seventeen cuts totalling forty-three seconds of running time in the remake of I Spit on Your Grave before it can be shown in cinemas; it is worth pointing out that when the original version was submitted on video in 2001, it was cut by seven minutes and two seconds, and when it was resubmitted on DVD in 2010 the BBFC still required cuts of two minutes and fifty-four seconds. Meanwhile, the BBFC has insisted on forty-nine cuts totalling three minutes and forty-eight seconds to the DVD of A Serbian Film, which at first caused the distributors to think twice about releasing it in the UK. And when in August London's FrightFest film festival attempted to screen the film at the Empire cinema in Leicester Square, the organisers were prevented from doing so by Westminster council (as the result of a process which is explained in Chapter 10). In this book, I have concentrated primarily on the Board's censorship functions and activities, because my main aim is to pinpoint the kinds of



material which may not be shown legally even to adults, to explore the mechanisms by which such material is banned, and to uncover the reasoning behind and justifications offered for such acts of censorship. This means that, for the most part, I have concentrated on the fate of films and videosjDVDs in the '18' and 'RI8' classification categories, although Chapters 5 and 9 do discuss other categories too. (Those interested in exploring further this aspect of the BBFC's activities are recommended to read Robertson and Nicol (2008) and Mathews (1994).) This is not, of course, to deny the fact that a fair amount of cutting takes place within the lower-age classifications, but it does need to be understood that this is because distributors tend to indicate to the BBFC the classification which they would like a particular film or DVD to receive and the BBFC then judges the work in terms of its guidelines for that specific category. So, for example, in 2009, the films Dorian Gray, Shifty and The Hangover were cut to achieve the 'IS' classification desired by the distributor, and Dragonball Evolution, Paul Blart - Mall Cop, and St Trinians - the Legend oj Fritton's Gold were modified by the distributors themselves (an extremely common practice) before formal submission to the BBFC in order to achieve the desired 'PG' classification. The extent to which this form of horse trading amounts to outright censorship is a matter for debate (although it certainly demonstrates how deeply complicit is the film industry in the censorship process), but the fact that a cinema film or DVD classified at 'IS' may not legally be viewed by anyone under that age could be seen as a limited form of censorship since this distinctly curbs their film-viewing activities. Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol are undoubtedly right to argue that 'children of all ages are the real victims of obsessive BBFC censorship decisions taken ostensibly in their interests, but without much expert insight into what might cause them harm' (2008: 850) and to complain about 'busy, nit-picking censorship' (ibid.: 851); it is also quite remarkable the extent to which the BBFC's annual reports reveal throughout a concern that films to which young people have access deliver the 'right' moral message (or at least do not deliver the 'wrong' one). But what is not open to debate is that banning the distribution of certain kinds of filmic material even to adults constitutes censorship in its purest and most direct form, and that this takes place in contemporary Britain with considerable frequency. In this respect, consider the figures in Table 1. Of course, it could be argued that the cuts figures for the '18' category have been swelled by a large numbers of sex videos and DVDs which distributors, for purely commercial reasons, have not wanted to be given an 'RI8' classification, which would limit them to being sold only in licensed sex shops (a topic discussed in Chapter 13). However, this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that in nearly every other ED country, such videos can be sold, legally and uncut, in mainstream DVD outlets.




Total numbers of D VDs submitted in adults-only categories 2001









95 8 ( 167)

879 (106)

83 Z (lIZ)

104 8



1°3 1 (z6z)

9°4 ( IZ 9)

660 (9 6)





870 (13 Z ) (15. 1%)

(19. I %)





65 1

ro61 ( 163)

13 87

12 3 1

121 7



14°1 (z59) (18·5%)

(z86) (z8 7) (zo.6% ) (Z3·3%)

(z93) (Z4· 1%) (Z7. I %)

(Z45) (Z7-]%)

86z (z08) (Z4- I %)








'18' 879 calegory (IIo)



category (z8) (13· z %) Rejected 4

(45) (6·9%) I


Total numbers of DVDs submitted in adults-only categories brackets. Source: BBFC Annual Reports


(z06) (ZI.7%) II59 (3 1 4)


Numbers and percentages cut in


However, this book is by no means solely about the BBFC and its modus operandi. Indeed, its whole purpose is to argue that if the operations of film and video censorship in contemporary Britain are to be fully understood, it is absolutely necessary to grasp the nature of the various forces and institutions acting upon the BBFC, as well as the various policies that it enacts itself. These are: the policies of the government of the day, the wider ideological climate, the laws of the land (and in particular the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the VRA), police and Crown Prosecution Service practice with regard to these laws, the Video Appeals Committee, the media (and in particular the national press), cinema industry interests as represented by the Cinema Exhibitors' Association and the Film Distributors' Association, videojDVD industry interests as represented by the British Video Association and the Video Standards Council, pressure groups such as Mediawatch-UK (the successor to the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, which was run by Mary Whitehouse),what the BBFC takes to be 'public opinion' on the matter of film and video censorship, and the powers of the local councils over cinema exhibition in their localities. In this respect I am following the approach taken by Annette Kuhn (1988), who warned against regarding censorship as simply something which is carried out by organisations with an explicit institutional remit to censor, and thus isolating censorship practices from their broader social and historical conditions of existence. In her view, such organisations need to be seen 'not in isolation but as both active and acted upon within a wider set of practices and relations' (1988: 6). Censorship, in this view of things, becomes 'something which emerges from the interactions of certain processes and practices' (ibid.), or in Foucault's terms, an apparatus, a dispositif:



A thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions - in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements. (Foucault 1980: 194) What thus becomes important in any study of censorship is the investigation of 'the nature of the practices, relations and powers involved in film censorship and what these produce - their effectivity - at particular moments in history' (Kuhn 1988: 8). Thus, like Kuhn's study, although set in a very different era, the present book is involved in 'amplifying the number and operational scope of institutions and prohibitions involved in the censorship of films' (ibid.: 126). However, in shifting the focus of attention away from solely the BBFC, I certainly do not wish to suggest that the focus should be solely somewhere else. Not, for example, on the government, although the book in general, and Chapters I I and 14 in particular, strongly suggests that much more attention needs to be paid to the government's role in the censorship process, and that in particular we need to look beyond its law-making function. Certainly the UK is in the anomalous position of having state censorship of video, but the state does not censor or classify videos directly, relying instead on one of those typically British 'arms-length' bodies to carry out the task. Two of the questions which this book tries to answer are: how long is the arm, and what is the nature of its connections to the rest of the body?


The book also insists repeatedly on the importance of understanding the role of the press in the censorship process, but it most certainly does not argue that hoo-hahs around controversial films, videos and DVDs, with the consequent calls for greater censorship, are simply 'got up' by the press. On the other hand, it would be very hard indeed to imagine the panic over 'video nasties', for example, taking such a firm hold in a country in which the national press was not (I) such a dominant force and (2) so profoundly illiberal and censorious. In many other EU countries it is the local and regional press which predominates, and in most EU countries the dominant ideological complexion of the national press is far more liberal than in Britain. But of course, even newspapers as strident as Britain's cannot, all on their own, ignite the fires of moral panic and indignation and then keep them burning bright. What they can do, however, is provide a megaphone for censorious politicians



and moral entrepreneurs of one kind or another, and ensure that dissenting voices are not simply ignored in their pages but demonised and marginalised. They can also persuade politicians, especially Labour ones, who appear to wake every morning terrified to discover that the Sun or Daily Mail has portrayed them as 'soft' on law and order, that they represent the voice of 'public opinion'. This is, of course, arrant, self-serving nonsense. As Chapter I I shows by reference to the 1999 British Social Attitudes Survey, and Chapter 13 by reference to various pieces of research carried out for the BBFC, there are numerous different forms of opinion on numerous different forms of film and DVD content. It is all a question of whose opinions are listened to, and by whom. Newspapers habitually invoke 'public opinion' as backing their particular partisan causes, but this is an act of the purest ventriloquism: 'public opinion' on these occasions is quite simply whatever newspapers say it is. However, the crucial point here is that it is this 'opinion' to which politicians and administrators are most sensitised and to which they are most likely to respond by framing policies and enacting legislation - such as the VRA. What we have here, then, is less a circuit of communication, in which the press circulates distorted or indeed false stories and proposes reactionary solutions, the public believes the stories and endorses the solutions, and the state is then able to secure consent for actions which might otherwise appear unacceptably oppressive, than a symbiotic process involving, for the most part, just two sets of actors: the press and politicians. In other words, it's a short-circuit of communication. It is in this respect that Chas Critcher has argued that 'the media are an integral part of a "deviancedefining elite" , (ZOOT 138), and that Richard Ericson et al. claim that, outside this hermeneutic circle, 'everyone else is left to watch, listen to or read the distant representations that form this symbolic spectacle' (198T 351). One can of course blame the press for engaging in distortion, exaggeration and sheer untruthfulness in order to whip up episodes such as the 'video nasty' moral panic, but equally culpable are politicians - of any party - who, partly as result of such newspaper scare stories, rush unwise and ill thoughtout legislation onto the statute books (frequently against their better judgement, it might be added). The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 provides a particularly acute example of such a law. But this, unfortunately, is the way in which politics is all too often conducted in Britain, and it is a process in which, as this book repeatedly demonstrates, the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press play an absolutely crucial role. Those who downplay the role of the press in British politics either never read illiberal newspapers, and thus do not understand what politicians (including liberal Tory ones) are up against on a daily basis, or they fail to understand the power which the press wields within the incestuous bubble of Whitehall and Westminster politics, in which national newspapers are major, if entirely unaccountable, players. This is



not a book specifically about the problems posed by the national press for the political system in Britain, but as newspapers, and particularly the Mail, loom large in its pages, it is worth noting what Nick Davies, a highly-experienced British journalist, has to say about the latter in his book Flat Earth News. Of its world view he writes: The Mail is a perfect commodity, designed to be sold to a particular market oflower-middle-class men and women. Its addiction is to them; and if, in order to speak for their interests, the Mail must attack, it will. Black people, poor people, liberals and all kinds of lefties, scroungers, druggies, homosexuals: they will all be attacked. And if it is necessary to attack, too, the rich and the powerful and any political party, including the Conservatives, then so be it. It sells its readers what they want to see in the world. (2008: 370) Of course, newspapers have to survive in the market, and in order to sell sufficient copies they have to appeal to their particular readership. There is nothing necessarily wrong in this, but it can all too easily produce a debased kind of market-driven journalism that is motivated more by what will sell than what will reveal the truth to its readers. And this is what has happened in the case ofthe Mail. As Davies puts it: 'In its relentless pursuit ofthat commercial agenda, it has developed a striking willingness to cut the corners of journalistic integrity, to inject the facts with falsehood and distortion which will please its readers' (2008: 370-r). But most worrying of all is the hold which this deeply flawed journalism exerts over politicians and policy-makers - although again it needs to be emphasised that this is because they allow, and thus encourage, it to do so. Thus Davies reports that 'I've had the chastening experience of publishing long stories on public policy, only to be told by senior civil servants: "Very interesting, but it won't make the slightest difference. Now, if you were on the Mail . ..'" (2008: 365), and concludes that 'its tendency to pursue a single issue with relentless anger, regardless of inaccuracy, makes it more likely than any other outlet to frighten government into changing their policy, whether for better or worse' (ibid.: 3894)0). This book shows that process at work, in detail, in the field offilm and video legislation. It is a sobering thought that the Mail is but the worst offender in this regard (with the Sun running it a close second), and that this process infects political decision-making across the whole spectrum oflaw-andorder legislation, making it virtually impossible to conduct sensible political debates about -let alone liberalise - policy on, for example, drugs, sex education and the criminal justice system. In this respect it really is extremely difficult to l disagree with Alastair Campbell that the Mail is 'a form of evil' and 'a poison in our national political life' (House of Lords 2008: 377). However, Chapter ro demonstrates that it is possible, though not easy, to resist such bullying.




Throughout this book, but especially in the first three parts, I frequently have recourse to the notion of moral panic. In recent times, and with some justification, it has been claimed that the term is used too loosely, and in particular that it has sometimes been applied to phenomena about which there is good cause for serious concern (as opposed to some phantasm which is of concern only to the kind of people who read the Mail and the politicians who take it seriously). However, I would argue that the 'video nasty' panic, which so dominates much of this book, displays, with crystal clarity, all the hallmarks of the classic moral panic as famously defined by Stanley Cohen, namely: A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to became defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other rightthinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way that society conceives itself. (2002: I) A more pertinent account of the various processes that led to the Video Recordings Act 1984 and to its amendment in 1994 one simply could not • • Imagme. In this context, it is also important to consider the Video Recordings Act as a form of moral regulation. As Alan Hunt has argued: The politics of moral regulation has become increasingly visible over the last two decades. Not only is there a series of persisting traditional moral problems, often with new names, which continue to occupy political and legislative attention - the classic examples being abortion, surrogacy and euthanasia - but a wider and more diverse range of social issues is contested in strongly moralised terms. Most strikingly there is a return to issues that had been prominent at the end of the nineteenth century. (1999: 2)



Amongst these issues, of course, were the kinds of entertainments to which people, and especially the 'lower orders', were exposing themselves - such as penny gaffs, the music halls and primitive forms of cinema. (For an excellent account of these 'respectable fears', see Pearson (1983).) In this respect, the Video Recordings Act is simply a descendant of all those laws that attempted to regulate what people could actually see, read and hear, foremost amongst which were the 1857 precursor of the present day Obscene Publications Act and the Theatres Act 1843. But up until around the end of World War II, laws such as these could be justified, at least up to a point, by appeal to norms that were supposedly held in common and underpinned by religious beliefs. However, with the twin processes of secularisation and social diversification rapidly gaining pace in the second half of the twentieth century, justifications for criminalising certain forms of behaviour, and particularly certain forms of private behaviour, relied increasingly not simply on their allegedly intrinsic wrongness but on their apparent harmfulness. As Hunt puts it: The 'moral' element in moral regulation involves any normative judgement that some conduct is intrinsically bad, wrong or immoral. It is an important supplement that moralising discourses frequently invoke some utilitarian consideration linking the immoral practice to some form of harm. Such utilitarian elements become increasingly significant as moral discourses become detached from some taken-for-granted religious framework. (1999: 7) Of course, in modern societies, moral regulation is to a great extent a matter of instilling various forms of se(f-discipline within people from an early age. As Nikolas Rose has pointed out: The later development of modern democracy is dependent upon the existence of certain types of subjects, who do not require a continual external policing. The external constraint of police was to be transformed into an internal constraint upon the conduct of the self, the formation of subjects who were prepared to take responsibility for their actions and for whom the ethic of discipline was part of their very mental fabric. (1999: 227) However, modern democratic societies employ what Hunt calls 'multitrack' modes of governance which combine different modes of moral regulation, bringing together a variety of forms of legal compulsion and of selfregulation. In societies in which a generally liberal ideology prevails at governmental level, self-regulation is likely to be the dominant mode, whilst in societies in which the dominant ideology at governmental level tends



towards the illiberal, legal compulsion is likely to be to the fore. Britain falls fairly and squarely into the latter camp. In order to understand the crucial wider political and ideological background to the events described in this book, let me explain, briefly, why this is so.


The early 1960s were marked by a series of liberal reforms, mostly put in train by the Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, but also with input from liberal Tories. These included the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, reform of the abortion and obscenity laws, the abolition of theatre censorship, and making it easier to get divorced. These reforms were exceedingly unpopular with moral traditionalists, and the reaction against them gave a considerable boost to the kind of moral rearmament organisations headed by Mary Whitehouse which played a major role in dubbing 1960s Britain as the Permissive Society, and which loom large in the first part of this book. Always terrified of being painted as 'soft' on law-and-order issues by the Tories and their allies in the illiberal press, Labour gradually abandoned its socially liberal stance and, by the mid 1970s, had begun to drift with the increasingly authoritarian tide. With the rise of Thatcherism in the late 1970S and its consolidation in the 1980s, as David Downes and Rod Morgan put it: The entire period of liberalising achievement by both Conservative and Labour was to be derided by the new right of Thatcher and Tebbit as the 'permissive society', having achieved nothing more than a slackening of authority and an unwanted release of the baser passions. What was, by most standards, a major period of reform promoting greater tolerance and freedom of expression came to figure in the popular press and in rightwing ideology as the source of unprecedented rises in criminality in the 1980s. (199T 109) In the Tories' 1983 general election manifesto, law-and-order issues were not only placed high on the political agenda but were also framed in such a way as to include distinctly moral issues relating to personal, not to say private, behaviour. Thus the manifesto stated that: Dealing with crimes, civil disobedience, violent demonstrations and pornography are not matters for the police alone. It is teachers and parents - and television producers too - who influence the moral standards of the next generation. There must be close co-operation



and understanding between the police and the community they serve. (Q!Ioted in Downes and Morgan 199T 94) The rising tide of crime, unrest and social disintegration was thus to be explained not as the inevitable consequence of the government's socially destructive economic programme and of policies enacted on the basis of the bizarre dogma that 'there is no such thing as society', but as the activities of people, usually young people, who are either simply 'evil' or who have not been sufficiently disciplined by their parents, their schools, the police, the courts, or other agencies of social control. The need to be tough on law and order was, of course, a familiar trope of the traditional, pre-Thatcherite Tory Right, but what was different about Thatcherism in this respect was the manner in which law-and-order issues were inflected by the distinctly populist moralism that was one of the hallmarks of the Thatcher regime. As Stuart Hall put it at the start of that regime, such an ideology is where the great syntax of 'good' versus 'evil', of civilised and uncivilised standards, of the choice between anarchy and order, constantly divides up the world and classifies it into its appointed stations. The play on 'values' and on moral issues in this area is what gives the law and order crusade much of its grasp on popular morality and common sense conscience. But it also touches concretely on the experience of crime and theft, of loss of scarce property and fears of unexpected attack in working class areas and neighbourhoods; and, since it promulgates no other remedies for their underlying causes, it welds people to that 'need for authority' which has been so significant for the right in the construction of consent to its authoritarian programme. (198J: 38) However, from its inception under Tony Blair in 1994, 'New Labour' followed an almost identical line, not simply in order to wrong-foot the Tories on law and order (as in the case of the amendment to the VRA in the wake of the Bulger murder, discussed in Chapter 7) but also out of sheer ideological conviction. Indeed, when in 2004 Blair launched the government's five-year strategy for the criminal justice system and the Home Office, he announced specifically that that this 'marks the end of the 1960s liberal social consensus on law and order'. Although he noted positive aspects of the 1960s, he also stated 'it was John Stuart Mill who articulated the modern concept that with freedom comes responsibility. But in the 1960s revolution, that didn't always happen', adding that, as a result, 'a society of different lifestyles spawned a group of young people who were brought up without parental discipline, without proper role models and without any sense of responsibility for others'. He went on:



Here, now, today, people have had enough of this part of the 1960s consensus. People do not want a return to old prejudices and ugly discrimination. But they do want rules, order and proper behaviour ... They want a community where the decent law-abiding majority are in charge; where those that play by the rules do well; and those that don't, get punished. For me this has always been something of a personal crusade. (Quoted in Petley 200T 135) For this Blair was rewarded by headlines such as 'Blair Rejects the Swinging Sixties in Promise to Tackle Law and Order' (Daily Telegraph), 'Blair Blames Permissiveness for Rise in Thuggery as he Admits not Doing Enough on Crime' (Daily Express), and 'How 60S Values Shattered Society ... by Tony Blair' (Daily Mail). Indeed, as soon as it came to power, 'New Labour' set about proving itself to be as tough on law-and-order issues as it had promised to be whilst in opposition, introducing the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO); giving local authorities powers to declare dawn-to-dusk curfews for all children under the age of ten, powers which were subsequently extended under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 to include children up to the age of fifteen; reducing the age of criminal responsibility from fourteen to ten; depriving offenders in breach of community penalties of benefits; activating minimum mandatory sentences for repeat burglary, drug-trafficking, violence and sexual offences; and introducing electronic monitoring of offenders on early release. As is explained in Chapter I I of this book, one of the very early acts that marked the proudly illiberal Jack Straw's tenure as Home Secretary was to reverse a sensible and liberal reform of the BBFC's policy on 'RI8' videos which had been initiated by his Tory predecessor. Thus whilst advocating degrees of deregulation for the economy which even some Tories found worrying, New Labour in power was instinctively interventionist and dirigiste in social matters. As Stephen Driver and Luke Martell presciently wrote in the early days of 'New Labour' in power: 'There is a reliance on legislative solutions to what are presented as ethical threats. Whatever the problem - bad behaviour in schools, noisy neighbours, children on the streets in the late evening - New Labour seems poised to reach for the legal pen' (1998: 119). And so indeed it went on. Unwilling to legislate for corporate responsibility, 'New Labour' was all too happy to pass laws regulating individual behaviour and responsibilities, and to make public moral judgements on individual lifestyles. In many ways this can be seen as Labour's final abandonment of the Wolfenden strategy, which relied on a distinction between private behaviour (which was regarded as a domain of choice between consenting adults) and public behaviour (which was the legitimate realm of regulation and control). But, as noted above, in adopting



this position, it was, as in so many other instances, simply following in the footsteps of Thatcherism. In order to illustrate this point, just ask yourself whether the following was written about the Tory or 'New Labour' era: As evidence of social fragmentation mounts, there is an increasingly shrill cry to remoralise society - in which morality is regarded as the prohibition of individual actions backed by repressive legislation. Economic and social reforms, which might address the roots of these problems, are seen as a return to what has failed; instead the future is one of moral individuals, caned at school, smacked at home and wary of steep punishment in prison fixed by automatic sentencing, who keep their families together and so stand as bulwarks against social implosion ... Nor does the talk of admonition and prohibition stop there. The climate which produces constraints and bans does not begin and end with school expulsions and longer sentences for offenders of all ages; it extends seamlessly into the censorship of books, films and theatres. That this text could apply equally well to either (in fact it was written by Will Hutton (199T 8) about the dying days of the Tories in 1997) is, I think, highly instructive. But the crucial point to grasp here is that measures such as the Video Recordings Act and the 'extreme pornography' provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (which are discussed in Chapter 13) need to be understood as measures that transcend matters of narrow party policy and are expressive of much wider and deeper ideological shifts which have been taking place in our society over the past thirty years - in other words since the beginnings of the neo-liberal experiment in which we are still living.


Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy.

Part I 'Censorious Rigmarole and Legalistic Overkill'

Introduction to Part I

arly in 1979 there are fewer than 100,000 VCRs in the UK, used mainly for time-shifting television programmes about once a month. Video rentals cost around £6.00 per night; EMI blank tapes retail at £7.00 for thirty minutes and £14.50 for 180 minutes. To buy a film on video costs from around £20 to £60. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of films are watched on rented tapes. By the end of the year 25°,000 VCRs are in use, 80 per cent of which are rented, but one in five Britons still doesn't know what video is. Because the major distributors are worried about both video piracy and denting their theatrical audiences (which in 1981 drop by IS million on the previous year) they at first steer clear of the fledgling industry, which is thus dominated by a plethora of independents such as VCL, World of Video 2000, Intervision, Precision, Mountain VideoMedia, Hokushin and VIPCO. In 1979 UK video rights can be bought for as little as £1,000, and the video shelves are well stocked with cheap exploitation fare. The pornography industry is quick to spot the commercial potential of video, and in December 1979 the first Electric Blue cassette is launched, costing £31 on VHS or Beta and £38 on the short-lived V2000 Philips system. The first complaints about video advertising are made to the Advertising Standards Authority in 1981, and the first press stories about 'video nasties' appear in May 1982. In November 1980 the British Videogram Association, which represents video distributors, has its inaugural meeting, followed by the Video Trade Association in August 1981; this represents the retail/rental end of the new market. The video industry's first trade paper, Video Business, is launched in February 1981, followed by Video News in April and Video Trade Weekly in November. Warner enters the market in September 1980, CIC in November 1980, Polygram in May 1981, MGM/CBS in September 1981, Disney in November 1981, Twentieth Century Fox in January 1982, and RCA/Columbia in April 1982. The majors' early moves are tentative, but by 1984 they have




already scooped a dominant share of the market. By October 1981 there are some 6,000 video outlets in the UK, with tape rentals costing between ÂŁ1.00 and ÂŁ4.00 per night. This, then, is the background against which the following three pieces need to be read. Those interested in reading another contemporaneous account of these events are recommended Barker (1984), and detailed ex post facto accounts can be found in Kerekes and Slater (2000) and Martin (2007). Also recommended is the DVD extra, Ban the Sadist Videos, which is part of the Box of the Banned DVD set, and the box set Video Nasties: the Definitive Guide. These pieces were written after a two-year barrage of press stories vociferously attacking 'video nasties' and during the parliamentary passage of what was shortly to become the Video Recordings Act 1984. Without a scintilla of doubt, the former greatly facilitated the latter, and were quite clearly intended to do just that. But tempting though it may seem, it would be a mistake to argue that the whole 'video nasty' affair was simply 'got up' by the press. What cannot be over-estimated here is the shocking impact on the censoriously minded of the sudden availability, in a domestic medium, of a range of images which the combined forces of the Obscene Publications Act, Customs and Excise, the police and the British Board of Film Censors (as it then was) had, for decades, done their very utmost to shield from British eyes (see Appendix for details). As the Secretary of the Board, James Ferman, put it remarkably presciently in 1979: Audiences in Britain never see the worst the world's film-makers have to offer. Films glorifying rape, the torture of naked women, the degradation of adolescent girls, the infliction of serious bodily harm through easily copied weapons, the casual slaughter of animals - such things are habitually cut or rejected in the British cinema. If they were permitted, I believe the public would demand that the police and the courts and Parliament take a far tougher line with cinema than they have so far. (66) Given the needs of the new industry to advertise its wares as effectively as possible, plus the mixture of inexperience and showmanship which characterised many a small but buccaneering video distributor, a bust-up with the guardians of public morality, ranging from MPs of all parties, the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions through to freelance moral entrepreneurs such as Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, was absolutely inevitable. Where they were so fortunate, however, was to have a press that was almost entirely sympathetic to their views and was only too delighted to act as a wholly uncritical mouthpiece for them. Except for the occasional piece in the Guardian, Financial Times and London's Evening Standard, views opposing the approaching imposition of state video



censorship were conspicuous by their absence from a press only too willing to cry censorship when some of the freedoms which it routinely abuses appear to be under threat. The fact that vast swathes of the British press are closed to the diffusion of news and the expression of views which do not accord with the dominant, illiberal editorial line is, of course, itself a particularly pernicious form of censorship, although all too infrequently recognised as such. Not for nothing, then, did the two published pieces reprinted here appear well outside the bounds of what was then Fleet Street. Indeed, it is worth saying something about how these two pieces came to be published at all. In 1983 the journals Screen and Screen Education were merged, and a number of new members were invited onto the editorial board; these included me. The idea was, as the editorial of the first merged issue put it, to continue to publish 'theoretical work generated within academic institutions' but also to supplement this with 'shorter, more polemical review articles about key or symptomatic publications, educational events and developments of importance within the fields of film, television and education' (Eaton and Kerr 1983: 2). 'A Nasty Story' clearly fell into the latter camp, but my efforts to continue this narrative were firmly rebuffed. In particular, a piece I submitted which tried to explain the ways in which the 'video nasty' furore constituted a classic moral panic met with the response that it was I who was having a moral panic and that the piece was anyway 'too sociological'. At that point I realised there were limits to the willingness of certain members of even the reformed Screen board to engage seriously with the real world. 'Nastier Still' was written simply to help me keep abreast of fast-changing events, although I cannibalised parts of it for an article in the late lamented Listener (14 June 1984), which elicited a fair amount of disturbing, not to say disturbed, mail from the green-ink brigade. It is published here in a slightly toned-down version (among other things, the phrase 'cultural fascism' really had to go). 'Two or Three Things I Know About Video Nasties' owes its existence entirely to the enlightened editorship of the British Film Institute's Monthly Film Bulletin (also late and lamented) under Richard Combs, who allowed regular writers such as Kim Newman and me to indulge our taste for outre videos - thus publishing the first serious review anywhere of Driller Killer (by Kim), for example. But the genesis of the piece was the determination of Kim and myself to view our way through each and every video on the Director of Public Prosecutions' (DPP) list of 'nasties' - as handy a viewing guide for horror aficionados as one could then wish for (see Appendix), but quite correctly described by Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol as 'the first modern example of an "Index" in Britain' (2008: 827). Fortunately we came across someone with an absolutely mouth-watering collection of videos, which included everything on the DPP's list and much more (and much weirder)



besides. So we sat in his flat for a week and watched the lot. Luckily this was before thieves smashed their way through the steel door behind which our new acquaintance lived and emptied his entire home. The published pieces reproduced here - unaltered - were written during the passage of the Video Recordings Bill and before the subsequent Act came into force, so it is important to understand what the Act finally contained. Briefly, it required all video works to be submitted to the BBFC for classification unless they fell into the exempted categories mentioned below. Most importantly of all, Section 4 of the Act instructed the BBFC to have 'special regard to the likelihood of (certified) video works being viewed in the home', these last three words marking the site of a long and hard-fought battle between those Tory MPs like Sir Bernard Braine who essentially wanted no videos unsuitable for children to be legally available and those who desired a less restrictive form of regulation. Those distributing, selling or renting unclassified videos rendered themselves liable to fines of up to ÂŁ20,000; selling or renting a video to a person younger than the age stipulated by the video's BBFC classification was also an offence punishable by a substantial fine. The beauty of this measure, from the authorities' point of view, was its sheer simplicity. Cases brought against videos under the Obscene Publications Act, if they were defended, became embroiled in arguments about the videos' artistic merit, whether they would tend to deprave and corrupt those likely to see them, and so on. In a case brought under the Video Recordings Act, however, there is very little room for the defendant to manoeuvre, since the only questions to be answered are: does the video in question have a BBFC certificate, or has a BBFC-certificated video been sold or rented to a person younger than the age stipulated on the certificate? As Alexandr Orlov would say: simples. The chapters in this first part of the book raise a number of questions, which can now be answered with some certainty. Firstly, did the BBFC become what The Times (5 November 1983), called an 'anomalous hybrid', with statutory powers in the case of films distributed on video but only advisory ones in the case of films shown in the cinema? The answer has to be 'yes', and for the reasons outlined below, it has not infrequently treated the same film differently in the case of its cinema and video releases. This brings us on to the second question: has the Act's all-important stipulation that the BBFC, when classifying videos, must take into account the fact that they will be viewed in the home meant that it can classify only videos which are suitable for children? This was very clearly what moral campaigners such as Mary Whitehouse and Sir Bernard Braine would have liked, but this was simply never going to happen, since it would have killed the nascent video industry at a stroke - something which an entrepreneurially-minded Tory government was extremely unlikely to countenance, particularly as it would rapidly have



brought the wrath of the Motion Picture Association of America down upon its head. However, the fact that the Board had to concern itself with the fact that children might view videos classified as 'IS' or '18', allied with its concern at the possible harmful effects of viewers repeatedly replaying violent scenes on video, has led it not infrequently to treat the same film more harshly on video than in its theatrical incarnation, as we shall see in Parts II and III of this book. On the other hand, that current of opinion which does indeed hold that no video unsuitable for children should be allowed into distribution still stubbornly persists - as we shall see in Part III when we come on to the consequences for video censorship of the murder of James Bulger. Third: did the Video Recordings Act cause large numbers of unclassified videos to be swept from the shelves? In the short term, yes. As the BBFC ploughed through the vast backlog of videos issued before the Act came into force, numerous titles dropped by the wayside, either because their distributors had gone out of business, or because they had decided not to spend a sizeable amount of money having a title classified that was not making much money. Small distributors and minority-taste movies suffered disproportionately. This situation was, however, relatively short-lived, as new distributors eventually picked up many of the abandoned titles, and, as we shall see later in the book, the Board's standards gradually relaxed. Indeed, there are now far more DVD titles available than video titles at the height of the video boom, and many (though by no means all) erstwhile 'nasties' have been passed uncut by the BBFC. On the other hand, it has to be admitted that film and video classification does add considerably to distribution costs, something far more likely to worry an independent distributor with non-mainstream product than a major with a blockbuster. The BBFC's standard rate for the classification of a feature film on DVDfBlu-ray is £6.00 per minute, with an additional £75 handling fee. Films made by charities registered in the UK are classified at 30 per cent of the standard rate, and works that, taken as a whole, are designed to inform, educate or instruct, or are concerned with sport, religion or music, are exempt from classification. However, as the BBFC explains on its website, they are not exempt if they contain, to a significant extent, any of the following: • human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity • mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence towards, humans or animals • human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions • techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences • or are likely to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage such sexual activities •



• or are likely to any extent to encourage mutilation, torture or gross violence • or are likely to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage the commission of offences. Thus some of the concerns raised towards the end of 'Nastier Still' remain to this day. The fact that television material falling within the ambit of the Video Recordings Act has to be classified by the BBFC brings us, finally, to the fears expressed in 'Nastier Still' that the standards set by the Act would come to determine what the broadcasting authorities deemed acceptable for showing on television. In fact this has not happened in the case of material made by the broadcasters themselves, but this is simply because the various codes under which they operate are, and always have been, far stricter and contain far more proscriptions than the Act itself. However, it is important to note that when it comes to feature films broadcast on Channels 3, 4 and 5, and on all cable and satellite channels, Ofcom insists in its Broadcasting Code (2009: 12) that: No film refused classification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) may be broadcast unless it has subsequently been classified or the BBFC has confirmed that it would not be rejected according to the standards currently operating. Also, no film cut as a condition of classification by the BBFC may be transmitted in a version which includes the cut material unless: • the BBFC has confirmed that the material was cut to allow the film pass at a lower category; or • the BBFC has confirmed that the film would not be subject compulsory cuts according to the standards currently operating.

to to

(The BBC operates with similar rules.) So there is a very real sense in which the BBFC has set the standards of acceptability in certain areas of television programming, just as early critics of the Video Recordings Bill feared would happen. On the other hand, it is worth noting that Ofcom absolutely refuses to allow any of its licence-holders, even those operating adults-only encrypted channels, to show, even late at night, material passed by the BBFC at 'RI8' (material which is discussed at some length in Part IV of this book).


A Nasty Story

he video nasty affair began in 1981 with complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the British Videogram Association (BVA, the video distributors' trade body) and members of the public about the gruesome nature of the advertising (cassette covers, posters in video shops, pages in video magazines) for certain cassettes. The ASA upheld complaints against advertisements for Cannibal Holocaust, Driller Killer and SS Experiment Camp, and the main video magazine editors agreed joint standards on advertising. It was these various forms of advertising, then, that first aroused the moralists' wrath, and so it could be argued with some justification that the video industry (or at least those sections of it eager for a quick profit at any price) was itself partly to blame for the moral panic soon to be whipped up by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA), the tabloid press, teachers, churchmen and others. Ironically, of course, in its early days that moral panic served to increase enormously the sales and rentals of video 'nasties' by bringing their existence to wide public attention and arousing curiosity in the uninitiated. The first article about the supposed threat to children posed by their easy access to video cassettes of all kinds appeared in the Daily Mail on 12 May 1982, although this was not specifically about violent or horrific cassettes. However, it is premonitory in a number of ways. Firstly, it features the soon to become familiar figure of the Concerned Teacher; indeed, the way in which large sections of the teaching profession, supposedly in the business of fostering minds capable of rational debate and independent thought, have hitched themselves up to, and thoroughly encouraged, a nauseatingly emotive crusade with distinctively repressive overtones is one of the most revealing features of the video nasty affair. Secondly, it cites, very briefly, a report by


Originally published in Screen, 25: 2, March/April 1984, pp. 68-74.



America's National Institute of Mental Health which says the evidence is overwhelming that TV violence leads to aggressive behaviour in young people. Of course, it is not, but throughout the campaign it has been taken as read, as given, that there is a direct causal link between violence on screen and violence in real life. In fact, there is no evidence that has not been seriously challenged to suggest any such link at all and, furthermore, there is absolutely no onus on those who dispute the existence of this supposed link to prove that it does not exist, any more than there is on those who do not believe in flying saucers to disprove their existence. The first major articles about horror videos in particular appeared in The Sunday Times on 23 May 1982, the Daily Mail on 28 May and The Sunday Times on 30 May. The gist of all three articles was that a new kind of extremely violent horror film had become available on cassette, 'films which specialise in sadism, mutilation and cannibalism' (The Sunday Times, 30 May), films which show 'castration, sadistic attacks on women, and violence including the use of chain saws and electric drills' (Mail). The articles also revealed that the Metropolitan Police Obscene Publications Squad had seized a copy of SS Experiment Camp and sent a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with a view to a prosecution under the obscenity laws which until then had been used only against pornographic videos. The British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) and the BVA were setting up a working party to devise a classification scheme for videos similar to that used in cinemas; once this was done the BVA would urge its members not to handle unclassified products. The Mail quoted Lord ChiefJustice Lane's maiden speech in the Lords earlier that year warning that people were faced with 'positive incentives' to commit crimes in imitation of violent scenes 'depicted on various screens of all sizes'. The second Sunday Times article mentioned that the video of Snuff had been withdrawn by its British distributor as a result of its exposure in the previous week's article, even though no threat of prosecution had been made - an interesting prefigurement of more recent developments in which increased but inconsistent police action coupled with the effects of press hysteria have combined to induce dealers to withdraw titles before any police action has been taken against them. Similarly premonitory is the same article's lumping together as video nasties Don't Answer the Phone (released in cinemas with an 'X' certificate) and SS Experiment Camp (which undoubtedly would not be allowed to be shown in cinemas at all). Already, then, there was a problem of (lack of) definition; a video nasty is not, apparently, simply a video of a film too violent to be given an 'X'. As the saga progressed, the term 'video nasty' became synonymous with the term 'horror film'. The day following the second Sunday Times article, The Times reported NVALA campaigner Mary Whitehouse as stating that the setting up of the joint BBFC/BVA working party gave rise to 'more rather than less anxiety',



pointing out the presence on it of Lord Harlech, head of the BBFC, which had passed material for showing in cinemas 'which would give rise to concern if shown on videograms'. There are two important points to note here. Firstly, the NVALA's lobbying on the issue of video nasties is an object lesson in How To Do It (though of course it must be borne in mind that large sections of our 'free' press would be firmly closed to causes that the Society for Education in Film and Television [SEFT, then the publishers of Screen] and its members would support). Secondly, Whitehouse's statement is the first indication that what is being sought is stricter censorship of video than film. Furthermore, the eradication of video nasties is by no means the NVALA's sole, or even major, aim: 'Mrs Whitehouse urged the Government to introduce "new and effective obscenity laws" to meet what she called the "growing threat" from video cassettes'. By early June of 1982 the first of a growing stream of questions was being asked in both houses of Parliament (and by no means all from Tories). Government replies at this time indicate a clear preference for leaving the industry to put its own house in order by means of the proposed classification scheme. On 6 June The Sunday Times reported that the Obscene Publications Squad had sent the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Thomas Hetherington, copies of SS Experiment Camp, I Spit on Your Grave, and Driller Killer for possible prosecution. It quoted the squad's Detective Superintendent Kruger as stating: 'We want to know where we should draw the line. This is a new problem for us, and we need to know where we stand'. By 8 August The Sunday Times was reporting that the DPP was going ahead with these prosecutions and explained the options open to him: a case under section three of the Obscene Publications Act (OPA), which allows for forfeiture under a magistrate's warrant, or under section two, which involves a full criminal trial before a jury, with a possible maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment. Not surprisingly, Whitehouse immediately began to campaign for a prosecution under section two. The Guardian (9 August) quoted her as saying that: 'Even if a prosecution before a jury failed it would bring home to the Government the urgent need for legislation to control material which can be seen by children in the home'. While in The Times (17 August) she argued that prosecutions 'at least . . . will indicate whether the present obscene publications legislation can deal with material of this kind'. In the event, the DPP opted for proceedings under section three against Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave, Death Trap (which had in fact been released in cinemas, but in a slightly cut version), Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp. Mary Whitehouse called the decision a 'public scandal'. The cases against Driller Killer and Death Trap were heard at Willesden Magistrates' Court on 31 August, resulting in their distributor, VIPCO,



forfeiting all their copies. Whitehouse branded the proceedings a farce and called on Hetherington to resign. However, Stephen Woller from the DPP described the prosecutions under section three as exceptional, a statement reinforced afterwards by a spokesman for the DPP, who said that the forfeiture order gave distributors a clear warning that violent cassettes could be classified as obscene under the terms of the OPA and would in future be prosecuted under section two. VIPCO maintained that they had handled the films in good faith but simply had not known where the line should be drawn. As the situation became more hysterical, and police action more indiscriminate, distributors and retailers alike were to look with increasing favour on that line being drawn - even by statutory regulation. By then the video nasty moral panic was well established. The only Fleet Street commentator to sound a warning about the possible consequences was Alexander Walker in the Evening Standard on 19 August, in an article entitled 'The Video Inspector Cometh'. Noting that children viewing horror videos was now generally regarded as 'the last step on the road to national degeneracy, depravity and corruption', Walker suggested that 'the risks to children have been (and are being) exaggerated'. Complaining of attempts to 'safeguard our morality' and 'tell people what's good for them and what's bad for them', Walker warned, very presciently, of 'a new form of censorship being extended to what we wish to show in our living rooms'. By 24 September 1982 the cases against I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp had been heard and their distributors found guilty under section three of the OPA. Notice had been served that future prosecutions would proceed under section two, and the police were gearing themselves up for future action in expectation of an increasing number of complaints from the public. Qpestions in the Commons continued, and on IS December Gareth Wardell, Labour Member for Gower, introduced, with all-party backing, a Bill under the ten-minute rule 'to prohibit the rental of video cassettes of adult category to children and young persons'. Again, it needs to be stressed that Wardell was not concerned only with videos like SS Experiment Camp but also films which had been 'X' certificated for cinema screenings. To back up his case, he quoted part of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (lEA) code which states that: Scenes which may unsettle young children need special care. Insecurity is less tolerable for a child - particularly an emotionally unstable child than it is for a mature adult. Research evidence shows that the socially or emotionally insecure individual, particularly if adolescent, is specially vulnerable. A civilised society pays special attention to its weaker members.



The Bill was ordered to be read a second time on 18 February 1983. However, it failed to get Government approval and was dropped. This was followed by the Mail's famous 'We Must Protect Our Children Now' article on 25 February and the beginning of its Ban the Sadist Videos 1 campaign. What is important in the present context is that the article concluded with a savage attack on Home Secretary William Whitelaw's unwillingness to support Wardell's proposed statutory measures and his 'pious hope' for voluntary restraint and adherence to the BBFCjBVA classification system. On 2 March the Telegraph revealed that, in a letter replying to Mary Whitehouse's request for new obscenity legislation, Margaret Thatcher had stated that: 'Like you I deplore those who seek to profit out of exploiting the weakness of others, and in doing so undermine our traditional standards of decency and respect for family life'. (The Threatened Family is a familiar theme in the video nasty saga, which here overlaps with the Victorian Values issue: in particular the spectre of children watching horror videos seems to have upset a certain traditional ideology of 'childhood'.) And it was at this time that Whitehouse came up with her masterstroke: the idea of screening video nasties to MPs as a means of hastening new legislation. The Mail of 3 March quotes her thus: 'I am convinced the vast majority of Members of Parliament do not know the depths to which this material goes because they haven't seen it ... Let them see what we are talking about. A lot might be sick'. By the beginning of April 1983 Norman Abbott of the BVA was concerned that because of the growing hysteria and pressure on MPs the government would not give the forthcoming voluntary classification scheme a fair chance to prove itself. These fears arose out of government assurances given to Wardell after the failure of his Bill. Interviewed in Broadcast, 4 April, Abbott stated: The Minister specified that while prepared to wait a reasonable time, the Government will go ahead and prepare legislation so there is a readymade Bill prepared in all its pre-legislative details that can be rushed through immediately the Government deems the voluntary scheme to have failed. The indications are that reasonable may only mean months. The Government believes the problem can be controlled in a stroke of the pen but that is impossible whether by our scheme or legislation. The problem of policing will still be exactly the same. However, the Telegraph (8 April) revealed that in March Mary Whitehouse had written to all MPs for support and ISO had replied that they would back legislation against video nasties. In The Times (II April)



Whitehouse was quoted as urging the Tories to include proposals for stricter obscenity laws in their election manifesto; as she put it: 'The forthcoming election and the threat of video nasties has given a new impetus to our campaign'. And, in the event, the Tory manifesto did indeed promise 'specific legislation to deal with ... the dangerous spread of violent and obscene video cassettes'. The industry's classification code was launched on 14 April by the BVA. It was to be administered by the Videogram Standards Council and would be compulsory for all BVA members. From September 1983, all newly released cassettes would have to carry one of the following certificates, as in the cinema: 'U', 'PG', 'IS', '18'. Some cassettes would certainly be refused even an '18' certificate, which replaced the 'X' in 1983. Dealers would be required to register with the BVA, and any not doing so by September 1983, or any registered dealer who ignored or broke the terms of the code, would receive no product from BVA members (who represent a majority of cassette producers and distributors). Reaction was mixed; the code was welcomed by the trade but dismissed by Mrs Whitehouse as 'unworkable'. Gareth Wardell feared that specialist firms might be set up simply to produce and distribute 'nasties' outside the BVA ambit. On 16 May 1983 Broadcast reported that if the Tories won the election, statutory censorship of videos was highly likely, basing its forecast on remarks by MP Timothy Sainsbury at a Video Traders Association (VTA) meeting in Brighton at which he announced that junior Home Office minister Patrick Mayhew was actively considering proposals for legislation. He called the industry's efforts 'well-intentioned' but continued: 'They are not good enough - primarily because they lack the power to ensure that the regulations will be respected. The industry will not be persuaded just by moral arguments or a code of conduct, and respectable dealers will be damaged by outlets that ignore the system'. In response, Norman Abbott pointed out the probability of undesirable and unintended side effects of government legislation: the imposition of a clumsy and unworkable system leading to a tightening of censorship in general. However, Derek Mann of the VTA, representing those at the sharp end of increasing police action, said that although voluntary classification was a step in the right direction, 'government legislation may not be a bad thing for the retailer'. The increasing impossibility of rational debate on the subject was illustrated by press and NVALA reaction to the making of Broadside's A Gentleman's Agreement for Channel 4 in June 1983. Mrs Whitehouse wrote to the DPP expressing concern that clips (quite inoffensive) from certain 'nasties' were to be shown. This was followed by a letter from the DPP to the Channel warning that showing clips might constitute contempt of court, as these films were facing prosecution under the OPA in various magistrates'



courts. However, Channel 4 and the IBA decided that they were protected under the Contempt Act, which allows 'matters of public interest which only incidentally impinge on particular proceedings'. Having blithely assumed and asserted all along that there was a direct causal link between screen violence and real-life violence, the newspapers got their 'proof in the form of the 'video rapist' case first reported by the London Evening Standard on 27 June. This was followed by other similar cases over the summer (until, of course, the press could feast on the real-life multiple murderer Dennis Nilsen). Just as in the Clockwork Orange affair years before, a sensation-hungry press proved a godsend to many a defence counsel desperately seeking mitigating circumstances in a clearly hopeless case or even a brief moment of fame for himself. The various cases are well documented by Armstrong and Harron, but two points need emphasising. Firstly, the utter ludicrousness of the 'arguments' now being put forward; for instance, in the 'video rapist' case the defendant argued that watching video nasties had convinced him that women were likely to fall in love with their assailants. However, the particular video cited - I Spit on Your Grave actually shows the victim castrating and murdering her assailants!2 Secondly, videos dragged up as mitigation in other cases included The Wanderers and The Thing, both 'X' certificated general-release films. Meanwhile police continued to seize an extraordinarily wide range of material, some of it 'X' certificated for cinema showing. By this term the term 'video nasty' had unmistakably become synonymous simply with 'horror film'. All this, allied with stories of children as young as six watching video nasties, cassettes for rent at sop, businesses run by gangsters with 'shooters' and so on, further fuelled MPs' and their constituents' demands for statutory controls. Gareth Wardell proposed the motion that 'this House urges Her Majesty's Government to introduce forthwith legislation to control access by children to video nasties, thus honouring its election manifesto pledge' (to which Dennis Skinner proposed an amendment, adding: 'Because it is recognised that the free flow of market forces and the pursuit of the profit motive is a dangerous economic policy that has to be challenged, curbed and controlled'). During Prime Minister's question time on 30 June Thatcher stated that: 'It is not enough to have voluntary regulation. We must bring in a ban to regulate the matter'. And on the same day Home Secretary Leon Brittan stated in a written answer that: I am not satisfied with the current state of the law. The Government fully accepts the need for more effective control of the sale and rental of objectionable video cassettes, as we made clear in our election manifesto. I welcome the proposed introduction by the video industry of voluntary controls, but I do not consider that, by themselves, such controls will be



sufficient. There will certainly have to be statutory controls and I am urgently considering what form they should take. On I July the Scotsman announced that 'a draft Bill which has almost been completed by the Home Office is now expected to be taken up by a Conservative backbencher who ... topped the ballot for private members' Bills'. This turned out to be Graham Bright. (The use of the device of the private members' Bill demonstrated the government's desire for speed, as it circumvented any need to consult with the video industry.) On 14 July Bright outlined the main features of his Bill to the press. In effect, it would outlaw the selling or hiring of any cassette which had not been approved by a central censorship authority (generally assumed to be the BBFC); offenders would face fines of up to £10,000 and possibly up to two years' imprisonment. It would also be an offence to sell or rent to a child a video classified as suitable only for adults. It was envisaged that the BBFC classifications would have to be given the force of law, which its cinema 3 classifications do not at the moment possess. The Home Secretary would have power to regulate the fees charged by the censorship body but the government would not fund the classification process, expected to cost between £200-£300 per title. (This, more than anything else discussed here, is bound to have the consequence of seriously limiting the number of cassettes of any kind released.) Certain cassettes would be banned outright. Classification of newly released titles would begin by the end of 1984, though classification of existing ones could take a couple of years. Yet on IS July, the Guardian reported Mary Whitehouse's disappointment: 'Mr Bright's Bill doesn't go far enough. What is needed is a specific listing of those elements of violence and obscenity which should be deemed illegal'. The Bill was scheduled for its second reading on I I November. (It passed most successfully.) What was necessary in the meantime was to ensure it would be supported on the day, and therefore lobbying and agitation continued apace. Undoubtedly the masterstroke was showing MPs (many of whom have probably never seen a recent 'X' certificated horror film) a farrago of 'nasty bits' from various videos, a quite meaningless mish-mash whose only purpose was to shock them into voting for Bright's Bill. Of course, it succeeded admirably and provided the press with a field day. What I want to analyse now, however, are some of the implications of the proposed legislation. The first has to do with the status of the BBFC classifications. At the moment there is uncertainty over whether BBFC cinema classifications are legally binding or merely recommendations. In Broadcast (25 July 1983) BBFC Secretary James Ferman was quoted as stating that 'the BBFC's classifications for the cinema are legally binding, unless a local authority



amends them which it is entitled to do. The local authority's approval makes it binding. The video classification operation, as far as I am aware, will make no difference' . But consider the following case reported in Video Trade Weekly three days later, in which a Manchester Crown Court found obscene a cassette of a BBFC 'X' certificated film - Oriental Blue - and ordered its destruction. Q!.Iestioned about this, Ken Penry, Assistant Secretary of the BBFC, stated that: We give an Advisory rating only - the Board isn't above the law, we have to just hope we've got it right. It's very difficult for us, perhaps if we were a statutory body, we would have more right. If we certified this version of Oriental Blue [apparently it was the certified version] then it should be OK under the law, but again, we have no power over individual judges. According to the BVA, the only way to stop what it called this 'legal anarchy' was to radically alter the BBFC; according to Norman Abbott in the Guardian (17 October), it would have to be 'renamed, reconstituted, expanded and made publicly accountable for its policies and decisions'. And, of course, it will have to have statutory powers. But does this mean that the BBFC will then include two mechanisms under one roof- one statutory (video) and one voluntary (cinema exhibition)? If so, is The Times of 5 November 1983 correct in its assertion that: 'To give it [the BBFC] statutory powers over video, but none over film, would make it a most anomalous hybrid. Perhaps it is time to follow the recommendation of the Williams Committee and create a statutory films board, ending the rule of local authorities in this area'. However, if this path were to be followed, then, to quote Peter Fiddick in the Guardian (4 November 1983), it opens the possibility that 'Britain could be heading, for the first time, for a monolithic censorship body with influence in every moving-image medium'. The second question has to do with the standards of censorship to be imposed. On 8 August Broadcast quoted Norman Abbott as complaining that 'Mr Kruger of the Obscene Publications Squad, Mr Bright and the Home Office are now maintaining that we should have a less permissive standard for home video. They argue that what is seen in the public cinema is seen in a controlled environment, where age limits can be imposed'. It does seem quite extraordinary that it should have taken so long for it to be realised that the only logical and consistent outcome of a system of regulation imposed because of fears arising out of children's easy access to video should be a particularly swingeing form of censorship, far stricter than anything to which cinema films are subject. And Lord ChiefJustice Lane took



the argument a stage further on the eve of the Bill's second reading; the Mail, 9 November, quotes him as saying that: I find the suggestion that it is only children who should be protected incredible. What our legislators seem not to realise is that it is not merely children who need to be prevented from seeing these frightful publications. There are others upon whom the effects may be even more disastrous. The effect upon that sort of person of this sort of exhibition would be catastrophic. Unless rigid and rigorous censorship is imposed . .. it will not be long before these scenes are enacted in real life. (Emphasis mine.) Meanwhile The Times of 10 November carried a letter from Mary Whitehouse and an article by Ronald Butt, both attacking the BBFC, the former for its 'inevitable corruption of judgement' and the latter because it might become 'as progressively hardened by what it processes as it has done with films'. One can only conclude at the moment of writing (2 December 1983) that the outlook is extremely bleak. Opposition to the media hysteria and the illconceived legislation rushed through parliament has been almost non-existent, and the outrage stoked up over 'video nasties' is bound to spill over into other areas of expression. I want to finish by quoting from Alexander Walker's article which so mysteriously 'disappeared' from the later editions of the Standard on 24 November 1983. In it he remarks that the video nasty affair has succeeded in calling into being all the latent desires endemic in the English national character to impose one's own moral outlook on one's neighbour's private habits ... My friends, we are in for such a reign of intolerance as regards publicly imposed morality as I had never even guessed was possible in a country not known for its wisdom in such matters ... Keep watching your screens: the rear horror show is just beginning.

NOTES For a detailed analysis of this, see Michael Armstrong, 'Hysteria and the nasties', Films on Screen and Video, October 1983; and Mary Harron, 'What the papers say', Times Educational Supplement, 21 October 1983. 2. For further discussion of this, see Martin Barker, 'How nasty are the nasties?' New Society, 10 November 1983. 3. See Beverley Brown, 'A curious arrangement', Screen, 23: 5, November/December 1982, pp. 2-25¡ 1.


Nastier Still

ne of the most disturbing things about the Video Recordings Bill, now going through the House of Lords, is the widespread ignorance of this piece of legislation's likely effects. On one level such ignorance is hardly surprising: the newspapers which so assiduously helped to fan the 'video nasties' affair into flame in the first place are hardly likely to turn round and criticise the offspring of that campaign - a hasty, ill conceived and thoroughly authoritarian bill which threatens to turn Britain (never renowned anyway for freedom of artistic expression) into by far the most heavily censored country in Western Europe. Public awareness has not been helped, either, by the Labour Party's acquiescence in the whole sorry affair, the result of an unholy mixture of political opportunism, cultural philistinism and evangelical Puritanism, though it should also be pointed out that owing to the hysteria whipped up by the press and the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) any opponent ofthe Bill is liable to find themselves pilloried as a supporter ofthe forces ofevil. Most surprising, perhaps, is the ignorance of those likely to be hardest hit by the new legislation - those working in film, video and television, and this in spite of an increasingly desperate campaign against the Bill on the part of the British Videogram Association (BVA), excellent coverage of the affair in Broadcast, and an admirable lobby by the media trade union the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT), which has both argued against the Bill and managed to keep important issues such as the representation of women and sexuality well foregrounded.



Writing in the Guardian on 14 March 1984 the barrister Geoffrey Robertson stated:



Instead of being a mild and minor measure to suppress a few video nasties the Bill provides for a massive bureaucratic system of precensorship unprecedented since the demise of Cromwell's 'licensors of the press' in 1695 . . . The Video Recordings Bill has very little to do with 'video nasties': it sets up a large bureaucracy to preview, classify and pre-censor almost every video tape offered to the public. The Bill is neither practicable nor desirable, and has been cobbled together in unseemly haste by a group of MPs who clearly do not know their cinematic arses from their elbows. Amongst the many lunacies floating around during the Bill's committee stage was the widespread belief that there were 2,000 video feature films available from 25,000 retailers, when in fact there are 7,000 titles from around 10,000 outlets. Similarly Bright described the 'two' video systems as 'Beta and VSH' when in fact there are three, one of which is VHS. Equally ludicrous was the citing of an entirely imaginary film - Zombie Neck Eaters - not to mention certain Tory MPs' shatteringly class-prejudiced stereotypes of working-class video viewers. The most obvious reason why the Bill is undesirable is that the so-called 'video nasties' (videos of films too violent or horrific to qualify for an '18' certificate for cinema showing) have already been deemed illegal under the Obscene Publications Act (OPA) and disappeared (from public view anyway, though a profitable black market for them is flourishing underground). As Professor Brian Simpson of the University of Kent, and formerly a member of the Williams Committee on censorship, asked in The Lawyer (January 1984): 'Do we really need to set up an elaborate, clandestine and unaccountable system of state censorship to achieve an aim which could so much more simply be achieved without it?' The answer is, quite clearly, 'no', but the real reason why we are now faced with what Alexander Walker has called 'one of the most misconceived, restrictive and unnecessary Bills ever presented to Parliament' and 'censorious rigmarole and legalistic overkill- the very cruise missile of the Puritan mind', and which Richard Gray of Video Retailer described as 'probably the most dangerous and inhibiting legislation ever on film and artistic censorship', has a good deal less to do with a few gruesome videos than with a carefully planned and brilliantly executed lobby by Mrs Whitehouse's NVALA, the present government's authoritarian populist stance, and a gutter press both politically motivated and greedy for sensationalist muck. As the body responsible for video classification and censorship the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) becomes a costly, anomalous, broken-backed creature, half statutory, half clinging on to its original independent, industrybased status. According to the BVA's figures, the BBFC's estimated additional annual charge to producers and distributors will amount to ÂŁ1 million, re-classification of all existing titles will cost ÂŁ3.5 million, eighty-one staff will



need to be employed, and the time delay between submission of a title and classification will be four weeks. In its statutory role the BBFC will become a large quango accountable to no one but the Secretary of State. Those submitting films for certification will have no right to legal representation, and can appeal only to what will be in effect another quango - a government appointed appeals tribunal (again, they will have no legal representation). Two new vice-presidents will be appointed by the Home Secretary, their names drawn, undoubtedly, from that list of 'the great and the good' kept in Whitehall by the director of the Public Appointments Unit of the Civil Service Department, a group of people renowned neither for their liberal views nor their cine-literacy. The various new examiners will all have to pass Home Office scrutiny. All in all we appear to be set for video censorship by what John Mortimer in the Guardian (4 March 1984) has called 'a faceless board of guardians of public morality' enforcing the requirements of a 'populist, unthought out and unnecessary act of parliament'. Most worrying of all, however, is that this marks the first occasion in its history that the BBFC has ever had this directly political link, and the first time in this country that censorship of the moving image (and, moreover, of moving images watched in private and at home) has been backed up by statute. As Alexander Walker put it in Stills (February/March 1984): 'For the first time in this country's history, the practice of "prior censorship" for moving pictures, as at present enforced by an unofficial trade-established body like the British Board of Film Censors will be given the backing of the criminal law. It will become State censorship'.


In fact, it is impossible not to see the Bill as part and parcel of a multi-fronted attack on civil liberties in Britain. As John Mortimer stated in Time Out (I, March 1984), it is clearly 'part of a constant drip-drip-drip attack on our old trials and systems of justice'. In this case the device of pre-censorship largely does away with the possibility of raising serious arguments in open court before a jury, a creature with the unfortunate habit of sometimes bringing in verdicts contrary to the wishes of the authorities. But as Walker noted in The Listener (I March 1984), the Bill has this great advantage for the Police over the Obscene Publications Act: it makes prosecution easy, quick and virtually certain. If a videogram does not bear the nihil obstat stamp of the body Parliament entrusts with the sanitising process, that means on the face of it that it is guilty before being proved innocent - indeed, there is no need to take it to trial



at all. It is the ideal way of controlling society - by executive act which shall have the smack of law behind it. Not, one should add, that videos charged under the Obscene Publications Act have exactly fared well in open court, but this is hardly surprising given the tenor ofthe times, the press-generated hysteria over 'nasties' and the deplorable way in which film, compared to literature and theatre, is treated by our legal system and the courts which enforce it. As Derek Malcolm pointed out in the Guardian (IS March 1984), when defending Nightmares in a Damaged Brain at its Old Bailey prosecution for obscenity he was asked whether the film had any merit. He replied that it was well executed, only to be met with the retort by the judge: 'Well executed? What has that got to do with it? The Nazi invasion of Poland was well executed!' Malcolm also recalled that when called upon the defend Just J aeckin's film The Story of 0 , he told the presiding magistrate that it was well photographed, and back came the reply: 'Well photographed? Really? I could do better myself. Malcolm concluded: There is no answer to this kind of ignorance, and no way of conducting a logical argument in courts of law dominated by judges and magistrates who have scarcely heard of Hitchcock, let alone the shower scene in Psycho. And, incidentally, in the presence of jurors who have quite obviously read the virulent articles in favour banning and burning in the down-market tabloids.


The consequences of the original Bill are bad enough, but those emanating from arch Whitehouse supporter Sir Bernard Braine's amendments are far worse. Indeed, Braine has continuously attempted to hijack the Bill on its passage through the Committee Stage, having had as many amendments included in or added to the Bill as the rest of the eighteen-person Committee put together. One of Braine's additions reads: It shall be the duty of the designated Authority to satisfy themselves that so far as is possible, video works certified by the Authority for viewing in the home, do not include anything which offends against good taste or decency, or is likely to encourage or incite to crime, or lead to disorder, or be offensive to public feeling.

Under such a clause the cutting or outright banning of videos such as Carry Greenham Home, Labouring Under the Law, The Cause ofIreland, to name but




a few, becomes perfectly imaginable, especially in these great times when 'public feeling' can easily be manipulated by, or mistakenly taken to be synonymous with, the excretions of the tabloids. As Norman Abbott has stated: 'As the Bill stands, a film depicting industrial strife could be deemed unsuitable at a time of great industrial unrest', a prediction that seems only too likely to come true given that the Home Office has already rejected an amendment designed to prevent just such explicitly political censorship. Add to the above the cost of having a video certified (about ÂŁ4 per minute) and you realise that the real victims of the Bill will be the small, poorly financed, independent producers and distributors: an ACTT amendment aimed at abolishing or reducing censorship fees for such groups was rejected. And if, moreover, their videos deal with 'sensitive' areas of current concern (which at this moment seems to mean anything that does not fit in with the Thatcher vision), their troubles are likely to be a good deal more than just simply financial. Meanwhile, of course, as Geoffrey Robertson rightly pointed out in his Guardian article cited above: 'Major distributors will soon discover "acceptable" sex and "acceptable" violence, their films will be full of it. On the other hand some films of real worth, which try to deal with these subjects in a challenging or radical way, will not be certified for distribution'. In other words, The Best Bit oj Crumpet in Denmark, yes, fine; Marleen Gorris's feminist crime movie A Question oj Silence, no way.


An important moment in the parliamentary progress of the Video Recordings Bill came when Mrs Whitehouse had a word in Mrs Thatcher's ear, and Mrs Thatcher spoke to Home Secretary Leon Brittan, who in turn had a chat with Home Office minister David Mellor. (The Thatcher/Whitehouse mutual admiration society is well known, and it's revealing that of all the groups monitoring the Bill's progress only one - the NVALA - was given a meeting with the Home Secretary within a week of requesting it. The rest either received no acknowledgement or were simply referred to Graham Bright.) The result was that Brittan attempted to bring in an amendment to the Bill which would have resulted in the abolition of the proposed '18-R' category, the video equivalent of the cinema club category, and intended for very soft core 'adult' sex videos, which could be sold only in licensed sex shops, or in parts of video shops to which people under eighteen would not be admitted. According to Brittan, quoted in the Mail (21 January 1984): Even if videos showing sexually explicit material can only be bought over the counter by people over eighteen, once it enters the home there is no



way of ensuring that children will not see it. The probability is that many will. If this happens they will be exposed to material which has been plainly classified as only suitable for adult viewing. That seems to be to be totally unacceptable. This, of course, is yet another version of the tenacious campaign to have all videos unsuitable for children banned outright. (Incidentally Sir Bernard Braine is even opposed to videos showing sexual activity between animals - so tough shit David Attenborough.) As Norman Abbott wearily put it in Broadcast (27 January 1984): 'His [Brittan's] reasoning can only lead to a ban on all material beyond Mary Poppins and Disney cartoons'. The police complained that such a measure would create a black market in sex videos, and several of the Bill's supporters, including Graham Bright himself, strongly opposed it. Bright, quite correctly, argued in the Broadcast article cited above that Brittan's reasoning 'debased the whole Bill', another of the Bill's sponsors, Jerry Hayes, was quoted in the above-mentioned Mail article to the effect that 'attempting to change the Obscenity Act by the back door will stir up a hornet's nest of protest and jeopardise the whole Bill', and the rightwinger John Wheeler opposed the measure because, as he was quoted in the Telegraph (24 January 1984): 'I have always taken the view that what happens in the privacy of one's dwelling is a matter for the owners or occupants concerned. How can we seek to extend the criminal law or enforce it in this regard?' Indeed, even the Mail, leading light of the 'video nasties' saga, argued in an editorial on 21 January 1984 that Brittan's amendment represented a very major change and one of doubtful wisdom, for it is hard to see how it can be effectively enforced. Prohibitions by law can succeed in a democracy only when they enjoy overwhelming popular support. They will not succeed where, unfortunately, a sizeable proportion of the public wants to do what has been made illegal and considers that the law's interference in the matter is unjust. The amendment was defeated in committee by eleven votes to five on I February 1984, and it was agreed that '18-R' videos may be sold only in licensed sex shops.


It mayor may not be significant that it has taken an amendment attempting to ban soft core pornography from video finally to arouse to effective action the representatives of a certain strain of Tory libertarianism and laissez-faire.



However, as the divisions over the Bill in the Tory party have not been as remarked upon as they might be, it is worth quoting from Bill Deedes's article 'Shall We Allow the Censors into Our Homes?' in the Telegraph (8 February 1984), in which he pointed out that: There are those who believe that the evils loosed, particularly in the minds of children, by heavy pornography readily available in the home can be crushed only by comprehensive and severe measures. The voice of Sir Bernard Braine from the older generation has been heard at the forefront of these evangelists. Then there are those who, while fully accepting that such filth may be socially damaging and has to be curbed, believe that a system of State censorship will give rise to other evils; that the state must never extend its writ into the family home. At that point parental responsibility must take the strain, incur some risk. And as an example of the latter form of thinking, he quotes approvingly Tory MP Matthew Parris's remark during the Second Reading of the Bill to the effect that: The State has no moral obligation to remove from its citizens the opportunity for sin. A society in which the individual is prevented by law from all wrongdoing and protected by law from the consequences of all wrongdoing is a society I which the individual will grow weaker and less able to fend for himself. A society in which people are unable to fall will become a society in which people are unable to stand.


I want now to consider some of the wider knock-on effects of the Video Recordings Bill. Firstly, its effects on film censorship. The cases brought against videos of films which in the cinema have been given '18' or 'X' certificates (for example, the much prosecuted The Evil Dead) have undoubtedly brought the BBFC into disrepute. As Basil Comely explained in an article entitled 'What Price the Video Bill?' in Broadcast (24 February 1984), the BBFC's censoring policy in recent years 'has come to be known as "liberal consensus" and the BBFC has defined this as "seeking to reflect intelligent, contemporary public attitudes while taking into account the law", i.e. the Obscene Publications Act'. In other words it has seen its role as one of responding to rather than helping to form 'public opinion'. Being a trade body it has operated not by statute but from a sense of what its Secretary, James Ferman, quoted in Broadcast, called 'social responsibility based on a gentle-



man's agreement ... an intangible network of consent through a system of mutual responsibility'. Though many would argue that the BBFC has been quite needlessly heavy-handed in its censorship activity, it has also, nonetheless, been a longstanding target of the NVALA and its allies: as Mrs Whitehouse complained in Broadcast (24 February 1984): 'The people who have been doing the classifying for cinema have had an extremely permissive approach'. Consequently when the idea of a censorship body for video was first mooted, she vociferously campaigned against the job going to the BBFC. However, although the government decided in the BBFC's favour the past year's rash of court cases against videos of certificated films may mean that it is a reformed and chastened body having effectively had its wrists slapped by the DPP and the courts. It seems highly likely, then, that an already repressive system of film censorship will be considerably toughened up - in the name, presumably, of 'public opinion' (read 'press hysteria'). But even were this not to be the case it is highly unlikely, particularly given the present harsh economic climate and the industry's chronic economic position, that distributors of titles on both film and video will distribute two different versions of the same feature, a 'cool' one on video and a 'hot' one for the cinema screen. Such a procedure would be both bothersome and expensive and would simply serve to draw attention to the fact that the video has been cut. Thus distributors may well opt for a single version of a film for cinema and video, and that version will be the one which satisfies the BBFC's more rigorous video standards.


Second, the knock-on effects in the field of television. In spite of lobbying by ACTT, programmes originally made for TV are not to be exempt from video classification and censorship (except for news programmes). Broadcast (23 March 1984) quotes David Mellor as asking the Commons: What about such programmes as The History Man or The Borgias? Are we to say that, whereas a film which dealt with exactly the same material would have a IS or an 18 certificate in the cinema, the mere fact that it had been shown by the BBC, rightly or wrongly, should mean that it could be circulated without any kind of classification? Can that be right? A fellow Tory MP, Tim Brinton, supporting exemption, argued in reply that 'the real danger which is emerging is that the ultimate censor of good taste on the screen in broadcast television, in the cinema, in cable and DBS will be the standards set in the Bill'. Q!Iite obviously, this move represents just one



more step along the road to bringing both the BBC and lTV companies within the ambit of the OPA,2 another long-term NVALA ambition, and one greatly helped by Whitehouse's successful action in April 1984 over the broadcasting on lTV of Alan Clarke's film Scum, in which the High Court ruled that the director of the Independent Broadcasting Authority had made a 'grave error of judgement' in failing to consult other members of the authority over 3 whether or not the film should be shown, even late at night. Moreover, putting the BBC, lTV and Channel 4 in the position of constantly having to guess any future decisions on its material by an external censor with statutory powers is bound to have the effect of increasing self-censorship and timidity. And, of course, Mrs Whitehouse has her eyes on cable ('inevitably we shall be moving on to look at cable as the next thing', she was recently quoted as saying), an area in which, thanks to her closeness to Mrs Thatcher, she has already exerted a good deal of influence on the government's thinking, witness the restrictions on content outlined in the Cable Bill. Again, with an everincreasing emphasis on multi-media exploitation of product, and an uncomfortable economic situation, producers may well be tempted to tone down the original broadcast product so as to avoid running into expensive re-cutting for other media. Cable, video and other legislation now going through Parliament is creating far-reaching ripple effects, as David Shaw of the Independent Television Companies Association has pointed out in Broadcast (24 February 1984): 'As broadcasters we are finding ourselves in the middle of several pieces of legislation which all have a main objective other than broadcasting but which are sweeping up television as well. We view the Video Bill in that light. ' Third, by encouraging piracy and black marketeering, by cutting down the number of cassettes commercially available and subjecting their makers and distributors to all sorts of unnecessary hassle and expense the Video Recordings Bill poses a threat to jobs in the growing video industry at every level. To quote the BVA's figures, the video boom has seen the creation of 8,500 new retail outlets (70 per cent of which were financed by redundancy pay), 43,000 new jobs have been created, and the industry is rapidly becoming an investor in new feature films and video programmes. Fourth, the knock-on effect is almost bound to produce a change in the obscenity laws, at whose hands in the past Whitehouse has suffered a series of humiliating defeats and which have long been one of her primary targets. When Sir Bernard Braine warns that the battle is 'by no means over' (Scotsman, 2 February 1984) and Mrs Whitehouse complains of 'loopholes beyond calculation' in the Bright Bill (The Sunday Times, 4 March 1984) what they have in mind is the tightening up of the Obscene Publications Act, in particular the removal of the 'deprave and corrupt' test and its replacement with 'a specific listing of those elements of violence and obscenity which



should be deemed illegal' as Mrs Whitehouse put it in the Guardian (IS July 1983), in other words a catalogue or 'laundry list' of forbidden images and 4 words. . As Norman Abbott warned in Broadcast (14 February 1984): There is no doubt that Mrs Whitehouse, Sir Bernard Braine and the religious/censorship lobby have the intention of moving on and I think the Prime Minister is very sympathetic towards them. There will be an attempt to tighten up the laws of morality in Britain. They want the permissiveness that has crept in over the years to be reversed. It just happens that video comes first. It also needs to be pointed out that the Bill grants the police wide-ranging powers. Clause 15(2) states that 'a constable entering or searching any premises in pursuance of a warrant under subsection (I) above may use reasonable force if necessary and may seize anything found there which he has reasonable grounds to believe may be required to be used in evidence in any proceedings for an offence under this Act', whilst clause 16(1) continues:

If a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person has committed an offence under the Act, he may require him to give his name and address and, if that person refuses or fails to do so or gives a name and address which the constable reasonable suspect to be false, the constable may arrest him without warrant.

Add to these the new powers granted by the Police Bill and the prospects are 5 truly terrifying.


As I have constantly stressed, the Video Recordings Bill cannot be divorced from the wider ideological climate - not simply the machinations of the NVALA, of course, but the whole tenor of these 'iron times' which, in cultural terms, has seen action against the magazine Gay News, the National Theatre production The Romans in Britain, legal action against the Anti-Nowhere League's Live in Yugoslavia album, and the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, BBC bans on Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Julien Temple's Rolling Stones video, legal action against Knockabout Comics and Airlift Books, Whitehouse's successful case against the IBA over Scum, and so on, and on. Is it perhaps too fanciful and paranoid to suggest that the government's wholly successful campaign to control the news media during the Falklands disgrace has opened its eyes to the possibilities of doing likewise in



other areas - an increasingly attractive proposition as the state slides ever faster into crisis and increasingly adopts an 'exceptional' posture?6 As things get demonstrably and tangibly worse with every day that passes,? the need for our media - all of them - to lull the subject people with nice, sanitised, cosy images of life must, surely, become ever more evident to our rulers.



3. 4.

5. 6.


A reference to Karl Kraus's essay 'In These Great Times', and in particular to his description of his own era as 'these times in which things are happening that could not be imagined and in which what can no longer be imagined must happen, for if one could imagine it, it would not happen' (1984: 70). Sure enough, the Broadcasting Act 1990 brought broadcasting under the OPA, a typically mean-minded Thatcherite dig at the public service broadcasters, since the codes operated by both the BBC and the regulators of lTV had always been so strict that there could never have been the slightest possibility of material being broadcast which could have contravened the Act. This judgement was, however, overturned by the Court of Appeal on 3 April 1985. The second half of the 1980s did indeed see two attempts, via private members' bills, to tighten up the OPA. Both received a good deal of parliamentary and press support, but neither survived the process of rational scrutiny. The first, in 1986, presented by the Tory MP Winston Churchill, adopted the 'laundry list' approach, but foundered after, as Geoffrey Robertson points out, the gradual dawning of the 'sober realisation that it would ban the display of Grecian urns, "safe sex" guidelines, King Lear, videos of the Falklands War and David Attenborough's film about the courtship rituals of the praying mantis' (1993: 231). The following year, another Tory MP, Gerald Howarth, introduced a bill to change the definition of obscenity to 'whatever a reasonable person would regard as grossly offensive' in dealing with matters related to sex, violence or drug-taking. However, this too failed to make it onto the statute book because, as Robertson observed, 'the test of "gross offensiveness" is far too vague and subjective to be a fair or proper criterion of guilt for an offence which carries up to three years in prison and which is aimed at regulating artistic freedom' (1993: 232). The police certainly lost no time in abusing their powers under the Act, and were later joined in this enterprise by trading standards officers (see Petley 2000: 214-16). The reference here is to Stuart Hall et al. (1978), and in particular to this passage: 'The mobilisation of the state apparatuses around the corrective and coercive poles has been coupled with a dramatic deterioration in the ideological climate generally, favouring a much tougher regime of social discipline: the latter being the form in which consent is won to this "exceptional" state of affairs' (309). This was written in the early months of the 1984-5 coal dispute, in which the miners were demonised by the Tories and their allies in the press as the 'enemy within'.



Two or Three Things I Know About 'Video Nasties'

good deal has been written recently, if somewhat belatedly, about the Video Recordings Act. Amidst all this welter of concern, however, the original objects of debate, the so-called 'video nasties', are largely conspicuous by their absence - as has, in fact, been the case all along. In the first articles to appear in the press about horror videos, a certain litany rapidly took shape out of capsule descriptions of half a dozen or so videos. Thus on 28 May 1982, the Daily Mail complains of 'films which show castration, sadistic attacks on women and violence including the use of chain saws and electric drills', and on 30 May, The Sunday Times warns of 'films which specialise in extreme violence, sadism, mutilation and cannibalism'. With the addition of disembowelling and humiliation, this is the litany which is to be endlessly intoned by the press (and later, parliament) for the next two years. Not until November 1983 is there any real discussion of what a 'video nasty' might actually be, and then neither in a film magazine nor by a film specialist: 'How Nasty Are the Nasties?', Martin Barker, New Society, 10 November 1983. This is then followed by two pieces by Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times (3 and 10 December). And that's it, until the publication in September 1984 of Martin Barker's excellent collection of essays, The Video Nasties, in which analysis of the films themselves is none the less still limited to a reprint of the Andrews pieces and an expanded version of the New Society article. Incredible. Or is it? In fact, there are a number of reasons for this silence (or, worse still, complicity) which allowed the agents of moral panic to have it all their own way. Firstly, in the face of such concerted press hysteria, anyone


Originally published in Month(y Film Bulletin, April 1984, pp. 350-2.



raising a dissident voice would have risked being pilloried as a child molester or 'video rapist'. (The Sun's headline response to Barker's piece was 'Let Kids See Video Nasties'.) Secondly, the paucity of our film culture means that there are precious few spaces in which it is possible to write about individual videos at any length. And thirdly, here's a little quiz. What's being described here? 'The thing is calibrated to exploit our most secret and hostile sexual fantasies ... This is more miserable than the most miserable peepshow I have ever seen and far more awful and suggestive than any pornographic film I have ever seen'; 'It wallows in the diseased urges of a homicidal pervert and actually romanticizes his pornographic brutality ... From its slumbering, mildly salacious beginning to its appallingly masochistic and depraved climax it is wholly evil'; 'Among the half dozen most repulsive films I have encountered in 10,000 miles of film reviewing'. Driller Killer? No: Psycho (Clancy Sigal, Time and Tide, 20 August 1960), Peeping Tom (Nina Hibbin, Daily Worker, 9 April 1960) and The Curse of Frankenstein (c. A. Lejeune, Observer, 5 May 1957), all of which were almost uniformly vilified by the British critics on their original release. The horror film has always had precious few friends among the British critical fraternity, and so the unwillingness of most critics even to look at (let alone defend) so-called 'video nasties' is hardly surprising. As Charles Barr pointed out in a twelve-year-old article of crucial current significance ('Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange and the Critics', Screen, Summer 1972): 'The preference for a certain kind of realistic surface, for an "everyday" verisimilitude, has been a recurrent factor in English film criticism and has inhibited response to a wider range of films with an allegorical or poetic dimension'. He might also have added that while the generality of British theatrical and literary critics have opposed censorship, various of their cinematic counterparts have frequently distinguished themselves by calling for even stricter censorship of what has been, for a long time, the most heavily l censored cinema in Western Europe. This silence in the face of a campaign remarkable, even by British standards, for its level of ignorance about cinema has allowed misconceptions to flourish unchecked like poisonous weeds. After a sustained press onslaught of what Martin Barker aptly calls 'pure adjectival horror', there now exists a pervasive 'video nasty' stereotype consisting, in Barker's words, of: 'Bad acting, bad filming; no real story line; endless successions of scenes of sex and violence, with no reason for showing them; everything cheap and poorly done'. Even Nigel Andrews says of the banned list that 'much of it is dross' and rapidly dismisses The Evil Dead and Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters. But the two most serious misconceptions about 'video nasties' have nothing to do with aesthetic quality. They are, firstly, that they represent some kind of homogeneous category or self-contained genre. This is quite simply nonsense.



As Barker notes: 'Quite different kinds of films have been labelled as "nasty" without regard to form, narrative meaning or skill of making' (Guardian, Letters, 26 January 1984). The second misconception has to do with seeing 'video nasties' as something 'new' or 'different'. Thus the Daily Star (23 August 1982): 'Nasties are far removed from traditional suspense or horror films'; Daily Mail (30 June 1983): 'These video nasties are not spine chillers in a tradition that stretches back to Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe'; and Graham Bright in The Times (2 November 1983): 'All too many people believe that a nasty is something like a hotted up Hammer horror movie. It isn't, it's something entirely different'. Even a cursory glance at the DPP's ever-growing list of 'nasties' (see Appendix) will explode these ludicrous oversimplifications and stereotypes. To begin with, some of the films on it are far from new: Blood Feast (1963), Blood Rites (1967) and Night of the Bloody Apes (1970) for instance. The list also goes way beyond the horror genre to include science fiction (Contamination, an excellent Alien/Invasion of the Body Snatchers rip-off), crime (Fight for Your Life, a truly relentless convicts-on-the-run film and one of the most impressive titles on the list), and even documentary (Faces of Death, a film very much in the old Mondo Cane vein). And finally, it ranges works of very considerable merit (films by Lucio Fulci, Tobe Hooper, Ulli Lommel; Driller Killer, Cannibal Holocaust, for instance) alongside the generally execrable (Anthropophagous, Mardi Gras Massacre, Night of the Demon (not, of course, the Jacques Tourneur film of that name)). Such is the diversity of the sixty or so films on the list that it is impossible to generalise about them in any but the vaguest, most pointless fashion. What has in fact happened is that a whole area of modern 'adult' cinema (and especially horror) is in the process of becoming verboten on video. To talk about 'video nasties' (except in inverted commas) is to accept the definitions of the censors/policemen/moralists, and so to play their own game. Unfortunately, Martin Barker tends to do this in the last chapter of his book, in which he attempts to define what is common to the 'nasties'. Citing their 'way of showing', 'the absence of heroes and heroines', the denial of 'a centre from which to view things', 'grim perceptions of the world', 'cynical anarchism', and so on, what he has in fact come up with is a series of descriptions of modern, and more specifically, modernist fiction in general. And this, of course, is the moralists' ultimate target. The attack that began by banning videos which few people were willing to be seen defending will end with the pulping and shredding (the modern equivalent of book-burning) of the likes of]. G. Ballard and William Burroughs. And for all its blindness, bigotry and crass stupidity, the New Censoriousness has latched on, mainly by accident, to a fictional mode which, at its best, is indeed capable of carrying a hefty subversive charge.



This revulsion against certain forms of modern cinema - a revulsion which spawned the 'video nasty' moral panic - has been greatly facilitated by the malign, long-term rule of the British Board of Film Censors, which has simply shielded the British public over the years from many developments in modern cinema. Thus, in 1979, James Ferman proudly announced: 'Audiences in Britain never see the worst that the world's film-makers have to offer'. The BBFC has always been particularly worried about what it (negatively) and others (positively) refer to as 'exploitation' cinema, into which category most horror, science-fiction and crime films fall: 'We would seek to be as generous as possible with a film which seriously set out to examine the problem of violence or of sexual relationships in modern society; we would be more severe with a film which, in our opinion, merely exploits sex and violence' (Broadcast, 24 February 1984). The BBFC's 'not in front of the servants' policy also militates against 'exploitation' cinema. Thus Derek Malcolm quotes a previous censor as remarking that: 'It is all very well for sophisticated, educated people like you to go to the ICA cinema to see Warhol's Trash, but think of its effect on your average factory worker in Manchester'. And Ferman made precisely the same kind of remark when the (still banned) Texas Chain Saw Massacre was shown at the London Film Festival in December 1975. Television's approach to much modern cinema is even more censorious, and the combined effect of so much restriction has been to build up a log jam of unseen material and a general lack of awareness of modern cinematic trends. The video revolution suddenly unblocked that jam, unleashing a number of films which, though long accepted abroad, did indeed seem somewhat lurid by sheltered British standards. This did not mean they were not popular, however; a What Video/Popular Video survey in 1982 showed horror as top of the rental league, and a MaRl poll in March 1984 showed 65 per cent of those interviewed as being opposed to the government's plans under the Bright Bill to restrict the choice of videos for home viewing. (It's interesting, incidentally, how many people still believe that the BBFC fulfils a purely classificatory function. Of the 105 '18' films passed between January and July 1984, thirty-one were cut. This figure does not take account of cuts made by distributors or films which the BBFC banned outright. For the same period, thirty-two of the sixty-six videos passed with '18' certificates were cut). What happens when British 'innocence' at its most naive and cinematically unaware meets modern cinema is best illustrated by Graham Bright's famous fricassee of salacious, out-of-context extracts from six videos which was shown to MPs on I November 1983 as a spur to them to support the Bright Bill. Anyone who attended the various Lords and Commons deliberations and debates around the Bill could only have been appalled at the level of ignorance



about film and video displayed by almost all those responsible for framing legislation on the subject. And, of course, the situation is, if anything, even worse in the courts - witness the insults handed out to the unfortunate Derek Malcolm in his attempts to defend Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. As he says: There is no answer to this kind of ignorance, and no way of conducting a logical argument in courts of law dominated by judges and magistrates who have scarcely heard of Hitchcock ... As John Mortimer so aptly says: 'To try to get the English criminal law to impose standards of taste and morality is absolutely absurd'. (Guardian, IS March 1984) On July 23 1983, the Attorney General at long last outlined to the House of Commons 'What the Director of Public Prosecutions takes into account when considering horror videos'. Stressing the context of home usage (i.e., the presence of children), the Attorney General continued: The following questions may be relevant: (a) who is the perpetrator of the violence and what is his [sic] reaction to it? (b) who is the victim, and what is his [sic] reaction? (c) how is the violence inflicted, and in what circumstances? (d) how explicit is the description of the wounds, mutilation or death? (e) is the violence justifiable in narrative terms? When one bears in mind that the Video Recordings Act covers all videos and not simply horror films, these stipulations show censorship to be going so far beyond the usual concern with the content of individual scenes, and so far into moral, aesthetic and broadly ideological issues, that the only parallel is with censorship on the Eastern European model. Except that here the great god Socialist Realism has been replaced by an unappetising mish-mash of bourgeois moral rectitude and bowdlerised blandness.


This is a theme I explore at some length in Petley


Part II After the Deluge

Introduction to Part II

he chapters in Part II of this book take up the story of video, and to a lesser extent, film, censorship in the wake of the passing of the Video Recordings Act 1984. They usefully illustrate the extent to which the fears of the critics of the Act aired in Part I were, and weren't, justified, but what gives them their particular interest is the light which they throw on the modus operandi of the BBFC's remarkable Director, James Ferman. Ferman had been appointed as the Secretary of what was then the British Board of Film Censors in 1975, an extremely difficult time for the institution. In 1971 the wily and diplomatically skilled John Trevelyan finally stepped down as Secretary and was replaced by the less affable and canny Stephen Murphy. During his time the Board was almost constantly assaulted by the Whitehouse brigade, angry politicians and censorious newspapers for passing films such as The Devils, Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris, albeit with cuts in most cases. Indeed, so alarmed was the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association by the odium being heaped on its members for showing these kinds of films that its President publicly called for Murphy to step down. (Useful accounts of this period of turmoil for the Board can be found in Mathews 1994: 189-2I5, and Robertson 1989: 134-57.) Essentially Ferman was appointed by the BBFC President Lord Harlech to reform the Board and to restore its credibility, which he did remarkably successfully. Thus he was also exactly the right kind of person to steer the Board through the 'video nasty' quagmire and its legal aftermath, namely the Video Recordings Act. Having written widely about the 'nasties' I was naturally interested in finding out how the BBFC was setting about interpreting the Act, and the obvious next move was to interview James Ferman, whose job title changed to Director in 1985. However, this was not altogether easy at first. James had clearly read at least some of what I had written, and he told a BBFC examiner




with whom he knew I was friendly that on no account should she talk to me about her job. I had the impression that he was not a fan, and that he was anyway keeping a fairly low media profile in the immediate wake of the Act. At the time I was consultant editor for AlP [5 Co, the house magazine of the Association of Independent Producers (which was later folded into the Independent Programme Producers Association to form PACT), and, thinking that James might be more willing to have his thoughts published in an industry trade mag which barely circulated outside Soho than in a more mainstream publication, I asked him ifhe would agree to an interview. Rather to my surprise, he did. What transpired was more like a conversation in the senior common room than a formal interview, and James must have been happy with the result as, according to my examiner friend, he told various BBFC staff that I was the only journalist who understood what the BBFC was doing. I later interviewed James for an article, co-written with Mark Kermode, which appeared in Time Out (6-13 December 1989), and this interview is reproduced in full here for the first time, along with an analysis of the BBFC Annual Report for Ig88. James was always an extremely forthcoming interviewee, and his Jesuitical qualities only enhanced the occasions on which we spoke. However, he was not at all an easy person actually to get to interview in the first place. Just as he was notorious for telling distributors that the time was 'not quite right' to submit a video of The Exorcist or Straw Dogs or one of the other films about which he had a bee in his bonnet (thereby, of course, rendering it neither officially banned nor publicly available) so, when some controversy or other prompted me to phone James and request an interview, it was usually 'not the right moment'. But then, as often as not, we would have a lengthy and detailed conversation which would have been absolutely terrific in print! Naturally these conversations remained entirely off the record, but of course what I learned from them would inform my subsequent writings about the BBFC, and I am sure that that was exactly what James, in his endearingly Jesuitical way, intended. The two interviews with James, and the analysis of the Annual Report for Ig88, give a clear indication of the kinds of issues which were preoccupying the Board, and James in particular, in the second half of the 1980s after the passing of the Video Recordings Act. As these pieces make abundantly clear, the Board was concerned with much more than simply keeping within the letter of the law, and James was an extremely hands-on Director who conceived of his role in terms that were as much moral as legal (entirely typically, he finessed this by arguing, in the AlP [5 Co interview, that 'the legal is the moral in Britain'). The Sight and Sound article is based largely on interviews with other drama tis personae in the video arena in the second half of the 1980s, and in



particular with the always-forthcoming Norman Abbott, the Director of the British Videogram Association, the trade body of the sorely put-upon video distributors. This deals in some detail with what I perceive as another important aspect of video censorship in the 1980s, although it is one which has received virtually no attention: namely, the way in which the Video Recordings Act, no doubt inadvertently, militated against the interests of smaller, independent video distributors and contributed to what governments like to call 'consolidation', although I prefer the term 'oligopolisation' (hideous though it is). In that this process both reduced certain distributors' access to the market and narrowed the range of films available to rent or buy on video, it deserves to be regarded as a form of censorship by market forces, a form that, I would argue, is increasingly the dominant means by which censorship operates in today's media environment.



'The Tenor of the Times': An Interview with James Ferman

Anyone who has read John Trevelyan's What the Censor Saw will realise what a close relationship Trevelyan enjoyed with many British film-makers, frequently advising them on censorship matters before and even during production. It's also noticeable that British films are rarely cut by the BBFC. Does this mean that current BBFC Director Ferman carries on in the Trevelyan tradition? Or have British film-makers simply internalised the Board's standards and know what they can and can't get away with? Ferman explains: We are asked for advice sometimes prior to production, but we don't offer ourselves where we're not invited. However, films are very expensive to make, and if film-makers can know in good time the framework within which the society expects them to operate it can save them a lot of money later. We owe that service to the industry - if they want it. We are sent around two dozen scripts a year, and we make suggestions. Very often the makers will tell us the classification that they want and then we will tell them of any problem areas - things to look at and adjust rather than cut. But we'll also tell them, if necessary, that in our opinion they just can't get that classification without destroying the script entirely. One of the major differences between Trevelyan and Ferman is that Trevelyan put the industry's interest first and foremost and saw his job primarily as one of protecting the industry from inadvertently infringing the Originally published in AlP fS Co, January/February 1986, pp. 10-13.



law. Ferman puts the public first, and is more concerned with basically moral questions than was Trevelyan. As he puts it: 'We represent the public interest. We may be an industry-created body but the minute we put the industry ahead of the public we lose our credibility. Our value to the industry is that we see ourselves as its conscience rather than its protector'. The question of responsibility to the industry is an important one at the present time when, it has been claimed, that as a result of the Video Recordings Act the BBFC is raking in thousands in classification fees whilst distributors and retailers are going to the wall in droves. The Video Recordings Act requires that virtually all videos currently on the market (9,136 as of I September 1985) be classified within the next three years. Briefly, the charge for previously unclassified works in the English language is £4.60 per minute, and £3.45 for subtitled videos. Unsubtitled foreign language videos will cost £2.30 per minute (in each case the charges are lower after the two-hour mark is passed). Charities and non-profit making organisations can apply for a reduced fee of £ 1. IS per minute. Video works which have previously been certificated by the Board as films or broadcast as British television programmes will be charged at £2.30 per minute for up to four hours and then at £1.15 per minute thereafter. The video trade argues that this will involve a large drop in the number of videos in the market and thus a drop in the number of distributors and retail outlets. This is because many distributors will ditch large sections of the back catalogue rather than pay to have less popular titles certified, and product released by labels now defunct or no longer operating in the UK simply won't be submitted (so out goes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for instance). One dealer has been quoted as expecting to lose 80 per cent of his stock, whilst a recent article in Stills suggested a lower, but still alarming, figure of 50 per cent. The same piece suggested that the number of distributors has fallen in the last year from seventy-five to twenty-five, a figure broadly agreed by Derek Mann of the Video Retailers Association, but disputed by the British Videogram Association which has recently sent out a questionnaire to 120 distributors. However, they haven't had all the replies in yet. According to Ferman: The number of videos may drop but there is not much sign of that yet. I'm simply dumbfounded by the numbers of distributors sending us their entire back catalogue. I know VTC went bankrupt last year, but we have found people new to the industry buying up old VTC titles. A lot of video distributors have gone to the wall, but there are still a lot left: more than 25 I'm sure. And there has been a big shake-out which has nothing to do with the Act. For a few years there were easy profits to be made by small companies, many of which were just mushroom growth or cowboy outfits. There was a lot of junk around too: people would buy up job lots,



slap on a sensational cover and a garish title and not even bother to look at it. These were not people from entertainment industry, they were more like shoe salesmen. People are much more responsible now. So what is happening to the classification money? Is Ferman drinking champagne in his bath, as one source alleged? Well, anyone who has visited the BBFC will know there's not even room for a shower let alone a bath, and on the day of our interview there was barely room to squeeze between the architects and the cans of Cannon films. According to Ferman: The question is not how much are we going to make, but how big was our loss last year? We'll finish 1985 around ÂŁ20,000 in the red, and next year, because we are acquiring extra floors and bringing the builders in, we shall have borrowed between ÂŁ70-80,000. In fact we will be existing on borrowed money for three years. At the moment we have got three viewing rooms in an annexe in Wardour Street: we have got to get everything under one roof and properly organised. We have acquired the ground floor and basement in Soho Square but we cannot afford to have the builders in at the moment because the space is needed for us to work in. And we also need money for new examiners who, of course, will have to be trained. So we have all these logistical worries. Lord Harlech [then the BBFC President] asked the Government if there could be any grant for re-equipping the building, but they said there was no public money available. In fact, I understand that the Treasury only allowed the Home Office to support the private members' bill provided that there would be no public money involved. We are doing something totally unprecedented: performing a statutory function on behalf of a government department and we are financing it wholly ourselves. If the government had put up money the classification fees would have been lower: our fees are based wholly on what our expected costs are going to be. Although, so far, the worst fears of the Act's critics have not been fulfilled (i.e. considerably stricter censorship of video than of film, and the virtual disappearance of anything not suitable for 'family viewing') a certain double standard is emerging: cuts in Body Double, Videodrome,l The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Sudden Impact, The Evil That Men Do and Christiane F; upgradings from 'PG' to 'IS' for Loose Connections, Fast Forward and Dune, and from 'IS' to '18' for Wild Geese II, Psycho II, and The Clinic. Ferman explains: For video we have had imposed on us by Parliament in its wisdom the test of suitability for viewing in the home. And you have to remember



that films in cinemas are viewed in their entirety, whilst bits of videos can be played selectively and over and over again. When we convened the Video Working Party in 1982 one of its members, the psychiatrist Anthony Storr (who was also on the Williams Committee) expressed the view that people can and do read things differently, or out of context, on video as opposed to film. He was particularly worried about video images involving rape or sado-masochism, and so are we, and there is a double standard in this area. The representatives of the video industry on the working party argued that if certain images were not permissible on video they should not be permissible in the cinema either. However, we argued that we believed the cinema had earned certain freedoms through taking a responsible attitude at the box office and through establishing a workable classification system, and we did not see why cinema should be expected to lose its freedoms simply because video could not be given them. So there is a double standard, but only for about 5 per cent of the material - rape, details of criminal techniques (video is a great teaching medium), and extreme blood and gore, especially if any element of sexuality is involved. We have certainly been more cautious in these particular areas in the case of video up to now, though whether we will go on being so I don't know. Although the Board's renaming [from the British Board of Film Censors to the British Board of Film Classification] coincided with the arrival of Lord Harewood [following the sudden death of Lord Harlech in 1985] the two events are not connected, and so far the new President has not initiated any major changes. Curiously, Lord Harewood, in a previous incarnation as one of the founders of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, spent a great deal of time fighting censorship. However, as Ferman remarks: When he started at the BBFC he went through a crash course of viewing and realised how out of touch he was. He was pretty squeamish about some of the violent images he encountered, and supports our line on that, though I think he found that we are more liberal on sex than he suspected. But the change of name was Lord Harlech's idea, and was part of our submission to Williams in 1979. As soon as the Video Recordings Act called our video certificates video classification certificates, and also provided us with the 'RI8' category which allowed for sexy stuff that would have had to have been cut for an '18', we changed the name. We cut fewer and fewer films than we used to: Williams charted the decline, and it's still continuing. If we do cut stuff it's either because the company wants a lower category or reasons of the law, especially since the early 'video nasties' prosecutions in the Obscene



Publications Act now cover violence as well as sexuality. The 'RI8' category is only for sex: we decided not to use it to cover violence as well because to put violent material into sex shops is not a good idea. People go into sex shops to buy turn-on material and we are very concerned that it's consenting sexual material. Happy, jolly eroticism is OK: violent and sadistic pornography most certainly isn't. Despite the fact that there have been no prosecutions ofBBFC certificated films for many years now, Ferman is keen to discount suggestions of a 'gentleman's agreement' between the Board and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Nor is there likely to be one in respect of video. As he puts it: If there have been no prosecutions it's because they think we have got it right. They have never wanted to give us an opinion on any individual case because this might prejudice any later internal discussion on whether or not to prosecute something we have passed. However, they are happy to discuss the general principles behind our decisions (over the implications of the Protection of Children Act, for example). These are our broad, general guidelines about how to interpret the various legal tests and about where a decision might be made to prosecute us on certain kinds of material. Most recently the DPP sent us a copy of their own internal guidelines and wrote a precis of the way they operated. It's an important document and makes clear that they don't use a checklist approach but pose a series of questions hedged by other questions and qualifications. In fact, this is very much the way we work too. In the case of the video nasties I think that to begin with they did rather tend to go for stuff which they just felt was too shocking or too horrific and did not really try to analyse what kind of moral impact individual videos were making on the audience. Now they have become much more sophisticated. For instance, you have got to consider that if a film is constructed so that you can identify with the victim or the innocent party it is most unlikely that the audience will be taught to develop a taste for cruelty or violence. The DPP's considerations are now written into the Board's Guide to the Implementation and Practical Consequences ojthe Video Recordings Act, and it is worth quoting them in full because they show just how far the DPP (and hence the BBFC) are concerned with the meaning of the films and videos which they consider: The basic factor is that the test of obscenity is the tendency to deprave and corrupt those who are, having regard to all the circumstances, likely to see



it. The DPP therefore has to consider who is likely to view videos taken into the home. While this is ultimately for the court to decide in each particular case, the DPP considers that, in many cases, a significant number of the viewers will be children or young people. In applying this basic factor, the film is considered as a whole. But each episode has to be examined on its own before being considered as part of the film as a whole. The following questions may be relevant: Who is the perpetrator of the violence, and what is his reaction to it? Who is the victim, and what is his reaction? How is the violence inflicted, and in what circumstances? How explicit is the description of the wounds, mutilation or death? How prolonged? How realistic? (e) Is the violence justifiable in narrative terms? (a) (b) (c) (d)

A work is likely to be regarded as obscene if it portrays violence to such a degree and so explicitly that its appeal can only be to those who are disposed to derive positive enjoyment from seeing such violence. Other factors may include: violence perpetrated by children self-mutilation violent abuse of women and children cannibalism use of vicious weapons (e.g. broken bottle) use of everyday implements (e.g. screwdriver, shears, electric drill) violence in a sexual context. These factors are not exhaustive. Style can also be important. The more convincing the depictions of violence, the more harmful it is likely to be. But, in any event, these factors cannot be conclusive of the Director's decision in a particular case. He also has to have regard to the standards set by the courts - hence the arrangements for the results of concluded cases to be passed to the Board. By this point some may feel that the DPP and the BBFC are sticking in their noses where they shouldn't, and meddling in matters of morals and taste rather than ensuring that no films or videos break the laws of the land. Ferman distinguishes between what he calls manners and morals. As he explains: Language is a question of manners, as is nudity, and by manners I mean propriety, what a society may feel is appropriate to a particular time or



place. Bad language is incapable of harming anyone, though it can prove very offensive to those who have no wish to hear it. We try to cope with language nowadays largely by means of category. Moral considerations, on the other hand, involve such things as putting dangerous ideas into the minds of young and impressionable people, or normalising or legitimising forms of behaviour which many people would find abhorrent. Ferman firmly resists any suggestions that the Board should keep out of the matter of morals and confine itself to ensuring films or videos do not break the law: 'The interesting thing about having films and videos covered by the Obscene Publications Act is that the "deprave and corrupt" test in the Act is not of manners but of morals, so that, unlike in many other countries, the legal is the moral in Britain'. Ferman is equally determined to reject my suggestion that the 'video nasties' affair (and hence the Video Recordings Act) was greatly facilitated by a new crusading spirit in the DPP's office and by a predominantly Tory press eager to present the government with a popular 'law 'n' order' issue about which to fulminate and legislate: To be fair, the DPP must respond to the tenor of the times. Nobody in that office could have gone through the video nasties campaign without responding. They couldn't be seen to be doing nothing - and neither could we. We have to be responsive to the age we live in, and there is no doubt at all that the pendulum has swung the other way since the Sixties. It could be argued, however, that this is to mistake the tenor of The Times for the tenor of the times: Fleet Street's political pundits are no more representative of large areas of public opinion than are Mrs Whitehouse's vociferous and well organised cohorts who just now happen to have powerful and influential friends in the right places. Not to be discouraged, I try a different tack: wouldn't Ferman prefer sensible and carefully thought out legislation along the lines of that proposed by the Williams Committee to a maladroit and ill conceived Act rushed through on the back of a moral panic whipped up by a politically motivated press? Ferman demurs: To be fair, that is simply not the way the world is. I've been in this job for ten and a half years now and I've come to realise that changes do not get made for objective, rational reasons. It's a matter of two steps forward, one step back. History had to move in one direction in the sixties and seventies and now has had to move in the other. The press do not make my job any easier - or any harder. There is no way that it



cannot but be a hard job to carry responsibility for public taste and morals. I tell my staff that in this field there are no right answers. You have just got to learn to ask the right question and give the best answers you can at the time, knowing that tomorrow's answer will be different.


Although these were in fact made by the distributor, and not at the Board's behest.



'Reading Society Aright': Five Years after the Video Recordings Act

hat bothers the Board the most these days? A look at the BBFC Annual l Report for Ig88 is most revealing. Not surprisingly perhaps, violence features high on the list, and Rambo III, which was cut by some two minutes for the cinema and lost even more on video, is singled out for particular attention. The report notes its 'alleged potential for encouraging anti-social violence on the streets of Britain', and continues: It was the moments of military death-dealing in Rambo III which seemed likely to inspire dreams of emulation, and many brief cuts were required by the Board in bloodshed and the glamorisation of military weaponry, particularly the 'Rambo knife' which was already being sold in Britain to teenagers whose lifestyle owed little to military discipline.

In terms of films cut, 'more than twenty needed cuts in violence or glamorisation of weaponry or criminal techniques, nine of these involving violence to women in a sexual context. Six films were cut because of real violence to animals, which is illegal under British law' (namely the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937). In terms of both films and videos, the Report notes that:

Violence inevitably remains at the forefront of the Board's work, with massive growth in the American video market providing a spur for the production of more low-budget shockers of the kind shown in late-night cinemas or on cable TV in the United States ... The temptation to



enliven mediocre scripts with lashings of violence and gore is everpresent, and the Board's task is to evaluate the results and to try to analyse the relationship that each aggressive incident proposes between violence on screen and levels of aggression in the likely viewer. Few psychologists now suggest that screen violence has a direct cause-andeffect relationship with the sort of real violence which may endanger society. Instead, the media are seen as one of many influences or facilitating factors in the complex equation that leads to violence in the streets or in the home ... Some researchers have argued that the real danger [of exposure to violent images] is long-term and incremental. If this is so, and what we must monitor is the drip-drip effect of violent solutions rousingly urged but detached from human consequence, then the Board is left with the awkward role of making individual rulings on individual films, none of which is likely to do much harm on its own. With these concerns in mind, the Board cut violent material from fifty-four videos and seven films, a total of sixty-three minutes' screen time, in 1988. 'In most cases', the Report reveals, 'this was to remove or reduce the detailed process of violence, often the deliberate or sadistic infliction of pain, injury or death, mainly on innocent victims, but also as an act of retribution which can exceed the provocation'. A further thirty-nine and a half minutes was cut from sixty-one videos and seven films to remove or reduce the glamorous display of weaponry (such as 'ninja death stars, kung fu chainsticks, spiked knuckledusters, metal claws, butterfly knives, lighted aerosols, and telescopic catapults') or imitable criminal techniques, and footage demonstrating the techniques of drug abuse 'in which the ritualistic use of heated spoons, tourniquets and syringes can acquire a forbidden-fruit glamour which adds to the attraction of these illegal substances'. The Report adds that: In some cases context or genre provided sufficient justification for retaining the image, particularly in period settings or fantastical narratives, but in stories with a modern urban setting, the Board prefers to err on the side of not whetting the appetites of those for whom the carrying of offensive weapons or banned drugs can provide a sense of power or autonomy in a life of relative powerlessness. The Board is particularly preoccupied with the question of sexual violence, and general violence against women, revealing that ninety minutes of such footage was removed from fifty-one videos and five films in 1988, including scenes of rape, forcible stripping, whipping, caning, drugged sex and the torture and terrorisation of naked women. Noting that such scenes often play on sexual frustration and resentment at the perceived inaccessibility of women



- either particular women or women in general - the Board feels that the problem is especially acute on video, 'which lends itself to the selective replay of scenes which can feed these resentments with aggressive masturbatory fantasies'. The Board took particular exception to a video entitled Curfew, even though the version submitted was apparently a 'soft' one. In its view: Scenes of mutilation and forced dancing on broken glass as well as sexual assaults extending to oral rape seemed explicit enough to justify rejection in a video which had no other message than that killing and maiming are pleasurable and that sexual humiliation may be the most pleasurable of all. 1988 was also the year in which some urged the Board (unsuccessfully) to refuse a certificate to the film of The Last Temptation ofChrist on the grounds that it was blasphemous. However, a video was cut (by twelve seconds) on the grounds of blasphemy. This was Catacombs, in which a gluttonous priest is killed by a statue of Christ which removes a nail from its feet and stabs him. This was also the year that the Board refused a certificate to the video Visions ofEcstasy, about the erotic and ecstatic visions of St Theresa of Avila, on the grounds that its legal advisers felt that a jury stood a good chance of convicting it for blasphemy.2 Finally, the BBFC is preoccupied with what it quaintly calls 'manners'. This turns out to be the problem of bad language. According to the report, an increasing use of four-letter words in Hollywood family movies is found less and less acceptable by parents when such films make the transition from the cinema into the home: 'The "U" category is appropriate to fewer and fewer new films every year' it laments. 'u' and 'PG' can occasionally accommodate such 'mild lavatorial swearwords' as 'damn', 'hell' and 'bloody' but 'the Board has always taken a strict line in not permitting any sexual expletives in films classified for pre-teenagers'. This has led to a number of films finding themselves pushed into the 'IS' bracket on grounds of language alone, and the 'IS' being labelled as the 'fuck certificate'. Although the Report tends to read like a catalogue of depravity, it is interesting that its Introduction by the BBFC's President Lord Harewood avers that: We take some pride in the contribution made by the Board to the new, improved image of the video industry, since by diligent attention to the contents of tapes, and since 1987 to their packaging and advertising as well, we have helped this fledgling industry to put its past reputation behind it. If video can now take its rightful place as an important and prosperous sector of the entertainment industry, it is because of the



quality and variety of so much of its recent family product, and the increasing professionalism with which it is presented to the public. All of us at the BBFC are pleased to have played a part in this development. In order to explore further some of the issues raised in the Report I talked the BBFC Director, James Ferman.


]p: Do you see the Board as responding to public opinion, or as playing a more active role than that? And how do you judge what is public opinion anyway?


We have the fairly tricky function of reading society aright, and occasionally we have played safe with what we take to be public opinion. Take the 3 Michael Ryan affair for instance. Now, we know that there is no evidence that Ryan even had a video machine. But when we came to look at Rambo III we began to analyse what all the fuss was about and what the meaning of the Michael Ryan case was. We also examined very carefully what the film was actually doing. The number of shots in that film which glamorised weaponry was very worrying. And then there's the problem of what one of my examiners called 'the typical Rambo sequence' - he lines someone up in his sights, than you get the man looking scared, then you get Rambo firing, and then you get a blood spurt. The whole thing is set up so you are actually geared through the editing to enjoy the suffering of someone who is warned that they are going to suffer: so you see his apprehension, you see the firing, and then you see his suffering. It was structured in such a way that that was the pleasure you were being offered. On the basis of that we said that, yes, post-Hungerford, we do have a duty to be more cautious. Rambo is not just a Boy's Own fantasy military adventure. The way in which the press covered Hungerford was disgraceful, but the press is a symptom of something. The tabloids have their fingers on a pulse that we who read Time Out and the Guardian don't like to acknowledge - look at the results of public opinion polls and elections. The emotions which come out of the tabloids are redolent of something in society and of the way in which these images work on people. If people are worried in a kind of inarticulate way about weaponry and wounding both in society and on film, and they're making an unconscious connection between the two, are we, because we can't find justification for saying 'case proven', justified in disregarding them? Having spent my first ten years at the Board teaching examiners that each film must be judged on its merits, and that the context that counts is the context of the film itself, it's quite a turnabout to say that the context may be wider than the film itself, it's the social context, the media context, the kind of media climate the film is coming into. That was the thing about the video nasties: it wasn't so much the individual film, it was film after film of bodies being cut up, zombies eating flesh and so on. That is why we



said: 'Wait a minute, is this all the video industry is about, and what is it doing to people to keep on seeing these images? First of all it devalues the images themselves, and what is it doing to people's sensibilities?' JP: Some of the cuts which the Board requires in films and videos are very small indeed. Is there any point in all this fiddling about with one second here, two seconds there? JF: Sometimes cutting even a few seconds from a film can make a huge difference. I was a director for seventeen years, and I know that every frame counts in the cutting room. I don't know whether cutting individual films can solve this problem. We're in a bind, we all now recognise there's a problem; there's no doubt that films have popularised weapons more than we realised five years ago, and I think that we were to some extent responsible for not taking that seriously enough at the beginning. The popular press is very fond ofsaying that the effect of film is to trigger behaviour, but there's almost no evidence that any film has ever triggered any behaviour. It may have triggered some psychopath somewhere, but as the people from the Tavistock Clinic said to us, somebody who is predisposed to psychopathic behaviour can be triggered by the sight of a boiled egg in a dish. People who are mentally disturbed are triggered by very odd things, very unlikely and unpredictable things. What I do think the media and videos do is to construct and reinforce attitudes; it's the drip-drip-drip effect. Capital punishment came to an end after about thirty years of world and especially Hollywood cinema which was very much influenced by the whole Freudian/Marxist complex that crime is not the fault ofthe individual, it's the fault ofsociety and upbringing, so we must understand the criminal in order to be able to help them. Then the Hollywood Production Code was thrown out in 1968 and the revenge drama came in, spaghetti westerns, urban vigilante films, all declaring that the beast must die. And now all around the world, there's a new generation who've been having that message drummed into them for the past fifteen years, and they believe that we should bring back capital punishment. Those people are now having their prejudices reinforced by public entertainment, now they see the message wherever they go. The fact that Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 2takes a very brutal revenge on two criminals after he discovers that his girlfriend has been killed, that he takes the law into his own hands and kills quite brutally like a criminal himself, and the fact that he is the hero, is symptomatic of the public morality of films now. This was Bronson vigilantism in spades from a very sympathetic, engaging character, and we said that that's not for a 'IS' and insisted that they take it out. JP: I'd like to talk about some individual cases of videos that have not received certificates. What about The Exorcist?



JF: This is one that worries us a lot, and Warners have asked us about it. The trouble with video is that you can't control the age at all, and there as so many well documented stories about teenagers having hysteria from this film. It's a very scary story for an age group with maximum superstition, and we've been very cautious about it. We discussed religious fantasy at one of the Video Consultative Council meetings, and a Bishop said that he didn't think that one could simply label this stuff fantasy: it has tremendous power to disturb and persuade, particularly the young. We've gone very cautiously in this area, and there are three films from the early 1970S to which we haven't given certificates. On video The Exorcist has never been officially submitted to us, although Warners have rung up from time to time and said 'What do you think?' and we've said that on the whole we don't think the time is yet right. But they don't seem to be pressing very hard. I discouraged them because I was afraid we couldn't pass it uncut, and when you get a classic film you don't really want to cut it apart. It's got a unique power to disturb the religiously inclined young. The power comes from the fact that it's terribly persuasively done.

]p: What about the original Death Wish?


This has been submitted on video but we've never passed it. We would probably pass the TV version. The rape was much, much stronger than any of us remembered, because it was so long since we'd seen it. Death Wish II is out on video, but only in the cut cinema version where again the problem was rape. Our problem with Death Wish, post-Hungerford, was firstly the rape. The first Death Wish is so much better made and edited than the second, the rape is very expertly put together, the shots are very brief but quite horrendous, and there are some moments which are without a doubt a turn-on. There is now evidence to suggest that some people are turned on by sexual violence, so now we have to worry even about a rape which is deliberately ugly because it may be getting to those people. Ever since the late 1970S we've had a very clear policy that it is wrong to present rape erotically or as a spectator sport, but it never struck me that we had to worry about ugly rape, which I'd always taken as showing people what rape was really like, rape from the side of the victim. The Accused presents an interesting example. If the rape had come at the beginning, as it does in Death Wish II, it would have been a totally different film. One's sympathies are so structured by the time one gets to it, it's so difficult to identify at all with the main man in the dock, you're seeing a lot of it through the eyes of a boy who's decided to appear in the witness box, and the music plays a very significant role too. Just at the moment the film might become a turn-on, the music becomes tragic and dominates the scene. The cutting is brilliant in that it shows you what is happening but stops you becoming involved in the wrong way. In I Spit on



Your Grave the rape scene lasts twenty-five solid minutes, during which the victim is raped through every orifice. You might identify with the young woman novelist, but what about teenagers? Suppose they're sexually inexperienced, they don't know how to pull a bird yet: they might be quite glad to see a woman suffer for inaccessibility. It's not the what but the how and the why. The difference between the first and second Death Wish films, which certainly influenced us when we decided not to pass the former, is that in Death Wish the Bronson character kills random muggers as a response to the fact that his wife and daughter have been raped, in Death Wish 2 he goes and looks for the actual rapists. It's a totally different moral issue. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been rejected three times on film. Hemdale attempted to cut it, but it made no difference at all. It's a very difficult film to cut because there's so little on-screen violence; there's lots of mental torture and it's almost impossible to change the nature of the film. Several companies have asked if there's any point in submitting the video and we've said no. We also said we couldn't pass the sequel. Cannon said there was a soft version, made for one or two Canadian provinces, and we weren't happy with that either; we still wanted one or two things out, and the editor for Cannon over here tried to produce an acceptable version, but he didn't succeed. JP: And what of The Evil Dead? JF: The trouble with this is that it was on the DPP list of video nasties, and dealers had been successfully prosecuted over it at several courts. Videos on the DPP list can be considered for certification only if they are significantly different versions, or can be made into such by cuts. In the end we passed the video of Evil Dead with sixty-five seconds of cuts, in addition to forty seconds 4 cut from the film version. JP: What has been refused certification recently? JF: The Trip remains banned on film and video. It's been rejected three times on film and twice on video. When LSD came back on the scene a few years ago at the time of Operation Julie,' we felt that in the wrong hands the film could be a tremendous advertisement for LSD. We confirmed the most recent rejection in 1988, before contemporary worries about Acid House parties. On the video front we've rejected Hidden Rage, in which an AIDS victim takes his revenge by raping women and so giving them AIDS. The rapes are presented in a titillating, eroticised fashion, and anyway, it's hardly helpful to the cause of trying to change the image of rape victims to show them infected with AIDS: this kind of thing appeals to the lowest common denominator of public prejudice. There's also Curfew, in which a family is terrorised by two escaped



prisoners - even in the soft version which we saw, there's a rape, forced dancing on broken glass, and repeated degradation and mutilation, all presented solely for 'entertainment'; the other films are The Evil Protege, 6 A Coming of Angels, and Slumber Party Massacre II.

NOTES The publication in 1989 of the BBFC Annual Report /01' Ig88 seemed like an opportune moment to take stock of the Board's activities since the Video Recordings Act was passed. This piece represents the research undertaken by me for the article 'For Their Eyes Only', co-written with Mark Kermode, published in Time Out, December 6-13 1989. The first part is an analysis of the Report itself, the second an interview with James Ferman. 2. The Board's refusal to pass Visions 0/ Ecsta~y was contested before the Video Appeals Committee by the video's maker, Nigel Wingrove. When his appeal failed he took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, but met with no success there either. The video remains legally unavailable in the UK, although the law which the BBFC feared that the film might infringe is no longer in force. 3. This refers to the day in August 1987 when a man in the small Berkshire town of Hungerford shot and killed sixteen people, including his mother, and wounded fifteen more, before killing himself. Simply because he wore a bandana, the press labelled him 'Rambo', with all too predictable consequences. For a useful account of press attempts to blame violent videos for the massacre, see Kerekes and Slater 2000: 318-22. 4. Full details of the video cuts, and also of the cuts originally made to the cinema version by the BBFC, can be found in Kermode (1990). Kermode also quotes Ferman as saying that: 1.

We tried to tone it down so that ifit came before the courts it would be an appreciably, slightly different experience. The difficulty with The Evil Dead is that the name of the game is excess in the first place and, in a sense, it's one of the first over-the-top horror movies. To cut something that's meant to be over the top so that it's no longer too far over the top, is very difficult. I have to say that I personally don't think that this film is depraving and corrupting, but the courts have the last word. A lot of the fuss in 1984, before the Video Recordings Act came into effect, was that kids were watching these movies, and so when it went before a magistrate or jury they were concluding that the likely audience was younger teenagers. The point is, do we actually want younger teenagers watching this bloody spectacle? I can appreciate that. If it had been absolutely certain that The Evil Dead was only being seen by adults, I doubt whether there would have been many convictions. 5. Operation Julie was a UK police operation investigating the production of LSD by two drug rings in 1976. Much of the drug was produced in rural Wales. The operation resulted in the break-up of one of the largest LSD manufacturing operations in the world at that time. Six million tabs of LSD worth ÂŁ100 million were seized, 120 people were arrested in the UK and France, and over ÂŁ800,000 was discovered in Swiss bank accounts. 6. Most of the films on video mentioned in this interview have since been passed uncut by the BBFC. However, Lethal Weapon 2, Death Wish II and I Spit on Your Grave remain cut (the last by nearly three minutes). Hidden Rage, The Evil Protege (which was originally branded a 'video nasty' when it circulated under the title Nightmare Maker), A Coming 0/ Angels and Slumber Party Massacre II have never been resubmitted.



The Video Image

ast year the video industry in Britain celebrated its tenth birthday, and a decade of phenomenal growth. In December 1979, there were 230,000 video recorders in British homes; ten years later, there were 13.8 million. To buy an EMI three-hour blank tape in March 1979 would have cost you £14.50; today this would purchase a three-pack of four-hour tapes and still leave change to spare. By October 1981, there were still only 6,000 video outlets in the UK, of which only half carried a sizeable stock. According to Derek Mann of the Video Trade Association, there are now 5,500 independent specialist dealers, 3,000 high-street multiples such as Woolworth's and W. H. Smith involved in sell-through, and 17,000-20,000 outlets such as corner shops and garages which rent out videos on a relatively small scale. In 1979, the notion of selling videos for as little as £6.99 would have seemed outlandish; today, within four years of its launch, this is reckoned to be a market worth £300 million a year. It is estimated that 7 million videos a week are now rented, and that 30 million will have been bought in 1989 and that the industry as a whole enjoys an annual turnover of some £1 billion in terms of tape rentals and sales. The industry has also had its problems. Chief among them have been piracy and the infant's flirtation with the dreaded 'video nasty', which besmirched its image in its early days. While the piracy problem remains, the 'nasty' has been decisively wiped out, first by the application of the Obscene Publications Act, followed by the Video Recordings Act 1984 (which designated the British Board of Film Classification as the statutory body responsible for classifying and, where necessary, cutting or even banning the videos which fell within the remit of the Act), and topped off by the industry's increasingly rigorous self-policing. Is there a connection between the


Originally published in Sight and Sound, Winter 1989/1990, pp. 24--'7.



industry's improved image and its remarkable success? And, looking at it in a slightly different way, at what price has that image been achieved? The most recent report from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), that for 1988, leaves no doubt about the Board's answer to the first question. Speaking of the industry's 'increasing respectability', and referring to the Video Recordings Act as 'a system of consumer protection', it continues: We take some pride in the contribution made by the Board to the new, improved image ... since by diligent attention to the contents of tapes, and since 1987 to their packaging and advertising as well, we have helped this fledgling industry to put its past reputation behind it. If video can now take its rightful place as an important and prosperous sector of the entertainment industry, it is because of the quality and variety of so much of its recent family product, and the increasing professionalism with which it is presented to the public. All of us at the BBFC are pleased to have played a part in this development. Norman Abbott, Director General of the British Videogram Association (BVA, the distributors' body), is also in no doubt of the role the Act has played. At first the BVA favoured a self-regulatory classification scheme, and was supported in this by the then Home Secretary William Whitelaw. But once the statutory control of video was included in the Tories' 1983 election manifesto (apparently as a result of direct intervention by Mrs Thatcher), and once Graham Bright's famous Bill began its parliamentary passage, to the accompaniment of a stream of ever-more lurid 'video nasty' stories in the press, the BVA saw that the writing was on the wall. 'We realised there was no point in having a headlong battle with the Government', says Abbott, and that no one in parliament would support us. So we made a U-turn and decided to concentrate on making it as workable, effective and reasonable as possible. From that day, we've worked very collaboratively with the Home Office; and we have no doubt whatsoever that by far the biggest factor in giving video a better image has been the operation of the Video Recordings Act. One problem with the Act, according to both Abbott and Mann, is that it is not being enforced strictly enough, although they agree that things have improved since trading standards officers were granted powers of enforcement in 1988. As Mann puts it: All our 2,000 members are happy that the Act is on the statute books. What they're singularly unhappy about is that it isn't being observed properly.



The image of some shops hasn't changed one iota since the bad old days, and you only need one or two that are tacky and sleazy to affect the industry as a whole. Every shop window is the industry's shop window. Not all breaches of the Act are the result of deliberate villainy. Many are caused by simple ignorance or laziness. An alarming number of non-specialist dealers, it seems, remain unaware of what is required of them under the terms of the Act, and there are still many nth-hand videos around which, at some stage in their long lives, have been misclassified by lackadaisical dealers. In its desire to improve its public image, the industry has also initiated its own systems of self-censorship in the forms of the Video Packaging and Video Advertising Review Committees. Norman Abbott explains: An unforeseen outcome of the Act was that, while it tamed and toned down the content of certain videos, it led to their packaging becoming more aggressively controversial and gory, as distributors tried to convey the idea that the films themselves were of undiminished strength. It was this change for the worse that led to the formation of the two committees. And it's worth remembering that it was the gruesome packaging of tapes such as Driller Killer, Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp that gave the 'video nasty' panic its first impetus, in 1981, via a series of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. I can certainly remember my first encounter with a Driller Killer display in a now-defunct shop in Charing Cross Road, and wondering how long it would be before the guardians of public morality pounced. Norman Abbott described the Video Packaging Review Committee (VPRC) as 'typically British', indicating its characteristic mix of voluntarism and coercion. It was formed late in 1987 by the BBFC at the request of the BVA. As the BBFC's James Ferman explains: The BVA suggested that we should withhold certification of tapes until the packaging had been approved. However, our lawyers said that we couldn't do this, since certification is statutory. I then talked to the Home Office and they said we could institute the scheme only on a voluntary basis, that is, if the company is willing to have the certificate withheld pending approval of the packaging. The Committee includes distributors, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and senior officers of the BBFC. It has Home Office support and the scheme has been accepted by the Office of Fair Trading as a registered restrictive trade practice. A logo indicating the approval of the VPRC is



compulsory for all the tapes of distributors who have chosen to join the scheme, and trading standards officers have ruled that this mark constitutes a trade description in the meaning of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, in that it is an indication of testing and approval by an authorised body. Some shops, according to James Ferman, are refusing to stock material that does not carry the logo. Norman Abbott sums it up thus: The member of the scheme waives his rights and accepts a greater degree of restriction than the Act lays down; but there's no doubt that if anybody chose to challenge the system and insist that his tape be certified purely in terms of the content of the movie, and refused even to show his packaging to the BBFC, then he could get a court order requiring the BBFC to consider his tape for certification. Just how strongly the BBFC leans on distributors to join the scheme is a matter of some dispute. Deputy Director Margaret Ford is on record as saying that membership is 'highly recommended'; but Elephant Video's Barry Jacobs (who had problems with the cover of Lucio Fulci's The House by the Cemetery, as well as losing more than four minutes in cuts) claims he was told by the Board that his films wouldn't be certificated unless he submitted his covers to the VPRC. And once the distributor is in the scheme, the tendency to self-censor is strong, as Norman Abbott confirms: If the distributor comes up with some controversial packaging and the VPRA says, 'No, we don't like that, there's far too much blood on the axe' or 'You can't have that woman tied to a tree', it has to go back to the applicant, more artwork has to be done, and then it's resubmitted. All this causes delay and expense, but this is undoubtedly the effect the scheme is supposed to have. It encourages companies to submit material which they think will go through.

He adds: 'I've no doubt that the BBFC has penalised people who haven't gone into the scheme, by holding up their material. But if you play ball with the system, accept the Board's judgement and don't make a fuss, then you get better treatment'. The Video Advertising Review Committee (VARC) works in a similar fashion. It comprises Laurie Hall of the Video Standards Council (VSC), representatives from the three video trade magazines, the ASA, the BBFC, and a changing complement of three video distributors. Like the VPRC, the Committee meets every Monday to look at the artwork for all the advertising which is to appear in the three trade papers for 'IS' or '18' movies (unlike the VPRC, which considers all packaging).



In video shops themselves, one finds a similar concern with image. The major initiative here has been the Family Code which, the VTA handbook tells members, 'strengthens your bond with your customers and helps create that all-important confidence'. It continues: This is a carefully thought out campaign designed to change the image of video. For the dealers, the Family Code is going to attract more and more customers to the shops that have been awarded video's 'badge of merit' ... More business for the reputable dealer is what the code is all about. This brings us to the nub of the matter. For, in spite of the industry's remarkable growth over the last ten years, many within it clearly feel that there is room for a great deal more. As Derek Mann pointed out to me, only 40 per cent of those with video recorders rent pre-recorded tapes - this leaves a total of some 7.5 million homes into which pre-recorded videos have not yet penetrated: 'We must persuade those people that video films are good and inexpensive family entertainment. Ofcourse, families are not the only area that we want to reach, but they are an important one'. Again, Norman Abbott agrees: th

I don't think someone whose appetite runs in the Friday the I3 vein would be deterred from going into a shop which featured a lot of Disney product. But someone who wants a Donald Duck film might well be put off a video shop filled with posters dripping blood. There's still quite a long way to go before we get it 100 per cent right, but we do feel we're going the right way when we look at how the UK market has continued to boom, and compare it to some parts of Europe, where the video market is actually contracting. And just in case we still haven't got the message, the BVA embarked on a ÂŁ100,000 publicity campaign last February to emphasise the positive side of video, pointing out that a 'clean business' and a 'growth industry' go 'hand in glove'. Last July the video industry finally set up the Video Standards Council (VSC), something which James Ferman had urged as long ago as 1982. It is headed by Laurie Hall, a former managing director of CIC Video, and represents all segments of the industry. Its aim is to continue to improve the industry's image, to avoid the risk of further legislation, and to implement a Code of Practice. 'Membership of the Council isn't compulsory', says Laurie Hall, but we want to create a kind of ABTA image, so that membership of VSC will be seen by consumers as identifying responsible dealers. This



will probably take two or three years, and it's aimed at customers as well, like the lady who thought an '18' indicated the film was 180 minutes long, or the irresponsible parents who send their children down to the corner shop to rent 'IS' or '18' tapes for them. While it would be easy to accuse the video industry of over-enthusiastic self-censorship in the pursuit of financial gain, this would be to underestimate the traumatic effect of the ferocious pasting which it took from the press during the 'nasties' panic, and which still surfaces from time to time. It would also be to ignore the considerable, if relatively subtle, pressure exerted upon it by the Government. As Norman Abbott points out, it was one such application of pressure which led to the setting up of the VSC: We were summoned to see the Home Secretary on 29 November 1988. He started off by saying that we appreciate the things you've done so far, and we can see they're having some beneficial effect, but there are still these loopholes. Then he began to lean on us - we've grown accustomed to it over the years. He said that unless we could give him some fairly encouraging assurances about certain aspects of the operation of video which bothered them, they would be minded to legislate in the fullness of time, or they might find some private member who had come high in the ballot and was willing to take on a Bill incorporating some improvements they would like to see. But naturally they wouldn't contemplate any of this if they were satisfied that we had cleared up these perceived problems. These included the fact that some video shops were playing age-restricted films or trailers, or that 'IS' trailers for '18' films were going out with 'IS' videos and so whetting young appetites for forbidden fruit. It is to such earthshattering matters (among others) that the VSC will have to address itself. Even the BBFC, usually regarded by libertarians as the villain of the piece, has to live with the knowledge that it is seen by some Tories (especially Sir Bernard Braine) as dangerously liberal, and that it could be de-designated as the video classificatory body. James Ferman steadfastly denies any Government pressure, but one wonders what would happen ifhe passed The House on the Edge ojthe Park and The New York Ripper in quick succession, especially in a decade in which a Home Secretary has shown no scruples about leaning very publicly on the BBC (at the start of the Real Lives affair). Finally, have there been any losers in this clean-up process? Has the public been denied a wider range of tapes than they might otherwise have seen? Norman Abbott certainly thinks so:



There's no doubt that the people who lose out under this whole system are those who want to see material of an explicit sexual or violent nature. But, rightly or wrongly, the authorities, with our collaboration, take the view that far more damage would be done were this type of material and its packaging and advertising freely available to all. And though it is restrictive and a curtailment ofliberty, I do think, from a sheer economic point of view, that this system is the reason why our market has continued to boom. A look at the BBFC Annual Report for Ig88 reveals that in that year five videos were banned, 26.7 per cent of all 'I8's were cut, 7.2 per cent Of'I5's, 4.9 per cent of 'PG's and 0.8 per cent of 'U's. According to Robert Starks of Colourbox (whose Bad Taste escaped unscathed on video, although the packaging nearly fell foul of the VPRC): 'There is certainly a narrowing range of choice in the horror field. Pretty soon all we'll see on the shelves are industry-approved videos in industry-approved sleeves. Britain now has the most restrictive video market in the world'. It's also of some significance in the present context that Norman Abbott felt he had to persuade Colourbox staff not to turn up for the 1989 British Video Awards in Bad Taste outfits, in case it was felt to be in . . . bad taste. It might also be asked whether the Video Recordings Act and the various examples of self-regulation have acted as any form of economic brake on the industry. Has it suffered, for instance, from the BBFC's unwillingness to pass such former money-spinners as The Exorcist, Straw Dogs and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? What of the cost and time of the classification process? James Ferman readily admits that at times the Board has been understaffed because it has underestimated the vast number of tapes with which it has to deal. Recently, however, this situation seems to have improved, though Norman Abbott reports some complaints from his members about the Board's 'inconsistency, unpredictability and lack of guidance': They also quibble about the uncertainty which seems to bedevil some titles, the ones James Ferman has put in his pending tray and says he's not prepared to decide on at the moment. They find that a bit annoying, because they have paid money for the UK video rights, and they're not sure if they are going to get any return. Third, has the operation of the Video Recordings Act and other measures contributed to the concentration of the video industry? That there has been a degree of concentration is certain - a hard core of thirty distributors, of which twenty-five are BVA members, now accounts for about 95 per cent of the rental market. There are some forty or so more distributors in operation, but



this figure includes bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which are clearly not in the business of video features. At the beginning, of course, there was a mushroom growth of small companies, which has now largely died away. As Norman Abbott points out: In the first year or two of home video the majors didn't think there would be a market for their product in pre-recorded cassette form and thus didn't make it available; they were opposed to the whole idea and simply wished it would go away. This meant that this new medium was open to non-mainstream cinema material, acquired by a host of small companies which occupied the vacuum caused by the majors' refusal to become involved. This was poor quality, cheap stuff they had picked up from obscure corners of the globe, and it was this that caused all the problems. In fact, Warners was the first of the majors to enter the field (in July 1980); the last was RCA/Columbia (April 1982). Talking to the various industry figures, it is hard to avoid the impression that, on the whole, they prefer to deal with the majors, though few are as forthright as Norman Abbott: I find the major distributors more self-regulatory, more respectable and by and large more responsible, because of their large investment in the industry, than some fly-by-night outfit which is out to make a quick buck and then run for it. It's they who tend to come out with the less pleasant product, which they then advertise and package in a controversial way. They cause all my problems; Disney doesn't. Some smaller distributors certainly feel they are now at a disadvantage visa-vis the majors, and that the regulatory machinery doesn't exactly help. As Colourbox's Robert Starks puts it: 'As an independent you do have to rely on strong images to create an impact with your packaging. The majors have all the well-known titles and stars - they could put out a big title in a white sleeve and still do well'. Similarly Barry Jacobs of Elephant Video complains: The small companies must offer what the majors don't, but this is the kind of material which seems to fall foul of the Act. The majors get away with distributing horror films, because people think they're classy. Woolworth's and W. H. Smith have said they won't touch something like The House by the Cemetery, even though it has been so heavily cut, though they're quite happy to take horror films from the majors. That is hardly fair competition.



Finally, it's perhaps worth asking whether the pursuit of the 'family audience' is really the best way forward for the industry, in an economic or any other sense. After all, as Rank knows to its cost, it didn't exactly save the British film industry. It is hard to know whether the industry is playing a hunch, or whether there is hard, reliable evidence. A look at the BMRB rental charts for May-July 1989 is not much help on this score. Comedy comes out top at 32 per cent of all rentals, followed by thrillers at 19 per cent and horror at 12 per cent. Pop videos score I per cent and children's films 6 per cent. If one turns to video sales, however, it's quite interesting to note that children's films come top at 24 per cent, followed by pop videos at 12 per cent. (And did you know that BBC Enterprises' topselling video is Watch With Mother?) Much of this material for young people and children, however, can hardly be classed as feature films. In any event, the industry has decided that its future prosperity depends on establishing and maintaining a salubrious image. The vigour with which it has gone along with the Video Recordings Act and pursued its own forms of selfregulation suggests that, even if the Government had not intervened, the industry would almost certainly have instigated its own similar 'voluntary' scheme. After all, it is precisely such a scheme which the BBFC, wearing its non-statutory hat, administers for the film industry, and that is one of the most stringent systems of film regulation in Western Europe.

Part III Nineties Nightmares

Introduction to Part III

his part of the book shows the BBFC at work in the 1990S, and covers James Ferman's last decade as its Director. Chapter 9 and the last part of Chapter 7 attempt to illustrate Ferman's somewhat idiosyncratic modus operandi, and suggest that at least some of the Board's problems in this decade were partly a result of his high-handedness and his pronounced tendency to sit on potentially troublesome films and videos in the hope that the problems which they apparently posed would somehow defuse themselves, whereas all too often - as in the case of Crash, for example - the lid finally blew off the pressure cooker in which a row had been slowly steaming away. But this part of the book, like the two preceding parts, also argues that the Board's activities cannot be explained simply in terms of its own internal dynamics or of the characteristics of its leading personnel, but need to be understood as being acted upon by various external factors. Crucial in this respect are the laws of the land (especially the Video Recordings Act and Obscene Publications Act) and how these are enforced by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and interpreted by judges and magistrates, and the activities of politicians, who make those laws in the first place and also have the power to de-designate the BBFC as the body responsible for enforcing the Video Recordings Act. Also extremely important is the presence of a sensation-hungry and thoroughly illiberal press always on the look out for lurid stories with which it can titillate its readers whilst at the same time instructing them that the excesses documented therein demand the urgent attentions of a censor far stricter than the allegedly over-liberal BBFC. The first part of Chapter 7 shows Ferman at his most skilful, working closely with politicians in order to avoid the fall-out from the James Bulger case (and particularly the way in which it was reported by the bulk of the press) stampeding Parliament into passing an utterly unworkable amendment to the Video Recordings Act, which would effectively have banished from the




video shops any film not suitable for viewing by young people. But Chapter 8 shows just how difficult the BBFC's job was made by a press which repeatedly and shrilly insisted, in the absence of any shred of evidence, that videos somehow 'caused' crimes such as the murders of James Bulger, Suzanne Capper and Les Read, and by politicians who were all too easily panicked by such hysterical nonsense into 'something must be done' mode. Those interested in discovering more about video censorship at this time are recommended to read Barker and Petley (1997), Kerekes and Slater (2000), Martin (2007), and, above all, to watch the DVD extra, Ban the Sadist Videos Part 2, which is part of the Box oj the Banned 2 DVD set, and the box set Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. As the I990S progressed, Ferman's wiliness and his refusal to give rightwing politicians exactly what they wanted (namely a Board that either literally or metaphorically deferred to them) and to subscribe unhesitatingly to the illiberal values of right-wing newspapers (entirely spuriously dressed up as 'public opinion') brought the simmering resentment of both groups ever closer to boiling point. It is thus that the last two chapters of this part of the book present the BBFC less as a censor and more as a body actually engaged in struggles against censorship. Hence Chapter I I shows the BBFC trying repeatedly to liberalise its guidelines relating to 'RI8' videos (the sex shop category), and being prevented from doing so - albeit very much behind the scenes - by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw, whilst Chapter 10 portrays the Board being bullied by Associated Newspapers in an attempt to intimidate it into banning David Cronenberg's Crash, and to encourage local councils to do likewise. It was the conjunction of these two events, incidentally, which persuaded me that if one is seriously interested in how film and video censorship works in the contemporary UK, then one has to look beyond the activities of the BBFC, important though these undoubtedly are, and this is what the present book attempts to do. The chapter on Associated Newspapers' campaign against Crash and the BBFC foregrounds one of the recurrent themes of this book, namely the role of the press in the censorship process. This is discussed both in the main Introduction and the Conclusion, so I will confine myself here to its role in the Crash furore. The first point to note is that, unlike in the various stages of the 'video nasty' panic analysed earlier, only two newspapers were involved, the Mail and the London-based Evening Standard. One simply does not know whether or not the BBFC could have so successfully resisted an onslaught by the combined forces of the illiberal press, but it is interesting to speculate why the Mail found itself alone amongst the national daily press in waging this particular campaign. One possibility is that by this time the Murdoch press may have woken up to the fact that it was not a good idea to encourage the censorship of the moving image when it was in fact part of a vast conglomerate



which included the movie producer 20th Century Fox and the satellite broadcaster BSkyB, whose movie channels are one of its major selling points. As for the Express, this tends to define itself in opposition to its only rival in the mid-market, and so might have been unwilling to join in an enterprise quite so heavily Mail-branded. Meanwhile, as becomes clear in Chapter II, the Telegraph titles tend to take a fairly liberal-Tory line when it comes to censorship matters, and to worry about threats to individual freedom. The second point to note is that Associated attracted a fair amount of ridicule in the media on account of its campaign against Crash, and this may have discouraged others from becoming involved. However, when Mark Kermode and I wrote about the campaign in Sight and Sound (June 1997, which article forms part of the basis of Chapter 10), the Standard film critic Alexander Walker was not exactly backward at coming forward, immediately phoning Wilf Stevenson, the Director of the British Film Institute, which publishes Sight and Sound, and threatening to ask the editor of the Standard, which, curiously, sponsored the London Film Festival at which Crash was shown, to withdraw its sponsorship from the next LFF. Apparently Walker ranted on for a very long time indeed, but Stevenson was mainly concerned to find out from him whether he thought Mark and I had made any mistakes in our representation of his position. Eventually he had to admit that we had not done so, so we concluded that what had really annoyed Walker was that we had had the temerity not only to disagree with him but to criticise his views publicly. Walker then wrote a lengthy diatribe against the article which was published on the letters page of the August Sight and Sound, to which I responded in the September issue (whose letters page was entirely taken up by Crash correspondence). By this time I had also complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the gross inaccuracies contained in six articles about Crash published in the Mail between 9 and 22 November 1996, and two in the Standard on II November, and although none of these was written by Walker, my complaint did mention him, and this became another source of friction and aggro. Walker dropped dark hints of legal action, and, because I had written my complaint on my department's headed notepaper, wrote to my head of department enquiring 'whether your department associates itself with Dr Petley's complaint ... or whether you consider he was acting - as he was fully entitled to do - as a private individual'. I do not know if this was an attempt to inveigle my boss into reprimanding me for using University stationery for private purposes, but in fact my purposes were anything but private. As I pointed out to the PCC in the course of my complaint, one of my specialisms is media regulation, and I made it very clear that I was undertaking this exercise at least partly to test the efficacy of the PCC as a regulatory body. It turned out to be quite laughably useless (as I expected it would), and seemed utterly unable even to understand the nature



of my complaint, which was not, as the PCC mulishly insisted, about the 'right' of Associated to wage a campaign if it chose so to do, but about the gross inaccuracies in the articles which made up that campaign. Further discussion of this issue, which relates to press standards and regulation, belongs elsewhere, but anyone interested in the PCC's take on the Crash affair and in my critique of its stance is recommended to read Petley (1997); there is also the seemingly inevitable response from Walker (1998).



'Not Suitable for Home Viewing'

y the early 1990S the 'video nasty' hysteria had subsided considerably from the levels it had reached during the first half of the previous decade, but a dreadful event on 1Z February 1993 unleashed the deluge once again: this was the murder in Kirkby, Merseyside, of the two-year-old James Bulger by the ten-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who were convicted of the crime on Z4 November 1993. The lurid, sensational and above all hate-filled reporting of the case by most British national newspapers marks the nadir of a journalistic culture infamous for its debased and degraded standards (for critical accounts of press reporting of the case, see Franklin and Petley (1996) and Green (zo08)), but what concerns us here is the manner in which the popular press concocted and then spread the entirely untrue story that the older children had murdered the younger one under the influence of violent videos. Just how this ridiculous farrago emerged remains too little understood to this day, but as it was to lead directly to the further tightening of the Video Recordings Act, it is important to establish exactly what happened.



The one factor that is now well known is that the judge in the case, the Honourable Mr Justice Morland, made the entirely unwarranted remark in his summing up that 'it is not for me to pass judgement on their upbringing [sic] but I suspect that exposure to violent video films may be in part an explanation'. Here indeed is a media effect: eleven years of 'video nasty' stories had clearly done their work. However, one strongly suspects that there is an element of class dislike lurking in here too, as in so many cases of this kind. Significantly, in what is by far the best book on this altogether horrible



case, Blake Morrison notes 'a sniff of distaste' in Morland's attitude towards the two boys and adds: 'T & V are being treated as street urchins (the phrase has occurred more than once during the trial), their dress and accents held against them' (I99T 224)¡ But the scapegoating of video in this case goes much further back than that. For, in the early stages of the case, the investigating officers had informed the press that they were taking an interest in what videos Jon Venables's father Neil possessed or had rented, and in what Jon had watched. One would have thought that the police at a time like this would have had rather better use for their time and for the public resources entrusted to them, but the very fact that they seriously pursued this line of enquiry shows, once again, just how deeply the 'video nasty' mythology had taken hold in the official mind by 1993. Evidence collected by the police included a list of the sixty-four videos rented by Neil Venables from his local Videoscene club over the past eighteen months. Blake Morrison describes the list thus: An odd but not sinister list: a mix of low erotica, B-movies, classy highbrow and kidflicks for Jon; I've seen a few of these films; most people must have; they're not brown-paper-bag material, just regular stuff from your friendly local video corner-shop. But for a time the police had got excited about the video theory. They'd searched Neil's flat, and though nothing incriminating was found people were now calling Neil a pervert, a horror addict, a porno buff, an accessory after the fact. There was a figure of 440 films hired in recent months. (I99T ISS) The last film that he had rented was Child's Play 3, but this was taken out on 18 January 1993, a month before the murder.


As Mark Thomas, who covered the case for the Press Association, puts it: 'A suggestion grew up behind the scenes during the trial that his [Neil's] son had seen the video Child's Play f (1993: 278). And according to David James Smith, during the pre-trial period 'Jon was asked directly if he had seen the film. His sheepish denial - I don't like horror films -left many who saw and heard it with the impression that he had watched Child's Play f (1995: 180).1 And on the most superficial level imaginable, there are the very faintest echoes of certain aspects of the Bulger case in the film; for example, it features a number of children and young people, the possessed doll Chucky at the centre of the action looks like a small child, at one point he is hit by a paint ball (Thompson and Venables threw paint at their victim), and the film's climax,



during which Chucky is destroyed, takes place on a fairground ghost train (Thompson and Venables killed their victim on a railway line, and his dead body was run over by a train). However, in every substantial aspect, the film bears not the slightest relation to the murder of James Bulger. As Martin Barker points out, the 'great majority of the film is devoted to a desperate attempt to save a small child from being killed' (I99T 17), and he rightly concludes that:

Child's Play 3 is the exact opposite of everything that was said about it; this is in fact one of 1,000 films which show a sort of rite of passage of adolescence: a misunderstood, essentially gentle boy gains courage and a girlfriend through the need to confront evil. Misunderstood and maltreated by the adults around him, he does the right thing, no matter what cost to himself. This is a very moral tale. (ibid.: 18-19) The third and final factor that caused the press and the moral entrepreneurs to pick on Child's Play 3 was that the conclusion of the Bulger murder trial was followed in December 1993 by the trial of six people accused of torturing and murdering sixteen-year-old Suzanne Capper. During the course of her ordeal, she had been forced to listen through headphones to rave music, one track of which sampled the Child's Play catchphrase 'I'm Chucky. Chucky wants to play'. Additionally, one defendant alleged in court that when one of her codefendants had injected Capper with amphetamines she had used the same expression. This was enough for the Mirror, 18 December 1993, to run a story headlined 'Murdered by Chucky's Children' which argued that 'behind their sick obsessions lurked the demonic figure of Chucky, also mentioned in the Bulger trial'. Except that it wasn't. And just as in the Bulger case, the paper finds the most tenuous parallels between the Child's Play films and what happened to the unfortunate Capper. Thus: 'In Child's Play, Chucky breaks a man's arm and leg - Suzanne's arm was battered. The doll is burned in the face with a cigarette lighter - Suzanne was burned with cigarettes. The doll kills a psychiatrist by electrocuting him with a headset - a headset was forced over Suzanne's head. Finally, the doll is apparently destroyed by fire - just like Suzanne'. The headline in same day's Star was 'Tortured to Death by Chucky', with the strap 'Evil video doll's role in murder', whilst the Sun headline read 'Ban Chucky Now', with the strap 'First it was James, now Suzanne. How much more horror before we sweep this filth off the shelves of our video shops?' Another story in the same edition of the Sun, headed 'Film's Satanic Secret', claimed that an ex-police sergeant hired by MP David Alton to examine the film had found that it contained satanic messages when played backwards. Now where have we heard that before?




Within minutes of the verdict in the Bulger case being announced, David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP for the Merseyside seat of Mossley Hill, had tabled a Commons motion calling for 'more control over violent material which all too often saturates our homes'. Meanwhile Robert Wareing, Labour MP for the Liverpool suburb of West Derby, argued that 'those [videos] which are of a masochistic nature can undoubtedly do harm to certain people, and undoubtedly children should not be laid open to them'. On 26 November the Sun started its infamous 'Burn Your Video Nasty' campaign; Imtiaz Ahmed, the marketing director of Azad Video, a Scottish chain of video shops, allegedly torched ÂŁ10,000 worth of stock which the Sun described as 'linked to the James Bulger murder'; many other dealers cleared the Child's Play series from their shelves; and the distributor of the video Child's Play 3, CIC, cut off new supplies of the tape. The subsequent difficulty of renting or buying the tape soon gave rise to the myth that it had been banned. To his very considerable credit, the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, steadfastly refused to be stampeded into over-hasty and ill-considered action by the press juggernaut. Meanwhile, however, Alton was working energetically, and to a swelling chorus of press approval and encouragement, to gather support for an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill then going through Parliament which would make video censorship even more restrictive than it was already. And in the adjournment debate on 16 December 1993 which followed the Capper case, Liberal Democrat Liz Lynne, MP for Rochdale, stated that 'I would like there to be a new classification, "Not suitable for home viewing" on videos, so that when parents go into shops they know they cannot show them to their children'. Unfortunately no-one saw fit to ask the blindingly obvious question, namely why would video shops stock films which could not be shown in people's homes? By the start of 1994, newspapers were acting simply as if Alton's amendment had already been passed. Thus the Sunday Express (16 January), under the headline 'Video Nasties Banned to Protect the Young' and the strap 'New certificate will take scenes of sex and violence off rental shelves', reported that 'a new "Not Suitable for Home Viewing" certificate will prevent films considered harmful to youngsters from being released on video or displayed in rental shops'. Similarly the Mirror (22 January) crowed: 'Victory for Daily Mirror as Sick Videos are Banned: gruesome films at cinemas only'. By April 1994 Alton had amassed 220 signatories, including many Labour MPs who, in their eagerness both to inflict defeat upon Howard and to demonstrate that they were not 'soft' on moral issues, happily joined forces with the authoritarian Right. Indeed, Roy Hattersley and Gerald Kaufman



ably contributed to Alton's cause in those two well-known Labour papers, the Mail and Telegraph respectively. By now it was clear that Alton, greatly aided by the Newson Report (see below) and in particular by the way in which this was reported by the press, would win ifhe put his amendment to the vote, and that Howard was being forced to abandon his earlier position, witness these headlines on 2 April: 'Howard Tells Censor to Turn Back the Tide of Video Nasties' (The Times), 'Howard Acts to Curb Video Nasties' (Independent), and 'Howard to Call for More Cuts in Videos (Telegraph). On 12 April Alton presented his amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill; this required the Video Recordings Act to be amended so that any video certificate issued by the BBFC must contain a statement that, either because it presents an inappropriate model for children, or because it is likely to cause psychological harm to a child, no video recording containing that work is to be supplied for private use, or viewed in any place to which children under the age of eighteen are admitted. Once again, then, on the back of a new video category of ' not suitable for home entertainment', the spectre of a ban on all videos unsuitable for children raised its hoary head. A look at the newspaper headlines on the day of the debate itself is revealing: 'Censorship of "Video Nasties" to be Tightened by Howard' (Independent), 'Howard Curb on Violent Videos' (Telegraph), 'Howard Gets Tough on Video Access' (Times), 'Howard Purges Horror Videos with "Not in Front of the Children" Rating' (Express), 'Video Nasty Blitz' (Mirror), 'Howard Lays Down Censorship Hurdles to Halt Violent Videos' (Guardian), and 'Clamp on Video Nasties' (Sun) - all clearly the result of nifty spin on the part of politicians and wishful thinking on the part of newspapers, as the debate had not actually taken place when these words were written. In his opening remarks in the debate itself, Alton referred to both the Capper case 'where a young woman was tortured and brutally murdered while the sound tape of the movie Child's Play 3 was transmitted to her' (it wasn't) and 'a case in Cardiff [where] the video Deuce was cited as an influence on the young people who were involved in a terrible murder'. Except the film is called Juice, the links between the film and the murder (of Les Read) were entirely imagined by the press, and, as is pointed out in Chapter 9, Juice was later singled out for particular praise for its moral stance by the BBFC. Alton also quotes from the Newson Report (although Hansard has him calling it the Newsom Report) in which, so the press claimed, twenty-five 'experts' performed a sudden if belated volte-face on the issue of media violence and its effects:



Many of us hold our liberal ideals of freedom of expression dear, but now begin to feel that we were naive in our failure to predict the extent of damaging material and its all too free availability to children. Most of us would prefer to rely on the discretion and responsibility of parents, both in controlling their children's viewing and in giving children clear models of their own distress in witnessing sadistic brutality; however, it is unhappily evident that many children cannot rely on their parents in this respect. By restricting such material from home viewing, society must take on a necessary responsibility in protecting children from this 2 as from other forms of child abuse. What Alton signally failed to mention, however, is that many of the signatories were simply re-stating their long-held beliefs, that no original research had been carried out for the Report, and that the document had been specially written at Alton's invitation as 'evidence' to back up his amendment! This story is part of the subject of the following chapter, and much of Barker and Petley (1997) is a critique of the report and of the thinking behind it. Faced with certain defeat if Alton put his amendment to the vote, Howard was forced to compromise. In his contribution to the debate he was quick to pay tribute to the work of the BBFC, but he also admitted that 'it is quite clear from the extensive support that the new clause has attracted that many think that it needs to be strengthened further. I recognise and share that concern'. He then went on to suggest three ways in which the existing system of video censorship could be tightened up. First, by more rigorously enforcing the existing controls on supplying videos and by providing a penalty of up to six months' imprisonment for those supplying videos in breach of age classification and of up to two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine for those supplying unclassified works. Second, Howard argued that as the BBFC 'recognises that it has a responsibility to respond to public concerns and that public attitudes to the depiction of violence are changing', so it accepts the need for classification decisions to reflect those changing attitudes and it proposes to stiffen the standards it applies when classifying works. It will mean that some works at present placed in the 'IS' category will be placed in the '18' category and others will be refused a certificate altogether. In other cases, works will be classified only on condition that significant cuts are made. Third, Howard proposed that the Video Recordings Act be 'amended to require the BBFC to take into account certain factors when it decides whether to classify a video and, if so, in what category to put it'. These factors would be



the subject of further discussion. Here the shadow Home Secretary, a certain Tony Blair, rode to the rescue, arguing that 'we now have the basis for a sensible way forward' and revealing that the Home Secretary had already agreed to consult the Labour opposition on the nature of the compromise amendment to be tabled in the House of Lords. (In point of fact, the next day's Independent revealed that the reforms outlined by Howard were Blair's idea in the first place). And, doubtless from the bottom of his heart, as well as with one eye firmly fixed on Middle England, Blair added: People are rightly sickened at some of the gratuitous and sadistic violence, often aimed at women and involving rape, portrayed in some videos that can and do find their ways into the hands of children. We can argue about the nature of research, but surely it is common sense that a daily diet of such violence cannot be healthy for our children. Indeed, I would argue that it cannot be healthy for adults either, but they should be old enough to form their own judgements. Alton withdrew his amendment. The next day's papers were jubilant - and in some cases entirely wrong. Thus Today, under the strap 'Now Chucky can't come out to play', announced that 'the new laws will forbid horror films - like Child's Play 3, whose demonic doll Chucky was linked to the James Bulger murder - from being watched at home in the future ... The worst horror videos will only be able to be seen in special clubs for over-I8s'. Not to be outdone in the inaccuracy stakes, the Mirror, under the headline 'Banned Thanks to Your Daily Mirror' and a picture of the video box of Child's Play 3, told its readers that 'horror videos like Child's Play 3 are to be banned thanks to the Daily Mirror'. The Mail celebrated 'Deal to Ban Video Nasties', in apparent ignorance of the fact that they had been banned over ten years ago, as the first part of this book makes abundantly clear.


On 14 June 1994 the Howard/Blair proposals were debated by the Lords. The new penalties for infringing the Video Recordings Act were agreed and, most important in the present context, a new clause laid new statutory requirements on the BBFC. It read: The designated authority shall, in making any determination as to the suitability of a video work, have special regard (among the other relevant factors) to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which the work deals with-



(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)

criminal behaviour illegal drugs; violent behaviour or incidents; horrific behaviour or incidents; or human sexual activity ...

and any behaviour or activity referred to in subsections (a) to (e) above shall be taken to include behaviour or activity likely to stimulate or • encourage It. The amendment also clarifies what is meant by the 'potential viewer' whose proneness to harm is such a key consideration in the legislation, explaining that '''potential viewer" means any person who is likely to view the video work in question if a classification certificate or a classification certificate of a particular description were issued'. Moving the amendment for the Government, Earl Ferrers expanded upon this last point: If it [the BBFC] concludes, for example, that the work will set a very bad example for very young children, it need not ban the video altogether, but it can place it in an age-restricted category. There may be some works which the Board believes would have such a devastating effect on individuals or on society if they were released that there should be the possibility of their being refused a video classification altogether, and the clause leaves the Board free to do that. The criteria mean that the British Board of Film Classification must consider who is in fact likely to see a particular video, regardless of the classification, so that if it knows that a particular video is likely to appeal to children and is likely to be seen by them, despite its classification being for an older group, then the Board must consider those children as potential viewers. That does not mean that the Board must then ban the video altogether. The Board will still have the discretion on how, or whether, to classify it; but it must bear in mind the effect which it might have on children who may be potential viewers. •

This all may seem rather abstruse, but as this is the law which still governs the BBFC's actions, as the 'harm' provision played a major role in the events discussed in Chapter II, and as there is very little discussion of this matter outside legal textbooks, it is extremely important to understand exactly what this crucial part of the Video Recordings Act entails. As Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol explain:



If a child is not 'likely' to view a particular video work (e.g. because it has been classified 'RI8' or because it is too sophisticated to appeal to children) but it is perfectly possible that a few children will get to see it (because it has been 'left around the house' or because they are precocious) then children as a class cease to be 'potential viewers' for the purposes of the test, and any harm which may be done to these 'unlikely' (but possible) viewers must be disregarded. (2008: 834-5) When considering whether to classify a video, or what classification to give a particular video, the Board thus has to take a three-stage approach: The question must first be whether the video is likely to appeal to children and be seen by a significant number of them. If the answer is 'yes', then the second question is whether the video will harm those children or cause them to behave in a way that harms society because of the video's treatment of crime, drugs, sex or violence. If the answer again is 'yes', then the factor of risk to children must be given special weight (along with other relevant factors) in determining whether the video should be certified at all, or else given a high age-restriction ... [This approach] permits the Board to ignore the danger to children where the risk that a significant number will see it is remote, and to consider instead the danger of adult viewers being morally corrupted or being persuaded to emulate anti-social acts. (ibid.: 835) Once again, then, those who wanted only videos suitable for children to be available for sale or rent were thwarted. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that Alton and co were comprehensively outwitted by Howard and Blair, greatly aided behind the scenes, as we now know, by the wily James Ferman. As Robertson and Nicol note, the subjects to which the Board had to pay 'special regard' when classifying videos 'are precisely those likely to provoke prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act, and to which the BBFC had always given special regard. Spelling them out in statute seemed little more than a sop to the Alton lobby' (ibid.: 834). And although the BBFC Annual Report I994-gS is careful not to dismiss the importance of the above amendment, the President's introduction nonetheless gives the strong impression that it required the Board merely to tighten up and refine its alreadyexisting procedures: The possibility of harm had always been at the heart of BBFC policy, so the new clause did not require a fundamental shift in examining practice. It did, however, clarify the test of suitability for viewing in the home by explaining why video standards should be stricter than film standards. It



reinforced the deprave and corrupt test of British obscenity law by adding the simpler test of anti-social influence on behaviour. And it concentrated the mind on the extent to which a video was likely to attract the attention of children, so that the more probable this is, the less the Board may rely on the assumption that an' 18' certificate will be adequate protection. Board policy has become more cautious since this was introduced. And as James Ferman put it in the main body of the Report: 'These criteria represent not a break with former policy, but a confirmation of it, since they put on the face of legislation factors which the Board has been taking into account for many years'. On the other hand, the Report does reveal that more videos were rejected outright in 1994-5 than at any time since 1988. But exactly what the law means by 'harm', and how the Board understands this notion, remain stubbornly opaque. In recent years, the terms 'harm and offence' have replaced 'taste and decency' in legislation governing media content, and politicians and regulators have tended to suggest that the former pairing denote more 'objective' qualities of media content than the latter. However, as Andrea Millwood Hargrave and Sonia Livingstone point out in an extremely useful review of the whole subject: 'While norms of taste and decency can be tracked, with some reliability, through standard opinion measurement techniques, methods for assessing harm are much more contested and difficult' (2009: 25). Indeed, in 1979, the Williams Committee argued that 'there is often a real difficulty in identifying what the harmful effect of the material is supposed to be' and 'the causal concept of obscenity, in terms of doing harm, has in legal practice proved very resistant to being given the precise application, and submitting to the canons of proof, required in general by the law' (1979: 59, 60). These words are as true now as when they were first written, and the subsequent enshrining of the slippery notion of harm in the Video Recordings Act (and later in the Communications Act 2003) does not make it any more intellectually coherent or philosophically cogent, it merely gives it legal force. Indeed, it can convincingly be argued that the notion of offence has effectively been collapsed into or elided with the notion of harm, in the hope that the seemingly 'objective' dimensions of the latter will obscure the fact that censure and censorship are simply enforcing what the authorities take to be 'generally accepted standards' which, in a society as diverse, divided and heterodox as that of the UK, must inevitably mean 'officially accepted standards'. Thus 'harm' is interpreted in such a broad way as inevitably to involve the censors in what are essentially moral judgements. For obvious reasons, this is rarely admitted, but it is to James Ferman's credit that he actually did so in his valediction in the BBFC Annual Report Igg8:



John Trevelyan, my most distinguished predecessor, said that the BBFC 'cannot assume responsibility for the guardianship of public morality'. I once sympathised with that viewpoint until I realised that public morality is actually at the centre of our concerns and must remain there. If we don't want entertainment to influence human behaviour in a harmful or anti-social direction, then we can only intervene on grounds of public morality. That is what the 'deprave and corrupt' test of obscenity is all about, and it is the basis for the test of 'harm to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society', which is now at the centre of the Video Recordings Act. Before leaving the topic of the consequences for the Video Recordings Act of the Bulger, Capper and Read murders, it is also worth noting that early in his contribution to the House of Lords debate, Earl Ferrers pointed out that, following the press furore outlined above: The Home Secretary asked for police reports on those cases and on what role, if any, the videos had played in these crimes. The police reports did not support the theory that those crimes had been influenced by exposure either to any particular video, or to videos in general, and no evidence about the role of videos was presented in any of the prosecutions. Mr Justice Morland later made it clear that his comments had been meant as a general contribution to the debate about videos and crime and that they were not based on any evidence at all in the Bulger case.


A clear picture of how the Board operated under the amended Video Recordings Act emerges in Chapter 9, which examines in detail its workings in 1995. However, when analysing the activities of the Board in James Ferman's time, it is sometimes extremely difficult to disentangle when it was acting in accordance with the dictates of the Video Recordings Act and when according to the idiosyncratic way in which Ferman interpreted these. As has already been noted, Ferman was nothing if not an extremely hands-on Secretary/Director of the BBFC, and both his general approach to the job and his decisions on individual films would frequently lead to run-ins with his team of examiners -leaked minutes of 'lively' meetings with them sometimes surfacing in the Guardian during the 1990S. On 20 November 1998 the paper published a particularly revealing article by Ros Hodgkiss, an examiner who had recently resigned. In it, she complained that



Ferman loved to snip, fiddle and trim, like an enthusiastic barber. An idea was rarely expurgated, but 'might be reduced to establishment only' . . . The regime was wholly idiosyncratic. The specific censorship vocabulary, the policies, the peculiar working practices, were all Ferman's. Logic and argument were subject to the whim of the Director, who regularly overturned decisions ... Ferman saw himself as a mentor the examiners. He would announce the 'truth' of a film, a definitive interpretation. He congratulated himself on his Leavisite training, and wanted linear narrative and clear morality. In an earlier Guardian article, published on 18 February 1994 and based on leaked BBFC minutes, a woman examiner complained that 'censorship here is not a democratic process' and was simply a matter of 'James Ferman calling the shots'. Another examiner argued that, in the case of The Exorcist, the video of which Ferman constantly discouraged Warners from submitting, 'to let it appear that it was the industry that was withholding the work was to collude in a lie', and there are records of a 'heated debate' over Ferman's refusal to allow chainsticks to be seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Exorcist affair illustrates particularly clearly two of the major shortcomings of Ferman's particular modus operandi. First, there was his secrecy, which, as we shall see in Chapters 10 and I I, lent a degree of credence to the otherwise opportunistic charge that the board lacked openness and accountability. To quote Hodgkiss again: 'Contentious titles were left on hold and slipped into classification purgatory. Stuffed in drawers, discreet words to the distributor behind closed doors, letters on file implying unrecorded intervention'. But this lack of openness was largely the consequence of Ferman's other shortcoming: his super-sensitivity in the case of films which might prove in some way controversial. As Hodgkiss put it: 'Life at the BBFC under James Ferman was always contentious and theatrical. Controversy set the board backtracking on policy, or retreating into silence. A handful of letters constituted a public outcry'. After the Dunblane massacre, she recounts, 'editorials sprang up everywhere condemning violent entertainment culture. Whenever these stories broke, whatever the facts, there was a reining in. Decisions undoubtedly became more conservative'. Nor was the former television director averse to 'improving' other people's films. Thus in the Annual Report I996-g7 the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Eraser is described as

a throwback to the unforgiving hero of old - judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. If the villains were vicious, the hero was even more so, and the film required five cuts at '18' for the cinema, including a neckbreak and back-break by the hero. When the film flopped in Britain, and



the distributor opted to cut for 'IS' on video, a further thirty-eight cuts were made in violence by villains and hero. In all, some three minutes and twenty-two seconds were cut, with the effect that the sadistic edge was removed from most of the violence, revealing a good action thriller which proved to have far greater appeal to the British audience. However, in the case of Henry: Portrait ofa Serial Killer, Ferman not only insisted on cuts being made for the theatrical release and on further cuts being made for the video release, but, in the case of the latter, he actually re-edited the film's key, and extremely carefully constructed, 'home invasion' scene. (For full details of this remarkable piece of censorial interference, originally unearthed by Time Out film critic Nigel Floyd, see Petley (2001) and Matthews (1994: 263-8).) A particular problem with Henry, from Ferman's point of view, was the sexual abuse which takes place during the 'home invasion', and as the BBFC Annual Report for I99I makes clear, 'the Board is always careful to remove the links between sexual availability and violence towards sexually exposed and terrified women'. After his ministrations, Ferman finally expressed himself satisfied that 'the video no longer offers the stuff of masturbatory fantasies about violence or sexual violence of the kind indulged in by those whose private fantasy worlds represent a significant danger to society' (quoted in Petley 2001: 1490). Now, this could be read as Ferman simply obeying the dictates of the Video Recordings Act (albeit at this point un-amended by the 'harm' clause introduced in 1994), or it could relate to rather more personal concerns on the part of the Director. As Ros Hodgkiss puts it: Blood on breasts was an absolute no-no, and any scene involving bodiceripping was liable to cuts. I was outraged by the term 'Peter Meter', a measure of the potential for a rape scene to arouse. Intelligent interpretation could be overridden by the biological assumptions of the chief censor. The audience could not be credited with complex responses. In this respect it is surely significant that one of Ferman's first acts on being appointed BBFC Secretary in 1974 was, quite unbidden, to recall the popular soft-core sex film Emmanuelle and cut the scene where the eponymous heroine is gang-raped in an opium den.


Each of the Board's annual reports from the I990S contains a section devoted to the topic of sexual violence in videos. That for 1997-8 reveals that in 1997



there were cuts in forty-four works in order to remove or reduce scenes of sexual violence. These included John Waters's absurdist and deliberately over-the-top exercise in bad taste, Pink Flamingos. Ferman (for he is clearly the author of these reports) laments: Action videos from the Far East and Japanese manga cartoons accounted for the lion's share of those works which contained scenes of sexual or eroticised violence which were as harrowing and disconcerting as we have ever seen. Acts of violence inflicted on women, and in three cases men, were horrific in their strength and scope. They included naked women being sexually assaulted, tortured and mutilated, often with knives or guns; women having their clothes ripped or cut off; women being terrorised, humiliated, gagged and bound. An additional component of many of these scenes was the sight of women protesting, screaming, struggling, or attempting to resist these assaults. And central to all, were scenes of women forced to engage in a range of sexual acts against their will, sometimes with several men simultaneously, all for the apparent sexual gratification of male aggressors ... It is, of course, harrowing to witness such degradation in one's daily work, but the Board's examining staff, far from becoming immune to such horrors, retain an acute sensitivity to the potentially harmful and de-civilising impact that these scenes might have on individual viewers and, in turn, on society. It is appropriate therefore that the Board continues to maintain its strict sexual violence policy, insisting on the cutting of scenes which sell forcible stripping or coercive sex as entertainment, particularly where women are shown to enjoy the consequences, since this only reinforces the myth that women enjoy being raped. It is also Board policy to cut scenes which link violence with sex where there is little or no narrative justification. For the same reasons, forty-six videos were cut in 1998. Now, on one level, the scenes rather luridly catalogued above do indeed sound pretty grim. But there are a number of problems here. In particular, very few of the films involved are actually identified, so it is difficult to reach an independent conclusion about their contents. And on the few occasions when actual titles are given, doubts start to creep in about the perspective from which the films are being viewed. For example, if Maniac had to be banned outright in 1998 because, as the Annual Report Igg8 puts it, its 'sexualised assaults could be played over and over again as masturbatory material in the home', how come it could be passed in 2002 with less than a minute's worth of cuts? Is it not to display a complete loss of all sense of proportion to ban Jess Franco's women-in-prison movie Sadomania on the



grounds that it represents 'peaks of evil and atrocity' (Annual Report I9949S)? And if it is really so evil and atrocious, how come the BBFC passed it in 2005 with just seventeen seconds of cuts? And finally, in a world in which male attitudes to women admittedly leave a very great deal to be desired, is it not to make some pretty staggering claims for 'media effects' (not to mention to fail to see the wood for the trees) to argue that another rather elderly women-in-prison movie, Bare Behind Bars, represents a relentless reduction of all that is human or valuable in these women as individuals. It distorts the way women are thought of by the male viewer in his search for sexual gratification, reinforcing myths about female sexuality which must be damaging to the viewers, to their future sexual partners, and, by extension, to society? Of course, it could be argued that these doubts are being raised from a male perspective, but on the other hand I know a number of female examiners who worked in the BBFC whilst Ferman was its Director, and their views on the subject of sexual violence most certainly did not tally with his. However, attempts to argue with him were usually met with a response which suggested that he thought himself a better feminist than they were.

NOTES It is a sad but revealing comment on the state of journalism in Britain's national daily and Sunday press that, with a very few notable exceptions, such as Gina Sereny's articles in the Independent on Sunday Review (6 and 13 February 1994, reprinted in Sereny (1995)), the tone and approach of these two books are so completely at odds with the hate-filled hysteria of the coverage which, overwhelmingly, this case received nationally (but not locally). Both authors are journalists. 2. The Newson Report was published in the Journal oj'Mental Health, 3: 2, 1994, pp. 221-8. 1.



Vicious Drivel and Lazy Sluts

ccording to most newspapers, British is awash with 'video nasties' which are openly available to young children; there is a direct causal link between the video Child's Play 3 and the murders of James Bulger and Suzanne Capper; academics have at long last recognised the 'obvious' link between screen violence and real-life crime; and the British Board of Film Classification is irresponsibly liberal in its decisions. In fact, 'video nasties' were outlawed by police action under the Obscene Publications Act even before the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984; there are no causal links whatsoever between Child's Play 3 and the Bulger and Capper murders, as the police involved in both cases readily testify; there has been no wholesale V-turn by academics on the vexed question of 'media effects'; and Britain has one of the strictest regimes of film and video censorship in the Western world. So what lies (and that indeed is the operative word) behind the latest example of the 'video nasty' panic which the press was instrumental in igniting in the early 1980s and which with its help has periodically flared into life ever since? The initial impetus clearly lay in attempts to find some sort of explanation for the seemingly inexplicable murder of James Bulger in February 1993. Examine the brutalising, impoverishing and destructive effects of policies carried out in the spirit of the dogma that 'there is no such thing as society'? Not on your life! So step forward the scapegoats: 1960s 'permissiveness', 'trendy' teachers, single mothers, the 'underclass' and, of course, the ever-reliable 'video nasty', this last helped into the spotlight by the Bulger trial judge's exceedingly ill-informed and uncalled-for remark that


Originally published in British Journalism Review, 5: 3, 1994, pp. 52-7. I have taken this opportunity to re-instate my original and preferred title. The article was published under the heading 'In Defence of "Video Nasties"'.



'it is not for me to pass judgement on their Uon Venables' and Robert Thompson's] upbringing but I suspect that exposure to violent video films may be in part an explanation'. But there's more to it than that. First of all, there's pure and simple hypocrisy. Our inimitable papers have long excelled at revelling in what they purport to condemn, and their lip-smacking descriptions (or, rather, distortions) of various supposed 'nasties' in the wake of the Bulger and Capper murders were the epitome of this kind of journalism, which has now reached such depths that it's almost impossible to parody. Almost, but not quite, as Private Eye demonstrated: Once again the Daily Gnome has forced a major change in Government policy and made the powers that be see sense. Our week-long series of pieces on the top 100 disgusting videos currently available was a masterpiece of campaigning journalism. Only the Daily Gnome gave a full plot summary and detailed description of each obscene and depraved action on everyone of these revolting videos. Only the Daily Gnome published graphic stills of the sort of corrupting filth that is getting into our homes every day. And only the Daily Gnome is offering a cut-price video compilation of all the most twisted and most vile moments of the videos that we have now successfully curbed. Circulation wars also played their part here too. The Mirror, the Telegraph and the Independent, then, as now, fighting off predatory pricing by the Murdoch papers, all had cause to add to the attack on Child's Play 3, since it had been shown twice by Murdoch's BSkyB during the Bulger murder trial in November 1993. (A third screening, which would have been broadcast after the trial, was cancelled - thereby, of course, only adding to the myth that the film had played a role in the murder.) Thus a sarcastic Diary entry in the Independent of 26 November under the headline 'Outraged of Wapping', a Telegraph article on the same day headed 'Sky Drops Film James's Killers May Have Seen' (even though Sky's actions take up only two ofthe story's seventeen paragraphs), and an editorial in the same day's Mirror which argued that: Such violence is not only available from the local video shop. It is pumped into millions of homes virtually every night on satellite television. The rules which govern BBC and lTV do not apply to satellite. They can show what they like, how they like, when they like. And they do. Failure to control their output has been due to Government cowardice. It does not want to upset powerful friends. Thirdly, this latest twist in the 'nasty' saga gave the press a marvellous chance to attack another of its favourite targets: 'intellectuals'. This came



about because, on 3 I March 1994 under the front page headline 'U-Turn Over Video Nasties', the Evening Standard purported to reveal that: 'Britain's top psychologists today confess that they had got it wrong in denying a link between video nasties and real life violence'. This was meat and drink to the populist press. The next day's Mirror branded them as 'vidiots' for taking so long to reach the 'obvious', 'common sense' conclusion, the Daily Mail complained of a 'tardy conversion', and the ever reliable Peter McKay in The Sunday Times claimed that: 'the idea that we possess 25 "top" psychologists is black comedy. You might as well talk about 25 top three-card trick operators'. Meanwhile, the Telegraph accused those academics who remained sceptical about the link of being guilty of a 'trahison de clercs'. In fact, there was both more and less to this story than the papers realised, or cared to admit. Firstly, the document to which the Standard, followed by other papers, referred had been signed not simply by psychologists but by psychiatrists and paediatricians as well. However, of the total of thirty-three signatories (not twenty-five as the Standard claimed) only three had ever spoken publicly on the topic before. The story was thus seriously misleading on at least two counts: certainly no 'U-turn' had taken place. But not only did the papers fail to point out that not one media specialist had signed the document (thereby rather vitiating the papers' claims that it represented 'expert' opinion) but, worse still, no-one noticed (or cared, perhaps) that the document had been written by Professor Elizabeth Newson of Nottingham University at the specific invitation of the MP David Alton, to be used as evidence to support his Criminal Justice Bill amendment to tighten up film and video censorship! Only Richard Boston in his video column in the Guardian went into this crucial matter of the document's genesis and raison d' etre in any significant detail. Even more seriously, at the time of writing, not one paper has thought it worth revealing that the Alton amendment was the result of a highly organised religious lobby. Tucked away in a couple of Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph pieces about Alton, I came across references to something called the Movement for Christian Democracy (MCD) and its newspaper The Christian Democrat. As I could find neither in the London phone directory I rang the SPCK bookshop and got a number; this I then rang, and asked them to send me details of the Movement and a copy of The Christian Democrat. Hardly a feat of investigative journalism, but the literature which I was sent revealed, inter alia, that the Movement had raised ÂŁ13,000 to support its video campaign, that it had instructed a parliamentary draughtsman to draft the amendment of the Criminal Justice Bill, and that it was responsible for gathering the 100,000 signatories on the much-publicised petition supporting the amendment. The Christian Democrat for June 1994 trumpets that 'with this, the MCD can be seen as coming of age politically - and can look forward



to more successful campaigns', and Alton is quoted as saying that 'this has shown how the MCD really can affect events if it wants to, if it picks its issues, attaches them to Government bills that are going through parliament, campaigns around them'. Some idea of what we can expect is contained in the statement that 'we will now direct our campaign to the anomalies this amendment will create between what may be shown on video and what is shown on satellite, cable and terrestrial TV'. Well, don't say you haven't been warned, but why not by the mainstream press, especially given the rising level of concern about parliamentary lobbying? I suspect it would be a very different story if the MCD turned its undoubted energies to lobbying for a Privacy Bill. The highly selective nature of press interest in academic research was nicely illustrated a few days after the revelation of the Newson document when the Policy Studies Institute published its long-awaited report (Hagell and Newburn 1994) into the viewing habits of young offenders. (For an interesting account of press coverage of this report see Hagell and Newburn 1997.) This was funded by the BBFC, the BBC, the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council. Disappointingly for large sections of the press, the report showed that young offenders do not have significantly different viewing habits from non-offending children of the same age. (One might also note in passing that amongst those offenders who read newspapers, the Sun came out as favourite.) The report was totally ignored by most papers - the Sun included. Still, it got more coverage than a document signed by twenty-three media academics (myself included) which questioned the whole basis of Newson's discussion paper and forcefully stated that her conclusions were completely out of kilter with most recent academic research on the media. This was sent to all the same places as the Newson document - and totally ignored. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Unable to get over the rather awkward fact that the police officers leading the Bulger and Capper cases had consistently denied that videos, and specifically Child's Play 3, had caused the killings, most of the press simply fell back on repeating ad nauseam that there must be a link because 'common sense' demands it. There are all sorts of variations on this one basic 'argument' (or, rather, assumption), and from the truly vast number of examples one could cite, two will have to suffice. In The Times of 26 November 1993 we get the would-be sophisticated version, dressed up in fancy language: To claim that only some indisputable proof of causal link could justify the curtailing of 'freedom of expression' is an evasion of an obvious truth: a society that accepts vividly enacted brutality is ipso facto making such acts conceivable, and even encouraging the belief that they are commonplace. This is not a matter for proof; it is self-evident.



To which the simple answer is: rubbish. The more populist version is nicely illustrated by Anne Diamond (who else?) in the Mirror of I December 1993: 'Our gut tells us they must have seen the evil doll Chucky. They must have loved the film. And they must have seen it over and over again, because some of the things they did are almost exact copies of the screenplay'. To which the answer is: no amount of wishful thinking or petulant foot-stamping will alter the fact that there is not a shred of evidence that the Bulger killers watched Child's Play 3. However, we do know that they watched cartoons in their local video shop and that Jon Venables's favourite film was The Goonies (this courtesy of the consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Susan Bailey, who interviewed Venables before his trial). There are no parallels of any significance between the film and the murder of James Bulger; Diamond must have been reading the incredibly distorted press descriptions of the film which tried desperately to draw such parallels. Still, Diamond obviously knows much more about the media than I do; as she puts it: 'God protect us from the "ologists" - because their hackneyed perception is dangerous. I sometimes think that a degree in some sort of "ology" blinds you to common sense. We all know that violence begets violence'. So that's it - now we know. Of course, once upon a time 'everybody knew' that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around it, that illnesses were caused by 'evil humours' and cured by bleeding, and that misfortunes were the result of witchcraft. But, of course, we're much more intelligent now, and we've got The Times and the Mirror to prove it. The problem with 'common sense' assumptions, particularly in such a bleakly anti-intellectual culture as our own, is that, being deeply ingrained into 'folk wisdom' and held particularly dear by the populist press, they're very difficult to challenge effectively. The problem is all the more tricky when those 'common sense' assumptions concern the media. This is because of the commonly held view that since everybody consumes the media then everyone is an expert on it. Thus during the aftermath of the Capper and Bulger trials we had to put up with the likes of Dillie Keane, Roy Hattersley, Lynda Lee Potter and other assorted pundits giving us their 'common sense' views about the alleged effects of the media, and doing so with a totally unwarranted air of expertise and authority to boot. It is simply not the case that because people watch television they are expert on it - although, of course, they're obviously entitled to hold views about it. Mutatis mutandis, we all use language but we're not all experts in phonetics, phonology and morphology, nor able to debate the finer points of transformational grammar. Finally, and this is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whole affair, it's interesting to note the worrying prevalence of attempts to hitch the 'nasty' bandwagon to now-fashionable ideas about the 'underclass', or the 'undeser-



ving poor' as they used to be called in Victorian times. Unsurprisingly this attempt to de-legitimise the welfare system by blaming the poor for their wretched state had its roots in Reagan's America, but thanks to sustained campaigns by the Mail, The Times and The Sunday Times it now has followers on the Tory Right. The link was first made by Bryan Appleyard (who used to work for The Sunday Times) in a lengthy piece in the Independent on I December 1993 in which he asked rhetorically: 'Would you allow an illeducated, culturally deprived, unemployable underclass unlimited access to violent pornography?' Then, in a conscious echo of the famous remark about servants in the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial, he went on to argue that if you do away with censorship, 'you don't just get Mapplethorpe for the connoisseur, you also get vicious drivel for the masses. More painfully, you also get unarguably fine films such as Taxi Driver and Good/ellas, which, if you are honest, you would rather were not watched by certain types of people'. Reservoir Dogs is also singled out as a 'brilliant, bloody film that I would prefer not to be seen by the criminal classes [sic] or the mentally unstable or by inadequately supervised children with little else in their lives'. I suppose this is what Thatcherite pundits would proudly call 'thinking the unthinkable'. Personally I prefer the word snobbery. The Mail of 18 December, in the wake of the just-concluded Capper trial, was even more 'unthinkable'. Noting that the police had commented on the murderers' 'ordinariness' the Mail proclaimed that: They are the product of a society which tolerates petty crime, the breakup of families and feckless spending. It subsidises and, in many cases, encourages them. It is interesting to note that most of Suzanne's tormentors were on social security. But then those in society who are genuinely out of work but who have savings, do not receive income support. Thus are the prudent penalised while the negligent are nurtured. All this reflects a society showing reckless disregard for the survival of its own decency. An underclass is being created today which is a grave threat to Britain's future. If it is not countered, then we will continue a decline towards lawlessness and degeneracy. Ah, now I understand - it's not 'video nasties' which create sadistic killers, it's the welfare state (or what's left of it). This kind of 'thinking' re-emerged in April 1994 around the time of the Alton amendment. Thus in The Sunday Times of 3 April we find Margaret Driscoll arguing that 'the children most likely to be damaged are those being brought up in sink estates where family values no longer hold sway - the products of the "anything goes" society', whilst a Times editorial of I I April held forth that 'horror-video addiction is part of a socially disadvantaged sink



culture in which lack of parental supervision is endemic'. Meanwhile in the Mail two days later the inevitable Lynda Lee Potter shrieked that: There are thousands of children in this country with fathers they never see and mothers who are lazy sluts. They are allowed to do what they want, when they want. They sniff glue on building sites, scavenge for food and, until now, they were free to watch increasingly horrific videos. By sixteen they are disturbed and dangerous. Given the way in which the press has consistently demonised horror videos in the wake of the Capper and Bulger murders it's hardly surprising that so many MPs should have lined up behind David Alton. Of course, these are the very last people who should be allowed to legislate about the media: given the ludicrous hours they choose to work they rarely watch TV, and I suspect that most of them have never seen, or probably even heard of, Psycho or Peeping Tom let alone more recent horror movies. Still, it's altogether fitting that the amendment is to the Criminal Justice Bill, undoubtedly one of the most shameful pieces of legislation ever to be contemplated in Britain. Its intended criminalisation of squatters, travellers, ravers and other Tory hate-objects has been massively facilitated by exactly the same kind of vicious, distorted, hysterical reporting of their activities in the press that has characterised the papers' scapegoating of video in the wake of the Bulger and Capper murders. The recommendations of the recent Royal Commission on Criminal Justice have been not simply ignored but stood on their heads: clearly, when it comes to law-making in Britain today, whether we're talking about videos or anything else that can be hitched up to the law 'n' order juggernaut, it is not reason that prevails but the saloon bar pundits of the populist press and the braying mob on the floor of annual Tory Party conferences.



Doing Harm

hen politicians and press pundits work themselves into a self-righteous frenzy over films such as Natural Born Killers, Child's Play 3 and Crash you could easily be forgiven for thinking that Britain has entirely abolished film and video censorship. Nothing could be further from the truth: Britain inflicts some of the strictest film and video censorship in the Western world. Between 1985 and 1995, the British Board of Film Classification cut 23.6 per cent of'I8'-rated videos and 30.4 per cent of those rated 'RI8'. Forty were banned outright. Numerous recent films have suffered at the hands of the Board, in either their film or video versions or both, although it does need to be borne in mind that in some cases the cuts were inflicted so that the film or video could be given the specific classification for which the distributor had asked. The titles include Pulp Fiction, Dirty Weekend, the James Bond film Goldeneye, Batman Forever, Braveheart, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Under Siege 2, Judge Dredd, Mortal Kombat, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Showgirls, Strange Days, Highlander 3 and Rob Roy. The Good Son, which features a murderous child, and was held up for cinema classification in the wake of the James Bulger case ('after a decent delay to let bruised memories fade', as the BBFC Annual Report I994--gS put it), was cut for video in 1995, although on its belated cinema release in summer 1994 it had been passed intact at '18'. The BBFC noted that the cuts included not just the details of how two children engineer a motorway pile-up 'but also the mounting excitement with which the boys greet the escalating devastation. The fascination the uncut scene might have held for children attracted by its star Macaulay Culkin seemed far too great to risk in a domestic medium like video, even with the cover of an "18" This is the unedited version of an article that was originally pu blished in a much shorter version in Index on Censorship, March/April 1997-



certificate'. In the case of the video of Trainspotting, 'the detailed process of heroin injection was reduced to minimise its instructional capacity as well as its hypnotic power'. More generally, in 1995, in the case of cinema films, IS.Z per cent of'PG's, 9.3 per cent of 'IZ'S, 6.z per cent of 'IS'S and 1.Z per cent of 'I8's were passed only after cuts had been made. In the case of videos, the corresponding figures are: LPG': Z.I per cent; 'IZ': 1.1 per cent; 'IS': 3.4 per cent; '18': 18.4 per cent; 'RI8': Z1.7 per cent. Thirty-four videos were cut for reasons of violence and horror, with eighty-four cuts totalling nearly thirty-five minutes of running time. A total of IZ9 sex videos were cut, amounting to some seven and a half hours of sexual activity. All these details, and many more, can be found in the BBFC's Annual Report I99S-g6. The Board is often accused of being secretive and of operating behind closed doors, but its annual reports are easily available and are a mine of useful information. In December 1995 the BBFC also published its report to the Home Secretary Michael Howard, which he had requested following public pronouncements by the widow of the murdered l London headmaster Philip Lawrence. As usual, the Annual Report was totally ignored by the press, and the Howard document fared little better. The BBFC's activities are only news, it seems, when there's a lurid (and usually distorted) story to be made out of a Crash or Natural Born Killers. Indeed, the role of the press in the censorship process looms large in both reports. As the BBFC points out to Michael Howard, the Board has to 'operate in the real world of popular entertainment, media hype, assorted pressure groups and public alarms'. The press has proved itselfparticularly effective as a generator of pressure and alarm, and the Annual Report doesn't hesitate to criticise it, in the case of Natural Born Killers and Kids, for fuelling 'rumours which research proved to be largely untrue'. In the case of Child's Play 3 and another film, Juice, blamed for causing a killing, it is quite unequivocal: As soon as allegations were made in 1993 that the videos had been implicated in real-life crimes, the tapes were reviewed. They were seen in full by all the Board's principal officers, including the President and Vice Presidents. No parallels were found between the incidents depicted in the videos and the crimes attributed to them, nor could grounds be found for the suggestion that the videos might have a harmful influence on behaviour. In both cases, that judgement was tested against the views of the Video Consultative Council, the Board's advisory body which includes local authority councillors, a criminologist, and two doctors, one of them a former Director of the NSPCC. In neither case could members find any similarity with the details of the three murders in which they were allegedly implicated, and the Council were unanimous



in supporting the Board's decision to classify Child's Play 3 uncut at '18' and Juice uncut at 'IS'. Indeed, the teachers on the Council found Juice particularly interesting as a work which analysed the temptations of juvenile crime and firmly rejected them. They were pleased that it had been classified 'IS', since it could prove useful as a starting point for a lesson in moral education for fifth-year pupils in the last year of compulsory schooling. The Report reserves its strongest condemnation, however, for press behaviour over a documentary video entitled Executions, which it describes as having been made by 'two serious if naive young men who assumed the backers of their campaigning video had been motivated by the same ideals as had driven them to comb the newsreel libraries for footage that would reveal the evils of state execution'. The Report goes on to note that the video's far from naive distributors immediately realised its commercial potential for creating outrage and 'rounded up the usual rent-a-quote figures who could be guaranteed to condemn the video after seeing a few horrific excerpts. No advertising was needed since, within a few days, the title had been manoeuvred onto the news and leader pages of most national newspapers'. The distributors thus manipulated the newspapers by feeding them with exactly what they wanted, a story about an allegedly outrageous video, and, 'astonishingly the news media rolled over and begged for more, exploiting a news story and being exploited by it. It was a profitable partnership, since not only did it sell videos, but it sold newspapers'. So far so good. So has the BBFC finally come round to the point of view that its actions should not be influenced by lurid 'copycat crime' stories largely manufactured by a hypocritical and prurient press? Unfortunately not. For whilst the Board freely admits in both documents that many of the letters of complaint which it receives about individual films are from people who have not seen the film in question but have only read press reports about it, it nonetheless tells Howard that such letters 'do measure the temperature of public opinion, and the Board can never ignore such moods, however transitory, since they may well determine the level of public confidence in the Board's decision-making'. In like vein, the introduction by BBFC President Lord Harewood to the Annual Report itself states: However little justified by the facts, the fears and anxieties of the public need to be taken seriously, since they create the climate in which the films and videos are viewed and judged. Research has shown that one of the most striking effects of screen violence is the extent to which it confirms the views of ordinary people is a mean world, full of danger for 2 the average law-abiding citizen. Crime statistics don't always support



those fears, but statistics have nothing like enough power to contradict the impression made by the violent screen. The effect is that the BBFC is faced not just with depictions of violence which worry us, but with the public's perception of that violence, which we must take just as seriously. Often we feel that the public's response is based on a misconception which can only be corrected through the provision of accurate information and advice. One of the things these Annual Reports can do is to provide such information. And in spite of the remarks about Child's Play 3 quoted earlier, the Report takes a similar line over the alleged role of that video in the Bulger murder. Thus on the one hand it plainly states that in this case the papers have followed James Stewart's advice to a journalist in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: 'When fact becomes legend, print the legend'. But on the other it notes that: Crimes of violence to and by children can be uniquely unsettling, since the destruction or corruption of innocence violates our faith in human nature. When that faith is shaken, as it was in 1993 and too frequently afterwards, it is understandable that people should seize on something like video violence as an explanation. For a while, it seemed a plausible scapegoat, not just for the Bulger killing, but for two other murders as well. When the true facts emerged, however, they were not enough to assuage the public's unease, despite the Minister's statement to Parliament that 'the police reports did not support the theory that those crimes had been influenced by exposure either to any particular video, or to videos in general, and no evidence about the role of videos was presented in any of the prosecutions'. (Hansard, IS June 1994) The problem with this approach is that for anybody who followed the case with a mind unclouded by press hysteria and fabrication, video violence never seemed like a plausible scapegoat, and the ludicrous notion that Child's Play 3 or any other video directly 'caused' the murder ofJames Bulger owes its whole wretched existence to the fact that the police who investigated the case insisted on finding out what videos were available in the households of the two boys accused of his murder (and, crucially, on telling the press that they were pursuing this line of enquiry), and to the exceedingly ill-chosen and uncalledfor remark of the trial judge in the case to the effect that 'it is not for me to pass judgement on their upbringing [sic] but I suspect that exposure to violent video films may be in part an explanation'. Furthermore, the true facts of the case may have emerged in books such as Mark Thomas's Every Mother's Nightmare, David James Smith's The Sleep of Reason and Blake Morrison's 3 As If, but not for a single moment in the newspapers which most people read.



The Report concludes that 'whether or not these fears were justified, they were plainly real ... Legends clearly satisfy a need, and if the culpability of video violence has become a legend, it must be because of the need people feel to fight back against the intrusion into our homes of an unsafe world, replete with danger'. So having roundly criticised the press for its distortions, the Board then admits that when these eventually produce equally distorted public perceptions, it acts upon them by cutting violent scenes out of videosthereby, of course, simply giving yet further credence to the crude, hypodermic notion of 'media effects' pedalled by the press and the Whitehouse lobby. But the real media effect revealed here is that film and video censorship in the UK is ultimately dictated by the Daily Mail and its ilk. Yet more credence was given to 'effects' myths by the behaviour of both the Board and, more particularly, the distributors of the video of Natural Born Killers. When the Board was presented with the cinema release in 1994, it refused to pass the film until it had investigated each and every report of copycat killings allegedly caused by the film, and found them to be unsubstantiated. This could be regarded as a useful myth-busting activity, but then consider what happened next: So concerned was the Board about the possibility of a delayed reaction [to the film] that the distributors were informed that no video classification would be considered until sufficient time had elapsed to gauge whether or not there had been any violent incidents in Britain or elsewhere which could be attributed to the film. By the end of 1995, none had been reported, and the Board informed the distributors and the Home Office [sic] that it was now prepared to consider a video release. After careful examination, applying all the tests laid down in the Criminal Justice Act, the Board granted the video an '18' certificate. Within a month, Britain had been traumatised by the appalling mass shooting of primary school children in Dunblane. Out of respect for the families, the distributors announced that the release of the video had been postponed, although it contained no scene which paralleled that dreadful incident. Neither police investigations nor the public enquiry into the Dunblane tragedy unearthed any evidence that video or TV had played a part in the psychology of the killer, but public unease continued. When new unsubstantiated rumours about the film appeared in the press, the video distributors quietly shelved the title in Britain, perhaps permanently.4 The BBFC's pusillanimity in the face of newspaper campaigns against certain films, or certain kinds of films, is all the more puzzling since its report to Michael Howard actually contains some very useful snapshots of real public opinion properly gathered, and not populist ranting posing in the press as



'public opinion'. For example, it quotes a 1990 Broadcasting Standards Council survey which found that, although 83 per cent of respondents felt that society was more violent than a decade earlier, 46 per cent put this down to lack of discipline in the home, 21 per cent to unemployment, 14 per cent to lack of discipline in schools and only 12 per cent to television. Video was never cited as a primary cause. In 1991, only 8 per cent of complaints to the BBC concerned violence. Meanwhile, in 1996 the BBFC's own Home Viewing Panel ranked violence third (22 per cent) behind drug use (30 per cent) and racism (34 per cent) as areas of 'great concern'. Only 9 per cent had seen a video which they considered too violent. Of the same panel, 27 per cent thought that videos were a major factor contributing to violence in society, placing it joint fourth with unemployment but behind lack of discipline/ parental control (45 per cent), upbringing/parents/home (39 per cent) and television (33 per cent). The Board is fond of quoting J. S. Mill's dictum that 'the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others'. This it interprets to mean that the rights of the robust majority to view what it likes must be curtailed to prevent harm to a vulnerable minority. But what if the notion of harm turns out to be untenable, or at least grossly exaggerated? And what of the harm done to freedom of choice and expression, let alone rational debate, by censorship and classification carried out in an air of press-inspired panics? Panics which the BBFC itself openly admits are ill-founded but which, at the same time, it treats as a symptom of 'public opinion' rather than dismissing them with the contempt such populist antics deserve.

NOTES 1. Frances Lawrence had called for a national campaign 'dedicated to healing our fractured society, banishing violence, ensuring that the next generation are equipped to be good citizens and urgently debating how the moral climate can be changed for the better'. However, her manifesto had little to say about media violence specifically. 2. What Harewood is referring to here is 'mean world syndrome', an idea most closely associated with George Gerbner. But if many people believe that crime, and especially violent crime, is far more common than it actually is, then the most obvious culprits are newspapers, since these have been shown consistently to give a misleading impression of the actual incidence of violent crime. Newspapers also purport to be in the business of nonfiction, whereas feature films, however 'realistic', are works of fiction. For a useful discussion of reporting crime figures, see Schlesinger and Tumber 1994: 183-206. 3. For a critical account of how the British press 'explained' the murder of James Bulger, see Franklin and Petley (1996). The myth that Child's Play J 'caused' the murder is as prevalent now as it was when the article on which this chapter is based was written. 4- Natural Born Killers was released uncut in Britain on DVD in 2001.


The Anatomy of a Newspaper Campaign: Crash

he beginnings of the Crash furore lie entirely in a review of, or rather hysterical diatribe against, the film in the Evening Standard (3 June 1996) by Alexander Walker who had just seen it at Cannes. The piece is headed: 'A Movie Beyond the Bounds of Depravity', although this phrase appears nowhere in the text. It was, however, taken up in numerous subsequent articles, the first of which was the Mail's front-page story on 9 November, headed 'Ban This Car Crash Sex Film', which stated that Crash 'has shocked critics, one of whom labelled it "beyond depravity" '. Walker's own reaction to having a Standard sub-editor's nifty turn of phrase attributed to him was typically slippery and ambivalent. He publicly denied, when challenged, that he was responsible for the words 'beyond depravity' (for example in a confrontation with the film's executive producer, Chris Auty, on the Radio 4 Today programme on 9 November) but, privately, told the Standard's editorial manager, Jeannette Arnold, who handled the paper's response to my complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the gross inaccuracies in Associated Newspapers' campaign against the film, that he considered the words to be 'fair and accurate comment on the content of the article and the strength of opinion expressed'. Walker's article is worth dwelling on in some detail because it lays down the tramlines along which subsequent stories, in both the Standard and its 1 Associated Newspapers stable-mate the Mail, would run. Thus, for example, Walker's assertion that Crash 'left many hardened filmgoers at the Cannes


Part of this article was co-written with Mark Kermode and published under the title 'Road Rage' in Sight and Sound Oune 1997). However, that article stopped with the BBFC passing Crash, and all the material from the introduction of Paul Britton onwards is new, as is some of the earlier material.]



preview feeling debased and degraded' would be recycled, with minor variations, time and again in later Mail and Standard stories. The fact is, however, as numerous people present at the screening have testified, that this was simply not the case: in a classic example of projection, Walker unloaded his own reaction to the film onto other critics present at the screening. (In fact, the film was nominated for the Golden Palm and won the Jury Special Prize.) And, in exactly the same way, the Standard and Mail would constantly to try to represent their own campaign against the film as an expression of 'public opinion' (as opposed to increasingly isolated, shrill and eccentric editorialising on their part). Thus, for example, a Mail article of 9 November alleges that 'Mrs Bottomley has come under strong pressure to outlaw the film' but coyly fails to admit that the only source of this pressure is none other than Associated Newspapers itself1 Indeed, when I complained to the PCC about the inaccuracies in Associated's campaign, they repeatedly denied that their papers were involved in any such campaign! But what, then, to make of the caption in the Mail (22 May 1997) under a montage of Mail headlines, 'How the Mail Campaigned Against Crash'? Getting its critical reception at Cannes wrong is far from being the only error in Walker's article. Twice the film is described as 'pornography', but to be so it would have to be likely to fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act. This is quite obviously not the case (and indeed the BBFC was later to have precisely this point confirmed by a leading QC). Walker also accuses the film of 'promulgating a perverted creed' and argues that 'the mind of any civilised person may well reel at the ideas this film promotes. Namely, that the usually private enjoyment of sado-masochism is being recommended to "go public" on the high roads; that orgasm can and should be generated by reckless driving'. But fictional feature films (unlike, say, certain forms of documentary) do not 'promote' or 'recommend' forms of behaviour nor 'promulgate' creeds (and particularly a film so deliberately distanced and hermetic as Crash), and Walker is simply making the classic mistake of assuming that whatever a film (or, for that matter, any work of art) depicts it also endorses. Walker's article is important in that it not only predicts the furore to come, it virtually sits up and begs for it:

Crash, it may be safely predicted, is a film that's going to live up to the repercussions of its title when it opens in London. Or, rather, if it ever opens. Just now, the contrary hush it's generating in Wardour Street represents the breath-catching speculation of film distributors about its chances of getting any certificate at all, never mind in a cut form. Many would like to handle it, but fear the social or even legal consequences of doing so. For Crash, without exaggeration, will tax public tolerance and film censorship to the limits, and maybe beyond them.



Coming from the stablemate of the Mail, a paper with antennae finely tuned for stories guaranteed to stoke the fires of moral outrage in 'Middle England', this isn't simply coat-trailing, it's self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus when Walker warns that Crash 'is going to encounter enormous resistance to public exhibition', this is as much a threat as a prediction. As Philip French concluded in the Observer (17 November), Walker's article 'was like giving a box of matches to an arsonist, and we're now watching the fire'. The inclusion of Crash in the London Film Festival in November gave the Mail and Standard (paradoxically one of the sponsors of the LFF) the opportunity to pressure the British Board of Film Classification before it had had a chance to classify the film. Not for the first time in censorship matters, the Mail found a ready and willing ally in Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley, who, stepping outside her own jurisdiction and into Home Secretary Michael Howard's territory, was quoted in its front-page story on 9 November, headlined 'Ban This Car Crash Sex Film', with the strap 'Campaign to stop depraved movie being shown in Britain', as saying: 'I would urge local authorities to use the powers they have to refuse the film a screen. There is too much violence' (although, as the film's publicists privately confirmed, she hadn't actually seen it, so how would she know?). The paper also phoned Mary Whitehouse and Tory MPs Julian Brazier and Nigel Evans, all of whom obliged with negative quotes although none had seen the film (this is, of course, not acknowledged in the article). And so began the process which led Westminster Council, on 20 November, to ban the film from those cinemas in London over which it has jurisdiction, namely those south of Shaftesbury Avenue, which thus became a sort of cinematic equivalent of the Berlin Wall. The same issue of the Mail also contains the first of many attempts by its film critic, Christopher Tookey, to raise the temperature over Crash. This is quite as hysterical as the Walker 'review' cited above but it does at least have the virtue of honesty: Tookey makes no bones about calling for the film to be banned ('Crash is the point at which even a liberal society should draw the line'), unlike Walker who is at best Jesuitical and at worst weaselly. His jeremiad is, however, marred by grotesque overstatement (Crash promulgates the 'twisted morality' of 'the satyr, the nymphomaniac, the rapist, the paedophile, the danger to society'), appalling tastelessness (one of the marks of the film's heterosexual characters losing their inhibitions is that they 'experiment pleasurably' with 'sex with cripples') and unfortunate mistakes (he gets the film's ending wrong and can't spell, thus 'concensus'). Emboldened by the rising storm over Crash, the Standard turned its attentions to other films in the LFF in a front-page article by the paper's media correspondent, Lisa O'Carroll, on I I November headed: 'London to See Banned Films' (if only!) and with the strap: 'Regulators say they are



powerless to prevent showings of bizarre sex'. The article focused on two allnight 'underground' programmes at the ICA which allegedly featured 'sexual practices even more extreme than the controversial movie Crash'. The programmes included Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (which, we are wrongly informed, is 'permanently banned in New York') and various works by Kenneth Anger. However, the lamentably ill-informed O'Carroll proceeds to get herself into a monumental muddle by fulminating against the entirely non-existent film Flaming Anger! Perhaps, then, it was hardly surprising that when O'Carroll hopefully presented this farrago to the Home Office and Department of National Heritage for critical comment, she met with only 'a bizarre cloud of apathy' (note the characteristic confusion of reporting and editorialising). The Standard's efforts were not wholly unrewarded, however, as the ICA received a visit from an embarrassed and apologetic Metropolitan Police vice squad who said they would much rather be chasing child pornographers but had to act on all complaints received, however ludicrous. (The complainant was apparently the Liberal Democrat MP, David Alton, who had been phoned by the Standard for a comment on their 'story'.) The same edition of the Standard carried a 'review' of the film by one Christopher Hudson which was largely a rehash of the above-mentioned Walker and Tookey pieces. My complaint to the PCC about the inaccuracies in this particular piece at least had the merit of forcing Jeanette Arnold to admit that Hudson had not actually seen the film 'although he has read most of [sic] the script'. One wonders how many of the Standard's other arts reviewers have not actually encountered the works they are discussing. On 19 November the Mail turned its attentions to Carmen Menegazzi, the managing director of Crash's distributors, Columbia Tri-Star. Under the headline: 'Crash Means Cash Says Woman Boss', and accompanied by an extremely unflattering picture of 'Miss Menegazzi' (specially taken by a Mail photographer), the article suggests that Columbia Tri-Star is pedalling Crash solely for grubby financial purposes and attempts to push all the usual Mailreader buttons by gratuitously labelling Menegazzi as 'single and childless'. On 20 November the licensing sub-committee of Westminster Council, headed by one John Bull, announced that it had banned Crash. The next day's Guardian revealed that the three councillors comprising the committee had made it clear that unless the BBFC (which had yet to announce its decision on the film) reviewed three sections, 'the sex scene involving a woman wearing callipers, the final sex scene, and the statement [by the film's leading character] "car crashes are fertilising and not destructive"', Westminster would not allow cinemas within its jurisdiction to show it. The committee was quoted as condemning the film as 'sexually degrading' and 'near necrophilia', and in The Sunday Times (24 November) John Bull complained that:



Sex took place with all these callipers on. I am thinking of the disabled. They may say 'Don't interfere'. I am not God. But if you can imagine a lady with her two legs up, practically touching the roof of the car. I mean, but what is the world coming to? Do we need this stuff in our cinemas? He also admitted that 'I have a terrible gut feeling, and I hope to God that I am wrong, that these crash scenes will incite road rage'. At this point, the crucial importance to the censorship process of local authorities' powers to prevent cinemas within their jurisdiction from showing films of which those authorities disapprove needs to be stressed. Indeed, the Board's founding in 1912 owes its existence to these powers, and to distributors' and exhibitors' consequent bewilderment in the face of an evergrowing array of local censorship practices and standards, and their determination to found an industry-based censorship body in whose judgements the local authorities would have faith and who would thus stop censoring films themselves. This gambit eventually paid off, and in 1924 the BBFC, though a private body, received judicial recognition when the Divisional Court upheld the validity of the condition that: 'No cinematograph film ... which has not been passed for ... exhibition by the BBFC shall be exhibited without the express consent of the council' (quoted in Robertson and Nicol 2008: 824). In effect, this meant, and continues to mean, that as long as a local council reserves the right to overrule BBFC decisions when it disagrees with them, it is entitled to make it a condition of granting a licence to a cinema that that cinema screens only films passed by the BBFC. Today, most local authorities adopt a set of 'model licensing conditions' drafted by the Home Office, and these include not only the preceding stipulation but also that 'no young people shall be admitted to any exhibition of a film classified by the Board as unsuitable for them, unless with the local authority's permission', and that 'no film shall be exhibited if the licensing authority gives notice in writing prohibiting its exhibition on the ground that it would offend against good taste or decency or would be likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling' (quoted in ibid.: 824). What this entails, of course, is that the BBFC, in classifying films for cinema release, has to take account of the sensibilities of local councillors, which can be all too easily inflamed by lurid and exaggerated press accounts of the contents of particular films. And when in the early 1970S the BBFC did indeed pass a number of films such as The Devils, Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange, which a number of local councils refused to allow to be shown within their jurisdictions, the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association called for the resignation of BBFC Secretary Stephen Murphy on the grounds that he was too liberal, too loath to cut, and out of touch with public opinion. This led to the



headline 'Murphy Must Go' in March 1972 in the trade paper CinemaTV today, which was of course meat and drink to a national press which needed no excuse to lambast the BBFC on precisely these grounds. (For useful accounts oflocal authority activism in this area, see Phelps (1975), Robertson (1989) and Mathews (1994).) The rift was tactfully patched up, but Murphy's days were numbered (he retired in 1974), and it was precisely to avoid situations such as this that James Ferman was appointed as his replacement. But, again, nothing could illustrate more clearly how deeply complicit are elements of the film industry with the censorship process, and how the BBFC has to take into account external factors in carrying out its functions. But to return to the main narrative. The Mail, further emboldened by this victory in its campaign, carried a full-page article by Christopher Tookey. Under the headline: 'Boycott Sony' and the strap: 'What YOU can do to keep this revolting film off our screens', Tookey urged his readers to stop buying the products of Columbia Tri-Star's parent company on the grounds that Crash might have a 'copycat effect' and a 'harmful impact on society'. Tookey argued that since Natural Born Killers, The Good Son and A Clockwork Orange had caused copycat crimes, Crash could well do likewise. The only problem is, however, that these claims about Crash's predecessors simply do not stand up to rational scrutiny - as the BBFC itself had already conclusively proved in the case of Natural Born Killers. Nonetheless, it was at this point that the threat to Crash was at its greatest - not from the BBFC, but from top executives at Sony who, privately, were thoroughly rattled by the spectre of a boycott and the possible damage to their company's bottom line. However, the boycott never materialised. It was absolutely inevitable that at some point the Associated flamethrower was going to turn on the BBFC. Indeed, the signs were there right from the start. In his original Standard piece Walker had noted that: It has been a rough season for film censors. The ultra-violence of Natural Born Killers . .. the excessive nudity of Showgirls . .. the underage sex of Kids. All have aroused successive waves of public protest, Parliamentary questions, editorial disquiet, even rank bad reviews. And in his first Mail article Tookey had complained that the BBFC 'have already let through films such as Blue Velvet, Basic Instinct, The Night Porter [in 1974!] and In the Realm of the Senses - all of which exploit and condone sado-masochistic practices'. In the Standard (22 November), under the headline: 'Cut. It's Time to End the Censors' Deals', Walker again foreshadowed later developments in the campaign. Arguing that 'censors should not do their deals over rating and cutting films with the very people in the business who appoint them to their jobs', he continued:



The Government may feel that the film media are now so alarming to many people that the role of the BBFC needs to be formally redefined and put directly under Home Office supervision. This would be much more rational, though far more injurious to the sort of compromise traditionally worked out between the censor and the film folk. This is surely an extremely curious position for any self-respecting film critic to adopt, let alone one who liked to present himself as an anti-censorship campaigner and who had been extremely critical in the self-same newspaper of the imposition of state video censorship in 1984, as quotes from Walker in the first part of this book amply demonstrate. As I pointed out in a letter to the Guardian on 23 November, the BBFC was now in the wholly unenviable position of having to judge Crash with three separate guns pointing at its head: one belonging to Westminster Council, which has publicly made known to the BBFC the cuts which it requires if the film is to be allowed to be shown in the West End; another belonging to the baying bigots of the Mail and Evening Standard; and the third to a craven, populist government engaged in a Dutch auction with those selfsame papers on any issue, however threadbare and opportunist, which might profitably be hitched to a pre-election law 'n' order bandwagon. The same day, we get the first indication that the Mail has been actively gingering up local councils to ban Crash. This is in an article by Paul Eastham and Michael Harvey headed 'The Crash Whiplash' in which it is revealed that Bottomley has been shown 'the results of a Daily Mail straw poll of councils which indicates that members are considering following the lead of Westminster in refusing the film a licence'. The Mail manages to elicit negative comments from Liverpool and Cambridge councillors but, since these unfortunates had not seen Crash and were thus basing their remarks on Associated's grotesquely distorted representations of the film, their sentiments were hardly surprising and carry no real weight. This article forms part of a two-page spread, the rest consisting of a series of pieces by one Vicky Ward which are absolutely riddled with inaccuracies and innuendo. (Incidentally, inside sources at Associated revealed that Ward was heavily briefed, to put it mildly, by Alexander Walker). Thus 'Ward' alleges that: 'In France 200,000 people have seen the film', that the critics there 'have dismissed it as pornographic' and that in Canada the film 'is showing in only twelve cinemas'. In fact, Crash was a huge critical and commercial success in France, being for a while the top-grossing film there and reaching an audience 2 of over 700,000. No French critic of any note dismissed it as pornographic. As for Canada, the film may have been showing in only twelve cinemas at the



time of the Mail articlebut.prior to that, it had been a number-one smash hit there and had been awarded the Golden Reel as the year's most successful home-grown film at the Canadian box office. An extraordinarily unpleasant and snide feature on Jeremy Thomas implies that he has produced a film as controversial as Crash because 'his production company is not having the most profitable of times'. Blithely ignoring the inconvenient fact that Crash is controversial only to the extent that Associated Newspapers' campaign has made it so, 'Ward' alleges that Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty, which Thomas produced, 'was deemed a flop both commercially and critically' and that 'he is still saddled with Victory' which 'cost £13 million and, two years since completion, has still found no buyers to distribute it'. In fact, at that time Stealing Beauty had taken nearly £900,000 on its UK release alone and many critics regarded it as Bertolucci's finest film since The Last Emperor. As for Victory, which cost $13 million not £13 million, this was finished only a week (not two years) after the Mail article appeared and had already been bought by various overseas distributors at that point. So, four howling errors in one short paragraph, and yet the Mail refused point blank even to respond to these points when I raised them in my complaint to the PCC about the inaccuracies in Associated's campaign, arrogantly (and indeed entirely inaccurately) dismissing them as 'an exercise in semantics'. The whole distasteful, McCarthyite exercise is topped off with heavily loaded capsule descriptions (a particular Mail speciality, as we shall see below) of some of those who had publicly supported Crash, such as Jeremy Issacs ('Former Channel 4 boss, criticised for "introducing a steady diet of sex in the name of art" ') and Peter Greenaway ('His film The Baby of Macon featured gang rape and the mutilation of a baby'). On 13 December, in the wake ofa calm and sensible report to Michael Howard by the BBFC, Tookey was given a full page in the Mail, headed 'Time to Sack This Feeble Censor', to lambast James Ferman as 'defeatist' and to conclude that 'it is time for him to go,.3 Similarly, in a self-pitying piece in February 1997 in Prospect magazine, in which he seems curiously hurt and surprised at the negative reactions to his Mail diatribes, he characteristically 'echoes' Walker's 22 November article by arguing that: 'It seems crazy that such censorship as we have is carried out by people financed by the film companies, accountable to no one, and under no obligation to make their reasoning transparent'. The antiBBFC tirade continued in the Mail, 23 December, in an article headed 'Crash Film Go-Ahead May Sink Censors' which stated that: 'Censors are poised to approve the "sex and wrecks" film Crash for full release'. Indulging in yet more self-fulfilling prophecy it announced: The move will create an uproar and dramatically increase pressure for the board to be replaced with a tougher and more accountable body. The



Home Office is understood to be examining ways of scrapping the BBFC - a private company funded by the film industry - and establishing a new watchdog. Ministers and MPs are concerned that the existing system is powerless to stop the rising tide of sickening violence. David Alton is quoted to the effect that 'I can see little point in maintaining the BBFC if it is going to allow a film like Crash into our cinemas. It effectively forfeits its right to carryon', whilst an editorial (although in the case of the Mail the conventional journalistic distinction between news and views all too frequently simply does not apply) lambasts the Board as 'out of touch, elitist and not accountable to the public' and the examiners as coming mostly from 'trendy arts and public service backgrounds'. This latter point is hammered home in an article headed 'Judges of Movie Morality ... But You Are Not Allowed to Know About Them', in which one examiner, Richard Falcon, is described as 'a bachelor in his 40s' and 'a liberal', and it is revealed that 'several of the group are members of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance trade union'. This, however, was as nothing compared to the Mail's impotent fury when the BBFC courageously passed Crash uncut on 18 March. The following day it ran a front-page story headed 'Censor's Yes to Depraved Sex Film', most of which, in effect, was simply another wearisome resume of Associated's own campaign against the film, but one that, as usual, carefully omitted the slightest reference to the newspaper group's starring role in creating the 'story' in the first place! A new element, however, is an attack on the 'controversial' and 'notorious' psychologist Dr Paul Britton on whose 'sayso', according to the Mail, the film was passed, on the grounds that 'the shocking story of perverts sexually aroused by car smashes was harmless'. Dr Britton, the article adds, masterminded the police operation against Colin Stagg over the Wimbledon Common murder of Rachel Nickell. He was heavily criticised when the prosecution collapsed. Last night his verdict on Crash was also under attack. Roger Gale MP, chairman of the Tory backbench media committee said: 'It stinks'. But just in case anybody should think that the battle was now won (or lost, according to your point of view) the paper also added the by-now mandatory self-fulfilling touch to the effect that 'the move will trigger guerrilla warfare, with many local authorities likely to use their powers to veto the film'. However, a more ominous note was struck by the paper's editorial, 'A Cynical Censor and a Sick Film', which warned that:



Presumably, the BBFC banks on being left undisturbed by a Labour Government with liberal sympathies and lots of luvvies in the wings ... Whoever governs this country come May should scrap the British Board of Film Classification which over this and so many films has betrayed its public responsibilities. For Tony Blair, this could be the first acid test of his commitment to family values. And the following day an article headed 'Does Anything Appal This Man?' quotes Tory MP Julian Brazier as warning that 'a new Parliament will see a campaign to do away with the BBFC and replace it with something more accountable', and David Alton as stating that 'the BBFC has inadvertently made the film Crash an election issue'. The article also reveals that 'Labour sources made it clear the issue would not be sidelined under a Tony Blair government'. Thus was 'New Labour' firmly and resoundingly put on notice by a newspaper which had become all too used to wielding considerable, if entirely unwarranted, political power over the previous eighteen years. Associated's campaign against the film took a new twist on 23 March when the Mail on Sunday published an article headed - without apparent irony 'Distortion!', with the strap 'Film censors cheated on expert's views to justify screening Crash porn film'. But before analysing this article, however, it is important to understand just what the BBFC had asked Dr Britton to do. According to a press release issued by the BBFC on 18 March, Dr Britton was consulted on the question of harm, particularly the link between sex and disability. He made it clear that there is no sexual deviancy known as 'orthopaedic fetishism' as alleged by critics. Nor is the sex scene with a woman in callipers fetishistic, since she is shown to be sexually attractive despite her scars or limb supports, and not because of them ... Dr Britton also dismissed the view that the film is concerned with sado-masochism by pointing out that there is no evidence of sexual sadism in the film, since no character seeks or obtains sexual pleasure from the infliction of fear, pain, or humiliation on others. Nor do any of them use violence or aggression as a source of arousal. On this basis, the article alleges, the BBFC passed the film. However, the article goes on apparently to quote two passages, but on quite different topics, from Dr Britton's twelve-page report to the BBFC. The first states that: Younger people, and those whose own moral and philosophical systems have not yet matured, or who are particularly impressionable, are much more likely to be influenced by the moral vacuum associated with the



sexuality shown by the main characters. This is significant because sexually inexperienced people may look to the main characters as role models. The second states that: In addition, there exists in any community a small group of disturbed, psychologically vulnerable or deviant individuals. It is difficult to predict precisely how each of them might behave on exposure to the film. But the main characters - the Wife whose ceaseless quest for sexual satisfaction is conducted regardless of means or exploitation of others, or the Photographer who pursues his 'art' to the destruction of self and, as a by-product, others - could be seen as an inspiration or role model for these people to emulate. Although these effects would be long lasting, they would not necessarily be seen in overt behaviour, but they would certainly have internal, psychological consequences.

However, if one compares these 'quotations' with Dr Britton's actual report, which is lodged in the BBFC archives, it transpires that the first is not actually a quotation at all, but appears to be a very condensed paraphrase of the following passage: An audience made up of viewers whose own moral and philosophical systems have not yet matured, or who are particularly open to influence, socially, by prestigious role models, is also likely to experience disquiet, reflection and sexual stimulation when watching the film. This group is much more likely to be influenced by the lack of emotional context in which sexual behaviour occurs, and, to some extent, internalise this into their own value systems. This tendency would be offset to the extent that they had already established sexual relationships. The impact of the moral vacuum associated with the sexuality shown by the main characters in the film is significant because it is reasonable to expect almost everyone to regard seeking sexual expression as being normal, however, many people in this group do not believe they know what is normal in sexual expression and therefore look, implicitly, to role models for guidance. It would be unusual for this group to be significantly affected by pulls towards either sexual fetishism or contriving to cause road traffic crashes as a consequence of exposure to this film alone. The second passage rather more resembles what Dr Britton actually wrote, but there is still sufficient paraphrasing to render its status as a direct quote highly questionable.



The article then quotes Britton himself to the effect that: I assumed it would not be given a certificate in its present form and, because the theme of sexual gratification in the absence of an emotional context was integral to the film, I thought my report would be used to justify a refusal to release it ... When I say this film should not be released, I am speaking as a clinical and forensic psychologist who sees a ceaseless line of people coming through my consulting room damaged by such influences on our community. I can also speak as a husband and father. I would not want my family to see it. However, three points need to be made here. Firstly, the film was not passed, pace the Mail (repeatedly) and the Mail on Sunday, purely on Dr Britton's say-so. The Board had actually consulted widely, including a leading QC and disabled people, before reaching its decision. And second, as already indicated, Britton's reasons for wanting the film to be banned had nothing to do with the aspects of it on which he was asked to comment by the BBFC, relating instead to its characters' 'moral vacuum' and their unsuitability as 'role models' - matters entirely outside (thankfully) the Board's remit, not to mention Dr Britton's range of expertise. (It is, incidentally, hard to recognise the film itself at all in Dr Britton's heavily psychologised prose.) Finally, the fact that the article presents paraphrases from the report as direct quotes from it inevitably casts doubt on the accuracy of the apparent quotations from Dr Britton himself. But whether he was misquoted by the Mail, or quoted out of context, or prodded by the journalist concerned into making unwise remarks, must remain open to conjecture. James Ferman contacted Dr Britton on reading the Mail on Sunday story, but received no reply. But inevitably, of course, the erstwhile 'notorious' and 'controversial' Dr Britton re-emerges as both hero and victim in the Mail (24 March), in which he is quoted as saying that 'my report makes it very, very plain that the release of the film is likely to harm people. It is dangerous, it is insidious and should not be shown. It is an appalling film which should not be released in any form'. And an editorial entitled 'Turning a Blind Eye to Depravity' concludes that 'the sooner this irresponsible Board of Film Classification, together with its shock-proof director, are consigned to the cutting room floor, the better for decency in Britain's cinemas'. Seemingly determined to wreak revenge on the BBFC for having had the temerity to disagree with its judgement on Crash, the Mail (5 April) turned its flamethrower on all fourteen of the BBFC's examiners. As already noted, such a tactic had already been attempted on 23 December, but not to the extent of devoting two whole pages to capsule descriptions of each and every



examiner, complete with shots of them grabbed paparazzo-style and entirely without their subjects' permission. Nor does one have to be an expert in critical discourse analysis to grasp immediately that the apparently factual description of each examiner is absolutely loaded with associations and connotations which, for denizens of Mail-land, would carry an overwhelmingly negative charge. As a group, the Mail tells us, 'they are drawn largely from a narrow range of public sector jobs - social work, teaching, the probation service or academia' - all familiar targets of Mail bile. Michael Bor 'grew up surrounded by film folk' (in other words, he is biased towards the film industry) and 'his first marriage ... ended in divorce'. Maria Moustaki is a 'former actress' and also 'director of a private detective agency called Decoy Dolls. It specialises in tracking and trapping philandering husbands by sending attractive female employees to "bump into" men and chat them up ... The evidence is captured on hidden tape recorders and passed on to their wives' (all of which sounds suspiciously like some of the journalistic methods employed by the Mail itself). Of Richard Falcon we are told that 'former censors describe him as an intellectual with a liberal approach to his work'. Examiners David Cotson and Janet Burgis are exposed as living together, the former having left his 'long-term girlfriend' for the latter. The marriages of three other examiners, Michael Vizard, Gianni Zamo and Ferdinand Lau, are also revealed as having recently come to an end. Graham Meagan is described as a former employee of 'Labourcontrolled Islington Council', a particular Mail hate object, and so on and on in a style of innuendo-laden journalism which is one of the hallmarks of this particularly unpleasant newspaper. Indeed, the Mail's campaign against the BBFC examiners perfectly illustrates the journalist Nick Davies's remark that 'its quest to reflect the moral and political values of its lower-middleclass readers frequently goes beyond mere reporting, taking on the shape of a punitive campaign against anybody who says or does anything which challenges those values' (zo08: 384). On Z1 May, Westminster Council renewed its ban on Crash, but subsequently only a few other councils followed suit: Cardiff, Kirklees, Walsall and North Lanarkshire. The Mail (zz May) took the opportunity to point out that the 'doughty' John Bull had 'called on the government to replace the BBFC with a body more ready to uphold public standards of decency', adding that 'Tony Blair campaigned on family values. Here, sooner than he may have expected, is his screen test'. Once again, then, 'New Labour' was put on its mettle by the Mail, but as demonstrated by the subsequent events detailed in the following chapter, the new Home Secretary, Jack Straw, needed no prompting when it came to disciplining the allegedly over-liberal BBFC and its independent-minded Director James Ferman.



NOTES Further analysis of Associated Newpapers' campaign against the film, along with consideration of the treatment of Crash in other British newspapers can be found in Barker et al. (Z001). z. French critical response to the film is discussed in Barker et al. (ibid.: 19-zz). 3. It is worth pointing out in this context that the Board's files, as analysed by Collyer (zo08), show that the Board never seriously considered banning or cutting Crash and was not swayed in its thinking either by Associated Newspapers or Westminster Council. However, it is perhaps worth noting that former BBFC examiner Roz Hodgkiss complained in her Guardian article quoted in Chapter 7 that 'the Crash controversy never seemed to end. Ferman, with characteristic caution, would not issue a certificate before he had covered every angle ... Examiners had no qualms about the decision, it was the hesitation and mess in the way it was handled that sunk us'. 1.


The Last Battle, or Why Makin' Whoopee! Matters

The Blair government is ... old, old Labour. With one exception, it has run away from every libertarian challenge. It is profoundly illiberal. As Home Secretary, Jack Straw always wanted to make clear early in the conversation that he was not a liberal. Nor is Tony Blair. Liberal is a word that crosses Blair's lips as infrequently as socialist. The third way he seeks between these terms is the only one available: reliably and fiercely conservative. Hugo Young, 'Final Proof That Labour Is Not 1 Liberal', Guardian, 18 July 2002 In August 1999 the Video Appeals Committee (VAC), established under the Video Recordings Act, announced that seven videos which the British Board of Film Classification had refused to certificate at 'RI8' (the licensed sex shop category) should be passed. These were Horny Catbabe, Nympho Nurse Nancy, TV Sex, Office Tart, the trailer for Carnival (international version), Wet Nurses 2 (continental version), and Miss Nude International (continental version). However, on 28 September, BBFC President Andreas Whittam Smith and Director Robin Duvall announced they were seeking judicial review of the decision

because, in the Board's view, it is based on a definition of harm which is an incorrect interpretation of the Video Recordings Act. The VAC This is a greatly extended version of an article which first appeared in the Journal o/Popular British Cinema, 3, 2000, pp. 93-I03. A shorter version of that article appeared under the headline 'What's In and What's Out' in the Guardian (Review), 5 November 1999. Both versions pre-date the judicial review and its aftermath, which are discussed in detail in this chapter.



judgement, if allowed to stand, would have fundamental implications with regard to all the Board's decisions, including those turning upon questions of unacceptable levels of violence. Thus this story has implications far beyond the fate of seven mildly pornographic videos. As the various episodes in the 'video nasty' saga have so clearly demonstrated, the censorship of works which few wish to defend establishes precedents which are then invoked against works of a different order. Furthermore, as has already been suggested in this book, the notion of harm on which the Video Recordings Act hinges is problematic and contestable, and thus anything which causes it to be questioned, opened up and explored is worth following closely. How the BBFC found itself seeking judicial review is a long and at times complex story. But it is one that is well worth recounting, since it demonstrates the direct involvement of the Home Office in the video censorship process and thus brings into question the extent to which the BBFC can validly be regarded as an 'arms length' media regulator.



The story of the 'RI8' began in 1982, when the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 required sex shops and cinemas to be licensed by their local authorities. A condition of the license is that nobody under eighteen may enter the establishment. Local authorities can keep out sex shops entirely by refusing to issue any licences. The same year the Cinematograph (Amendment) Act required local councils to license all commercial cinema clubs, thus closing a loophole in the law which sex cinema clubs had exploited in order to show uncensored films. A new cinema certificate ('RI8') was created by the BBFC and Home Office for films screened only in these specially licensed clubs. According to a Home Office circular: 'The classification will be applied to films which, while not portraying illegal acts or extremes of sexual perversion or horror or violence, are likely to be more 2 explicit than films at present given an "X" certificate'. In 1983 the BBFC asked its legal advisers to draw up, in consultation with the Home Office and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), guidelines governing the issue of the 'RI8' certificates. All the Home Office's recommended amendments were incorporated. Counsel's opinion which, according to the BBFC, 'remains the only overarching policy document on the "RI8"', recommended twelve general principles which for many years formed the substance of BBFC policy on standards at 'RI8'. In particular, the opinion stated that 'straightforward heterosexual or homosexual activity between



consenting adults will be permissible so long as the scene does not focus solely or dominantly upon the genital organs. "Long shots" of sexual activity will be 3 more acceptable than "close-ups"'.


It is sometimes suggested, not least by the BBFC itself, that these measures represented a partial enactment of the 1979 Report of the Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, chaired by Bernard Williams. This was commissioned by a Labour government in 1977 but ditched by the incoming Tories as unacceptably liberal. (For a discussion of the genesis, contents and fate of the report, see Simpson (1983).) In the light of future developments around the 'RI8', it is important to understand that this sensible package of proposals for regulating pornography has never been put into practice. Williams argued that 'terms such as "obscene", "indecent" and "deprave and corrupt" should be abandoned as having outlived their usefulness' (Home Office 1979: 4), and that

it is neither necessary nor desirable to give the law the task of trying to suppress all pornography ... the law should primarily aim to restrict pornography so that it will not be offensive to the public, and to satisfy the widespread feeling that young people should not be exposed to material of this kind. (ibid.: 114) The report also argued that pornographic material should be restricted to shops to which people under eighteen are not admitted; that these shops should not be specially licensed or taxed or subject to different planning controls from other shops because the pressures which would be placed on planning authorities when they were considering an application to open a pornography shop were unlikely to be based strictly on planning and amenity grounds and it would be undesirable, by requiring special permission for such shops, to arouse expectations that other kinds of objection would be relevant. (ibid.: 116-17) And it suggested that the only material which should be specifically prohibited is that in which harm has been done to those involved in its actual production, including all material involving young people under sixteen. However, this is not how the BBFC presents Williams in its Annual Report Igg8:



When films were brought under the Obscene Publications Act in 1977, the legal test became whether or not a work had a 'tendency to deprave and corrupt' likely viewers. For the Board, violent sex, or sex without consent, were the elements most likely to have a harmful or anti-social influence. In 1979, the Home Office Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship (the Williams Committee) reached similar conclusions, while noting that the courts were still finding mere visual explicitness obscene, even when the sex was both non-violent and consenting. The Committee recommended that prohibition should be reserved for socially harmful material, while restriction or segregation should be sufficient remedy for sexually explicit matter whose appearance in ordinary cinemas or shops might prove offensive to reasonable people. It then goes on to argue that 'this distinction was acknowledged by Parliament' in the two 1982 Acts outlined above and in the creation of the 'RI8'. This is, in fact, seriously misleading. Firstly, the Williams Committee and the BBFC are operating with quite different notions of harm, the Committee limiting itself simply to the harm done to certain participants in pornography, whilst, as we have seen in a previous chapter, the Video Recordings Act was amended in 1994 in the wake of the Bulger case to require the BBFC, when considering classifying any video, to have

special regard ... to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which the work deals with - (a) criminal behaviour; (b) illegal drugs; (c) violent behaviour or incidents; (d) horrific behaviour or incidents; or (e) human sexual activity. Secondly, Williams argued that the material segregated from public view in specialist shops should not be censored at all, unless it fell into the extremely narrow category of 'harm' designated by the committee. However, once licensed sex shops were eventually established, they were permitted to carry only an extremely toned-down range of pornography, thus encouraging illegal sex shops to flourish.




In 1983 the Attorney General wrote to the BBFC about the difficulties which could arise from 'the Board's intention to rely on legality as the criterion for certification'. However, he agreed to provide the Board each month with the



results of prosecutions brought under the Obscene Publications Act (OPA), 'purely to enable the Board to form its own judgement in a very imprecise field ... The fundamental difficulty is that juries' attitudes seem to vary so widely,.4 Thus began a liaison process with the Director of Public Prosecutions' (DPP) office (now the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)) over the standards being applied in obscenity proceedings. According to the BBFC Annual Report I997-g8: In the 90S this advice fell away, and it is now six years since regular notification was provided. How the Board was expected to keep in touch with judicial standards was difficult to fathom, but we decided that general guidance on Section 2 proceedings [under the OPA] before a jury would have to suffice, since few records were being kept regarding Section 3 forfeiture proceedings before magistrates. However, according to a more recent BBFC document, the CPS have 'made it clear for about ten years that what they call "straight sex" was no " longer prosecuted under Section 2 because juries were unlikely to convict'.) In order fully to understand the 'RI8' controversy and its wider implications, it is necessary to understand the differences between Section 2 and Section 3 proceedings under the OPA. Under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, if the police seize material they believe to be obscene, the CPS has to decide whether to prosecute for a criminal offence under Section 2 or to go for a civil forfeiture under Section 3. Section 2 cases can be heard either by magistrates or by a judge and jury, but defendants who opt for the latter run the risk of a tougher sentence if found guilty. If the CPS opts for Section 3 then the material is brought before local magistrates, who can either release it or issue a summons for its forfeiture. In the latter case, any interested party can contest the summons. If it is contested, however, the case could well be heard by the same magistrate who signed the search warrant under which the material was originally seized and who then later issued the summons for its forfeiture! As Geoffrey Robertson puts it, in the very act of issuing the summons, the magistrate has 'expressed a view, without hearing argument, that the material is at least prima facie obscene'. The defendant then has the 'almost impossible task of convincing the bench in public that it was wrong in private ... He feels that the hearing is really a dispute between him and the court, with the court doubling as final adjudicator' (1979: 96). Those who believe that only hard core porn is at risk from such procedures should remember that it was under these inauspicious circumstances that Fanny Hill was destroyed in 1964, having been refused a jury trial under Section 2. In 1972, 134,000 copies of thirty-four different books were seized from Olympia Press, thus forcing its closure. This



was the publisher which, in spite of the best efforts ofHM Customs and Excise to police this country's both literal and metaphorical borders, had introduced the besieged English to Lawrence Durrell, J. P. Donleavy, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and William Burroughs - for which, in some quarters, it was quite clearly never forgiven. More recently, in Manchester, 'God's cop' James Anderton was able to use a combination ofSection 3 and a compliant magistracy to wage an obsessive personal vendetta against Lord Horror publishers Savoy Books (Petley 2004). In both of these cases, the defendants were refused a jury trial, which was both an abuse ofpower and a flagrant breach of the undertaking given to Parliament in 1964 that Section 3 would not be used to deny serious publishers the right to trial by jury. The decisions of local magistrates cannot be enforced outside their own courts' geographical jurisdictions, and magistrates are not required to give any reasons for their decisions in Section 3 proceedings, so these add nothing to obscenity case law. Section 3 may have no criminal consequences (the proceedings are against the material and not its distributor) but it does deprive publishers of what ought to be their right to trial by jury, and of other safeguards of the criminal law. In essence, it is nothing more than a quick and convenient (for the authorities, that is) form oflocal censorship carried out by police who are perfectly well aware that the material in question would never be convicted by a jury, and by magistrates who may well be ill qualified to sit in judgement upon it. As Geoffrey Robertson asks: What purpose does this sort of action serve, beyond wasting public time and public money in order to harass publishers of sexually explicit magazines which, however awful, are none the less lawful? The publishers may be unprepossessing people, out to make money by exploiting interest in sex, but there would be a major outcry if such arbitrary destruction of property were visited upon tobacco companies or wine merchants (whose products, by contributing to death rather than to lust, may be the more harmful). (1993: 231) However, although these cases do not set precedents in any broader legal sense (as do judgements handed down in crown courts) they do in fact have wider ramifications - not least for the 'RI8', as we shall shortly see.


Williams's unwillingness to recommend that sex shops should be licensed had by 1987 been amply vindicated. That year the BBFC Annual Report for Ig87 lamented:



There was no reason in 1985 to assume that local authorities would grant so few sex shop licenses that the dearth of licensed premises would make the 'RI8' unviable in commercial terms. But this has been the case, with the result that a great many sex videos which might be more appropriately confined to licensed sex shops are being voluntarily bowdlerised by the distributors in an effort to achieve an '18' certificate. It also expressed concern that, as a result of this process, 'the number of "18" sex videos which end up in neighbourhood shops may come to endanger the family image which the video industry has done so much to foster in recent years'. Three years later, the BBFC Annual ReportJor I990 worried that, with the coming of the Single European Market, tapes involving violence towards women would be imported along with tapes portraying

mutually consenting sexual activity of a non-violent kind which is beyond BBFC guidelines simply because of the degree of sexual explicitness. Much of this will disappear under the counter, with no attempt made to distinguish the non-violent, mutually loving sex tapes from those which associate pain and humiliation with sexual arousal. Only classification can do that, but a barely viable sex-shop category means that the Board will be unable to accommodate most of these continental sex tapes, and the black market for a widely divergent range of material will grow and no doubt flourish. In the Board's view, 'a viable, realistic system of licensed sex shops and "RI8" videos is the logical solution'.


Paradoxically, however, it had also become clear that a degree of explicitness was possible in '18' -rated 'sex education' videos without any press hysteria or official comeback. The Board concluded that 'the degree of caution imposed on the "RI8" category was disproportionate to the current climate of public taste and tolerance'6 and so the 'RI8' guidelines were slightly relaxed. Another indication of the 'current climate' came in 1994, when Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Branch told the Board that it could now assume that the British no longer believed that what they themselves do with their sexual partners could be 'depraving and corrupting' on screen. And in April 1996, at an in-house seminar at the BBFC, it was decided that it might be possible to 7 start a gradual process of liberalising standards at 'RI8'. (In this context it is



significant that the middle-aged porn viewers interviewed in the Panorama programme on porn, mentioned below, quite clearly have a copy of the Mail beside them, and that the editor of the Erotic Review, interviewed in the same programme, reveals that the best places in which to advertise the magazine are the Mail on Sunday, Telegraph, Spectator and The Times.) Even more significantly, in June that year, James Ferman met with Tom Sackville, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office. According to a record of this meeting, Superintendant Hoskins of West End Central Police had stated that consumer demand was not being satisfied by material supplied through the licensed sex-shops and had asked Mr Sackville to speak to the BBFC about passing material with a higher degree of explicitness (though not obscene), still well short of European standards, to meet the demand and 8 decrease the need for black market material. What is so significant about this is that it shows the pressure to liberalise the 'RI8' was now coming not simply from the BBFC but also from the police and the Home Office (then under the Tories). At an Examiners Meeting in July 1996, BBFC Deputy Director Margaret Ford suggested that the Board drew up a checklist to help it determine how much more could now be allowed at 'RI8'. The following December she drafted 'RI8' interim guidelines and, after these were discussed with the Director, Principal Examiner and Vice-Presidents, they were issued to the examiners. The first 'RI8' to be passed under the new dispensation was The Pyramid, and in February 1997 this was presented to the examiners as a benchmark for the interim guidelines; in particular these now permitted 'shots oja more explicit degree, previously prohibited, such as: long shot to medium! medium close shot images of penetration, oral sex and masturbation,.9 Just how the guidelines had evolved up to this point (and would evolve beyond it) is revealed by the following table: 10 TABLE 2

Details OJ'RI8' Standards Ig8S-gg

Breakdown of standards to include specific images acceptable and images liable to cuts. Both sets of standards were subject to works being consenting, non-violent and legal and not containing practices such as: necrophilia, bestiality, paedophilia, use of excrement, whipping, slapping, bondage, gaggmg etc. •

Period r: April 1985-3 February 1997 Period 3: 10 October 1997-November 1998 Period 5: I I January 1999 to present

Period 2: 4 February 1997-10 October 1997 Period 4: December 1998-10 January 1999


PERIODS I, 3, 5 1.




GeniIal exposure

inner labia, vulva brief erection shots passing shots of anus

medium close shots of genitalia erection shots (non-contact) no restriction lingering shots of anus

Sexual penetration

indications of shaft insertion

medium close shots of penetration penetration by finger and dildo/vibrator


friction against genitalia labial stimulation penis stroking


Group sex

troilism/group sex

troilism/group sex

Oral sex

mechanics of head bobbing

medium and medium close shots


unlimited if restricted to consenting and non violent references

occasional words indicating verbal abuse only


on non-erogenous body areas e.g. back, limbs but minimal

minimal, on bodies, but not on faces



ejaculation in medium - long shot


Distension of inner labia, sight of clitoris

Close-up of ejaculation

Erect penis in close sexual contact

Sustained sight of semen

Insertion of finger or other instrument

Close-ups of genitals during penetration

Clear sight of stimulation of penis

Close-ups of genitals during oral sex

Clear sight of oral-genital contact

Simultaneous vaginal and anal penetration

Ejaculation, semen on mouth, face or sexual organs

Penetration of vagina with foreign object

Sexualisation of anus (this changed in practice once age of consent was lowered to '18', but distension of anus and clear exposure of anus continued to be cut)

Pain, humiliation, coercion, implication of coercion

Anilingus (sic) (by 1996, passing implication of anilingus allowed)

Pain, humiliation, coercion, implication of coercion Judgements on whether to cut and mitigating arguments for stronger material could still be made on grounds of, for example, 'De minimis', filmic values, brevity, and humour. .. Although the standards were essentially the same in Periods 2 and 4, James Ferman wrote further cuts lists to remove close shots and medium close shots to meet his intention of drawing the line slightly short of the Makin' Whoopee! standard. Source: BBFC



In the light oflater controversies about the 'RI8' (discussion of which below will clarify the above reference to Makin' Whoopee!), what it is absolutely crucial to understand here is that, for all the explicit language employed in the table, even the BBFC' s liberalised guidelines above did not permit what is generally understood to constitute hardcore pornography. As Linda Williams points out in her definitive study of the subject, this operates on the principle of 'maximum visibility', and well lit close-ups of male and female genitalia, of penetrations of one kind or another and, crucially, of ejaculations have become essential ingredients of most mainstream, heterosexual hard core. As Stephen Ziplow's The Film Maker's Guide to Pornography puts it: 'If you don't have the come shots, you don't have a porno picture' (quoted in Williams 1999: 117). This may no longer be strictly true, but the crucial point here is that such shots, in abundance and in close-up, were, as the above document makes perfectly clear, proscribed by the BBFC in even its liberalised guidelines. Consequently 'RI8' videos were at this time resolutely 'medium core': a strange, hybrid form of 'vanilla porn' usually put together from at least two versions of the same film - a hard core one and a soft US cable television one - and which also sometimes contained toned-down scenes specially shot for the British market, outside of which they would be considered ludicrous and utterly un-sellable. What, after all, is the point of a sex film without lashings of highly visible sex? Meanwhile, the non-viability of the unreformed 'RI8' category was underlined by the BBFC Annual Report I996-g7 which revealed that since 1996 only twenty-seven tapes had been classified 'RI8' whilst 153 sex videos were cut to '18' at their distributors' insistence, 'to avoid this commercial graveyard'. The Report explains that: In 1996, the 153 videos cut to avoid the 'RI8' marked a further increase on the 129 videos cut in 1995, and the ninety-three cut in 1994. The 1997 figure will be even higher. If we look at the total running time of cuts in sex material, we get an even better gauge of this perennial battle to hold the line. In 1995, some seven and a half hours of sex was cut from such videos, all of it meticulously detailed by BBFC examiners in what must be the most soul-destroying use of professional expertise yet invented. In 1996, the figure was ten and a half hours, and in 1997 the figure will be just as high. Yet all this material is finding its way back into the system through the black market.


In July 1997, Customs and Excise seized tapes sent to distributor Nigel Wingrove's Purgatory Films. These were hard core versions of tapes which



Wingrove had actually requested in soft core form, and Customs accepted that a genuine mistake had been made. At the same time Wingrove discovered the BBFC's tentative liberalisation process, and asked Customs if, given that the BBFC was now passing material at 'RI8' of the kind they had seized, he could now import stronger material without fear of seizure. They replied that the BBFC had not told them about it and, furthermore, that Customs had not changed their own criteria for determining obscenity (which are detailed below). Wingrove sent BBFC Deputy Director Margaret Ford a copy of the Customs letter and asked her to inform them of the changes to the 'RI8' guidelines, which she did. Customs themselves then wrote to the Home Office Policy Unit expressing their surprise at the BBFC's actions, and an absolutely enraged Jack Straw ('New Labour' now being in power, and Straw Home Secretary) ordered an immediate halt to the whole liberalisation process, mild and tentative though it was. Indeed, when BBFC Vice-President Lord Birkett was summoned before Straw, considerably more than a mild rebuke was administered, and the unfortunate Birkett, appearing on the Panorama programme 'Porn Wars' on 2 November 1998, described the atmosphere at the meeting as 'inquisitorial' and Straw as manifesting a 'genuine sense of outrage'. Indeed, when Panorama asked Straw to comment on the whole affair he issued a statement which said that Lord Birkett 'failed properly to exercise his responsibilities'. This may sound innocuous enough but, judged by the rules which govern political discourse at these exalted levels, it is nothing less than a metaphorical smack in the face or, as the Panorama presenter John Ware put it, 'a full frontal attack on a retired senior public servant' - which is perhaps why the Home Office then tried to withdraw it and substitute something more anodyne, claiming that it had been put out as the result of a 'technical error'! It needs to be noted at this point that press stories casting doubt on Ferman's future began to appear almost as soon as 'New Labour' came to power. These carried all the hallmarks of hostile Home Office briefings, and additionally, in the case of the Mail, were part of the fall-out from the humiliating failure of its strident campaign (analysed in the previous chapter) to have Crash banned. Thus in an article on 21 August 1997, headlined 'Straw to Direct Film Censors Shake-up', the Mail reported that: Jack Straw is planning to push through a total reorganisation of the film censorship system in an effort to make it more accountable. The British Board of Film Classification has been accused of being secretive because of its refusal to explain the certificates it grants to films or identify the people who do the vetting. Concern about the running of the organisation reached its height with the decision to give the 'sex and wrecks' film Crash an '18' certificate without cuts. To revolutionise the censorship



process, the Home Secretary will use his power of veto in the appointment of the person whose job it is to run the BBFC. The article also revealed that 'the Government is under pressure to come up with a new structure to make the BBFC legally responsible for both films and videos and, in addition, accountable to Parliament for decisions'. This was a reference to a campaign being waged by the recently ennobled David Alton in the Lords, backed by a Movement for Christian Democracy petition with 27,000 signatories, and to Julian Brazier's private members' Bill, Film Classification and Openness, which he introduced in the Commons on 8 July 1997 and which proposed 'to make the British Board of Film Classification accountable to Parliament; to require it to publish each year a list of its members, a register of their interests, minutes of its proceedings and copies of the expert advice it commissions; to give the Secretary of State power to dismiss its president; and for connected purposes'. Straw released to the press his letter criticising Ferman 'in the strongest possible terms' for his 'unacceptable, unilateral decision to liberalise the law', and this was much quoted. For example, in an article headlined 'Censor Licenses Obscene Videos' on 23 November 1997 in The Sunday Times (which had already carried an inaccurate article on 27 July headlined 'Censor Q!.Iits After 22 Years in Crossfire') which quoted Lord Alton to the effect that 'the BBFC had forfeited its authority'. The Sun (24 November) headlined its article 'Straw's Blue Fit', with the strap 'Rage as censor allows sale of obscene videos'. The piece itself quotes Straw as saying 'the Board has behaved very badly' and 'I was appalled to discover the licenses for the registration of these obscene videos had been changed'. Mary Whitehouse is quoted as stating that 'it is an outrage to have censors who break the law', and other critics cited include the MP Teddy Taylor who claims that 'Ferman should be sacked. What he has done is offensive'. Meanwhile an editorial headlined 'Dirty Work' argues that Ferman's 'judgement is so suspect he should be relieved of his job ... Home Secretary Jack Straw is right to give James Ferman a rocket. Let's hope he attaches Ferman's P45 to it'. Inevitably the Mail joined the fray, arguing in an editorial on 25 November, headed 'The Film Board That Licenses Hard Porn', that the BBFC was not merely failing in its duty but that 'it seems to get a perverse kick out of reducing its public responsibility to a dirty joke ... Instead of defending the values of decency, they are positively pushing forward the frontiers of depravity'. The editorial also takes the opportunity to remind Tony Blair that he promised the electorate that he would uphold family values. He should do so by empowering a new, open, representative and responsible board of British film censors to replace the now thoroughly discredited outfit



which is incestuously funded by the film industry and has been presided over for twenty-two years by the fireproof and irredeemably arrogant Mr Ferman. By now Straw was indeed letting it be known openly that he was reviewing Ferman's position (perhaps that was why the Home Secretary was far too busy to grant me an interview) and, in December 1997, he vetoed the appointment of Lord Birkett as the new BBFC President and imposed Independent cofounder Andreas Whittam Smith instead, whom he clearly (but, as it turned out, quite wrongly) thought would be less liberal than both his predecessor and Ferman. An article headlined 'Straw to Change Cast at Board of Film Censors' in the Telegraph (9 December), describes the state of play at this time in the following terms: The affair has given an opportunity to get a grip on the BBFC, which those campaigning against pornography and violence believe is long overdue. There is an arm's length relationship between politicians and the censors, which in many ways is healthy; only in dictatorships do governments decide what people can and cannot watch. But while politicians are happy for the BBFC to be independent of government, there is a view that under Mr Ferman it has become a law unto itself. This odd and contradictory formulation inadvertently opens up the whole question of the BBFC's relationship to the government of the day, and this, along with the wider issue of the Board's relationship to the state as a whole, is part of the subject of this book's Conclusion. When Straw ordered the BBFC to cease its liberalisation policy, he also told them in writing that 'material is obscene if it is successfully prosecuted under Section 2 of the 1959 Act or if it is ordered to be forfeited by a magistrate under Section 3,.11 And this is why it is so very important to understand the implications of Section 3 of the OPA. For, if Straw insisted that the BBFC must take account of Section 3, then as long as police and magistrates continued to behave in the arbitrary and oppressive fashion described above, then the more liberal decisions of juries in Section 2 cases would effectively count for nothing.


The Customs issue, too, is crucial here. The 1876 Customs Consolidation Act gives Customs the powers to prevent the importation of 'indecent or obscene prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards, lithographic or other engravings, or any other indecent or obscene articles', and this was incorporated into the



Customs and Excise Act, 1952. In fact, since Customs lost a case in 1986 involving a life-size rubber sex-doll, it is now possible to import material that officers might deem 'indecent', but the coming of the Single European Market has most certainly not reduced Customs' powers to seize material which they deem pornographic, nor, apparently, their eagerness to do so. But how do Customs decide what is obscene? On the above-mentioned Panorama programme, a minder repeatedly intervened to prevent Ian Minter, a Customs officer at Felixstowe docks, where over a quarter of a million magazines had been seized over the past two years, from answering this perfectly reasonable question. The answer which the programme failed to reveal is that Customs and Excise operate what can only be described as a good, old-fashioned index of proscribed images, which prohibits the importation of images of the followingY anal fisting, analingus, bestiality, bondage, buggery, coprophilia, cunnilingus, defaecation [sic], domination, ejaculation, enemas, fellatio, insertion of an object, intercourse, masturbation, necrophilia, paedophilia, sado-masochism, scatophagy, troilism, urination (urolagnia), vaginal fisting. Once Customs officers have seized material containing any of the above, they usually proceed to a civil forfeiture hearing before magistrates, and readers will by now be able to guess its likely outcome. The important point about the above list is that amongst the more exotic practices we also find ejaculation and intercourse, the staple ingredients of most hard core pornography. Thus as long as the Home Office insisted that nothing should be passed at 'RI8' which appeared on the Customs index, it was extremely hard to see what videos in this category possibly could contain whilst still remaining remotely commercially viable, especially given the existence of the black market which inevitably flourishes in such circumstances. But, much more seriously, the very existence of such a list, and in particular the precedents which it apparently sets far beyond the bounds of our harbours and airports, shows just how very mistaken is the widespread belief that nowhere in Britain is a crude 'laundry list' approach taken to decide whether or not certain material is legally acceptable.


Thus the combined efforts of Customs and the Home Secretary brought to an end the trialliberalisation period, during which thirty tapes were passed at 'RI8' (though not necessarily without cuts). In the last of the BBFC's annual reports to which he would contribute, that for 1997-8, Ferman wearily noted that: For the first time it became clear that the intentions of Parliament in handling the problem of non-violent erotica through segregation rather



than prohibition would be impossible to implement given the very strict standards applied in the magistrates courts. In October, the Board returned to the standards it used to apply before that failed experiment. Pornography will once again be swept under the carpet where, in the name of the law, it will be mixed up with violence and degradation. The law may be an ass, but it is the Board's job to uphold it, even if in the face of astonished disbelief from the rest of the world. In November 1997 the original 'RI8' guidelines were reissued. The following July, at a meeting of the Orwellian-sounding Enforcement Sub-Group, a recently formed consultative body consisting of representatives from the Home Office, BBFC, Customs, Police and CPS, Ferman raised the possibility that the Board need to refuse classification only to the type of material regularly found obscene under Section 2. However, Home Office officials again insisted that material of the kind that had been subject to forfeiture orders too must also be treated as obscene and thus not classified. The police reiterated their familiar problems in obtaining successful prosecutions under Section 2, and agreed to compile a 'tape of acts' which had been subject to forfeiture under Section 3. However, it is interesting that, on the above-mentioned Panorama programme, Chief Superintendent Martin Jauch, the Head of the Metropolitan Police's Clubs and Vice Unit, and also a member of the Enforcement Sub-Group, gave the clear impression that it would be unlikely that his officers would seize what they knew to be run-ofthe-mill hard core videos involving consenting adults.


The same month Makin' Whoopee! was passed by the Video Appeals Committee (VAC). During the liberalisation period, the Board had already issued an interim 'RI8' certificate for this, on the basis of which its distributor, Sheptonhurst, had purchased rights to similar-strength works. But, in April 1998, as a result of Straw's intervention the previous November, the Board refused to pass it without cuts, on the grounds of possible obscenity. Sheptonhurst appealed to the VAC not only because an interim certificate had been issued but also because the BBFC had already passed material of comparable strength. They also argued that, in considering Makin' Whoopee!, the BBFC should have formed its own opinions rather than apparently acted on instructions from the Home Office. At the end of its lengthy judgment, which is reprinted in BBFC Annual Report Igg8, the VAC stated:



The police and Customs and Excise have indicated that this is the type of material they would take to a Magistrates Court for forfeiture but the evidence, such as it is, presented to us indicates that at least one court takes a different view in relation to magazines, and that the Crown Prosecution Service has advised against forfeiture proceedings in relation to magazines and videos of the same type. There is no doubt that Magistrates Courts reach inconsistent decisions on obscenity. It is unsurprising they should do so, given the widely subjective views held in respect of pornography. They concluded that Makin' Whoopee! 'may offend or disgust but it is unlikely to deprave or corrupt that proportion of the public who are likely to view it'. After the appeal, Christine Stewart of the Home Office wrote to the BBFC pointing out that the most that can be said is that video works containing more or less comparable material to that in Makin' Whoopee! are likely not to be considered obscene by the VAC. It does not automatically follow from this that all the material which is likely not to be found obscene by the VAC is automatically suitable for classification. 13 The letter then went on to raise the issue of 'harm' as defined by the Video Recordings Act, and this shift from obscenity to harm as the grounds for a ban prefigured the Board's own shifting position in the run-up to further appeals to the VAC in July 1999, as we shall see below. Thus, at the third meeting of the Enforcement Sub-Group, in November, Ferman attempted to demonstrate that the Board did indeed ban or cut on the basis of harm, showing a compilation of clips from various titles containing sequences of spanking and bondage which had been cut even during the liberalisation period. However, the Home Office legal adviser, Stephen Bramley, raised the spectre of children being harmed by seeing an 'RI8' work, although of course this was exactly why Parliament had originally decided that 'RI8' works should be restricted to specially licensed premises forbidden to people under eighteen! Interestingly, at this point the BBFC's new President, Andreas Whittam Smith, who had been anointed by Straw, appears already to have been supporting the liberalisation process, because we learn that: Several days after the meeting ... Whittam Smith commented informally to Mr Ferman that he felt the meeting had gone well and that the silence of the Home Office officials on whether the Makin' Whoopee!



standard was a defensible position gave the Board room to manoeuvre. Mr Ferman considered this sufficient grounds to proceed cautiously with a drafting of 'RI8' guidelines to a level just below the most explicit shots contained in Makin' Whoopee!. Ferman then presented a compilation of video clips to the examiners showing the limits of explicitness which he believed fell within the parameters of Makin' Whoopee! Examiners were instructed to apply these newly liberalised standards, which in essence represented a return to those of the earlier trial period. Between November 1998 and January 1999 seven titles examined using these new standards were referred to Ferman, who found them too explicit and removed close shots and medium-close shots of sexual organs and activity. However, the second period of liberalisation was to prove shortlived as, in January 1999, the new BBFC Director, Robin Duval, put all 'RI8' work on hold and in effect reinstated the original guidelines. In February Duval made a presentation to the Home Office regarding the implications of Makin' Whoopee! and warned of the likelihood of an appeal over further titles. However, once again 'Home Office officials made it clear that they did not regard Makin' Whoopee! as an acceptable benchmark in the light of enforcement practice in relation to the Obscene Publications Act around the UK.,14


In July 1999 the appeal duly came up. It was brought by Sheptonhurst and Primetime Promotions over the titles listed at the start of this chapter, all of which the Board had refused to pass at 'RI8' unless 'all shots of penetration by penis, hand or dildo as well as shots of a penis being masturbated or taken into a woman's mouth' were removed. Once again the grounds of appeal were the Board's inconsistency, with Makin' Whoopee! inevitably cited as a precedent. At first the Board had appeared to be basing its refusal to grant certificates on the obscenity issue, but then, at the last minute, it switched to the 'harm' provisions of the Video Recordings Act, which, as we have seen, the Home Office itself had already flagged up. Forced to take on board the issue of inconsistency, the BBFC informed the VAC: It is correct that the Board for a short period relaxed the guidelines for material classified at RI8 ... At the prompting of the Home Office, the guidelines have been reconsidered in the light of consultation with Customs and Excise, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Services. The more stringent guidelines have been reintroduced to ensure the



Board's guidelines run parallel with the guidelines and practice of Customs and Excise and the Police (in relation to Section 3 forfeitures). 15 Readers will have to judge for themselves in what sense the Home Office actions detailed above could possibly be construed as 'prompting'. The BBFC lost the appeal. On the 'harm' issue, the VAC stated: Some of these videos inevitably would be watched by children but it is impossible to say by how many and how many would be harmed. Indeed, interesting though this exercise may be, it is speculative and, in truth, without cogent research it is not possible to put a figure on the number of child viewers. We cannot even say whether the proportion would be significant. In the VAC's view, 'refusal to grant a certificate would be justified if there was any evidence of devastating damage to more than a small minority of children or indeed other members of the population'. However, having listened to the testimony of the Board's expert witness, Dr Gordana Milovic, the Committee concluded that 'there is no evidence of either the numbers of children who might be affected or of the extent to which affected children are damaged'. All but one of the Committee thus argued that 'all video works and the trailer under appeal here are suitable for sale uncut solely to adults in sex shops, and that the risk of any so sold being viewed by and causing harm to children or young persons is, on present evidence, insignificant'. On the matter of inconsistency, the VAC stated that 'there is nothing to stop the Board changing its mind but it should not do so arbitrarily' and that 'the Board has been precipitate in introducing new regulations without adequate consultation or adequate research or adequate warning to the industry' .16 That it had no choice in the matter is not considered since the Home Office was entirely absent from the proceedings. And yet, of course, it is the role of the Home Office in this affair which raises the most serious questions of all. We shall return to this matter in the Conclusion.


What happened next was that the BBFC applied for a judicial review of the VAC's judgment. Given the narrative outlined so far, one must assume that the Home Office required the BBFC to follow this course of action, but unfortunately I do not have the documents to prove this. Nothing else can explain, however, why the BBFC should go before the High Court and produce an argument which effectively ran a coach and horses straight



through the classification principles with which it operated (as outlined by Robertson and Nichol (2008) in ch. 8). In short, what the BBFC argued was that this was a case where 'there is no evidence which allows one safely to quantify exactly how many (potential) child viewers would be affected, nor how seriously'. In its view, 'Section 4A [of the Video Recordings Act] requires the BBFC to have "special regard" even to an unquantified risk of harm', and in such a situation, it argued, 'the proper course is to refuse to classify until such times as the risk of harm is quantified and shown to be acceptable in the light of other factors,.l7 In other words, the VAC should have adopted the principle of 'better safe than sorry'. But precisely the same argument, of course, could be marshalled against the 'IS' and '18' classifications, and surely leads once again to the inescapable conclusion that only videos suitable for children should be made legally available. However, Mr Justice Hooper was satisfied that the VAC had applied the correct tests, namely asking (a) whether a child was likely to view the material if it was classified at 'RI8'; and (b) might a child who viewed the material be harmed, or might harm be caused to society through their behaviour resulting from a viewing of the material, because of the way in which it dealt with human sexuality. If both questions were answered in the affirmative, then risk of harm to children had to be given special (but not definitive) weight in the balancing act over whether to classify the video. The VAC had indeed answered both questions in the affirmative, but had decided that the risk of harm was fairly insignificant, so the case for banning had not been made out. Thus in Mr Justice Hooper's view, the VAC had committed no error of law, and he made it clear that the court could interfere only if the VAC had reached a conclusion which no reasonable decision-maker could reach. Therefore, on 16 May 2000, he dismissed the application for judicial review. The Board announced on 22 May that it would not appeal and would also be reconsidering the 'RI8' guidelines in the light of the court's judgment. Once again, Straw was furious, telling the Commons that 'I am very disappointed with the outcome of this case and have instructed my officials to consider whether any additional steps can be taken to protect children from exposure to these sexually explicit videos'. In the Mirror (17 May), under the headline 'Porn No' and the strap 'Straw slams ruling on sale of hardcore videos', a Home Office spokesman is quoted as saying that 'the situation is unsatisfactory and we will be considering what effective steps can be taken to protect children. Any changes may require legislation'. In the same day's Times, under the headline 'Porn Law to be Tighter After Censors' Defeat', 'senior government sources' are quoted as describing existing legislation as a 'complete mess', whilst in the Sunday Telegraph (21 May) Roger Scruton argued that 'the last vestiges of decency are being finally chased from the law' and that 'our legal and political system has in effect abrogated all respon-



sibility for the moral life of the nation, and given the pornographers free rein'. Perhaps inevitably, though, it was the Mail (17 May) that devoted the most space to the case, although by its standards the actual reporting of the case was surprisingly well balanced. However, an editorial lamented: Welcome to a brave new Britain where the rights of pornographers are considered more important than the protection of childhood innocence ... Yet why should anybody be surprised? Pornography is already the order of the day, not only on the smut-obsessed Channel 5 but on BBC and lTV too ... A new tide of 'adult videos is but the next step in this coarsening of social values. The most profound human experiences of love and commitment are being systematically demeaned. And what is even more depressing is that nobody in politics, the law or the liberal establishment seems to have the wisdom, moral conviction or courage to call a halt. Meanwhile two of the four VAC members who 'backed the hard-core films' were treated in a similar way to the BBFC examiners in the Crash furore. So, for example, in an article headlined 'The "Experts" Behind This New Flood of Filth', we are told of Fay Weldon that 'her comments on a range of issues, including rape, have frequently caused controversy' and that 'she has been married three times and has four children'. Similarly, Neville March Hunnings is described as a libertarian who has been a leading light in the anti-censorship lobby. A member of the Campaign Against Censorship, he is also an expert on law, especially regarding the ED. In 1983, Dr March Hunnings was a vociferous opponent of the Video Recordings Act, which cracked down on video nasties after a long and successful campaign by the Daily Mail. So no journalistic score-settling there, then.


Shortly after this debacle, the Home Office issued the Consultation Paper on the Regulation ofRI8 Videos. In point of fact, the Home Office could have required the BBFC to appeal from Mr Justice Hooper's decision; equally, it could have quite simply ordered the BBFC to abolish the 'RI8' classification altogether. One wonders ifit failed to take either course ofaction because both - but especially the latter - would have risked flushing its central, but covert, role in this whole affair out into the open. Whatever the case, the consultation document



explores a number of options to improve the protection of children in this area and also looks at proposals to bring the Video Appeals Committee into line with other, similar appeals bodies fulfilling an important public function, in terms of their recruitment and appointments systems. The first option involved a possible re-drafting of Section 4A of the Video Recordings Act which instructs the BBFC, when classifying a video, to have 'special regard (among the other relevant factors) to any harm which may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society' by that video's treatment of certain subjects (as outlined in Chapter 7). The 'potential viewer' is defined by Section 4A(Z) as 'any person (including a child or young person) who is likely to view the video work in question if a classification certificate or a classification certificate of a particular description were issued'. The consultation document suggested that 'it may be possible to improve the definition of "potential viewer" to reflect more strongly the possibility that children may be able to access these videos once they are in the home' by redrafting Section 4A(Z) to define the 'potential viewer' as 'any person (including a child or young person) who may view the video work in question' (emphasis in original). The document argued that 'the effect of this change would be to give additional emphasis to the duty placed upon the BBFC to consider the protection of children when classifying sexually explicit and other material'. However, it also admitted that even if the legislation were thus changed, 'it is likely that arguments about the extent to which children would be exposed to the material would still persist'. This may help to explain why the second option considered was much more radical, not to say controversial. This involved: The creation of criminal offences of showing an RI8 video to a child; allowing a child to watch an RI8 video; failing to take reasonable care to prevent a child from watching an RI8 video ... The proposed offences would cover a wide range of behaviour. At one end of the spectrum, there is some evidence that pornographic material can be used to 'groom' children for paedophile activity. In those circumstances showing an RI8 video to a child could be part of a more serious offence. However, in most cases, 'failing to take reasonable care' would amount to no more than inadvertence on the part of adults. According to the document, 'the creation of these offences may offer reassurance to those concerned that their children may be exposed to this material outside their own home and it would encourage all adults to take particular care with these videos where children might have access to them'. However, it also admits that:



The extension of the law to cover 'showing' these videos to minors would create offences which may be difficult to enforce and could be seen as an infringement of the rights of adults to decide what to view in their own home. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is relevant to this consideration, particularly Article 8 which covers the 'right to respect for private and family life'. However, the ECHR does permit necessary and proportionate interference by public authorities on a number of grounds including for the prevention of crime, the protection of health or morals or for the protections of the rights and freedoms of others. The document also warns that 'it is necessary to be cautious in criminalising negligence', and that 'in considering whether a prosecution should be brought, the likely trauma to the child in acting as a witness, possibly against family members, would be a factor to be taken into account'. Nonetheless, it suggests that the penalty for such behaviour should be in line with that for supplying an 'RI8' video to a person under eighteen - namely a maximum of six months' imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding ÂŁ5,000. For those who deliberately showed an 'RI8' to a young person as part of 'grooming' them for sexual abuse, the penalties would be much harsher. The final option canvassed by the consultation document concerned the Video Appeals Committee, about which it opines, 'there seems to be a general public perception - reflected in the large number of letters which the Home Office has received - that [it] is unrepresentative and unaccountable'. But whilst making it clear that the VAC reports annually to Parliament, the document also complains that 'its system of appointments is arguably not as open as contemporary standards require of such a body which performs an important public function, nor does its membership reflect the diversity required'. One solution suggested is to 'put the VAC on a statutory footing to ensure greater credibility for its decision making and more openness and accountability for its operation'. However, it also admits that: An effective appeals system needs to be seen to be wholly independent and it might be inappropriate for the Home Secretary to be involved in appointing a statutory body, if one were to be created. A more appropriate course might be to establish a tribunal whose members are appointed by a tribunal whose members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor following an open and public recruitment process. The document argues that the advantages of such a tribunal are that: It would be possible to specify the usual criteria for public appointments: open recruitment, fixed term appointments, a proper balance in the



membership to include senior lawyers who may be specialists in child welfare, lay members etc, and that the tribunal would be required to account for its decisions more openly than is required ofthe VAC at present. However, the document also suggests that it might be possible to achieve these results 'without recourse to statute by a fundamental reorganisation of the VAC. In these circumstances, the BBFC would continue to make appointments to the Committee'. Each one of the options canvassed by the Home Office in the consultation document is absolutely fraught with problems. In a written opinion prepared for the Video Standards Council (VSC), Geoffrey Robertson pointed out that the first option would produce an element of vagueness which would make the new test impossible to apply with the degree of certainty required by the European Convention on Human Rights. Tribunals can foresee with some degree of confidence which persons are 'likely' to view a video, given its attraction (through theme, pre-publicity, packaging etc.) to different age and social groups. But anyone in this country 'may' conceivably come to view an 'RI8' video, however objectively unlikely this prospect ... The amendment introduces such a level of uncertainty in the application of the classification system that in my judgement it fails to satisfy the ECHR requirement that any restriction on media freedom must be 'prescribed by law', i.e. expressed in a language that permits a reasonably predictable operation. Robertson also added that This uncertainty would pervade the entire classification system. The most serious objection to the proposal is that any change to the definition of 'potential viewer' will impact upon every classification decision, not merely to the handful which concern the 'RI8' category. It will have an unexplored and unexplained effect on decisions over whether to place films in category LPG' or '12', or 'IS' as against '18'. There is no suggestion that the 'potential viewer' definition does not work effectively in these cases (which form 99 per cent of the Board's work) so why change it merely in the hope that the change will make erotic videos more likely to be refused classification? Regarding the second option - the creation of new criminal offences of exposing children to 'RI8' videos - I can do no better than quote from the response which I sent to the Home Office at the time of the consultation:



It's extraordinarily disturbing that, in a democratic society, such a course of action could even be conceived of, let alone put forward as apparently serious suggestions in a consultation paper. These proposed offences may offer 'reassurance to those who are concerned that their children may be exposed to this material outside their own home', but at just what cost to personal liberty and privacy? Is it the intention to put a police officer in every home? To install watching devices within every television set in true Ig84 fashion? These solutions are no more nor less absurd and unworkable than the proposed offences themselves, and far from constituting 'proportionate interference' in ECHR terms must rank as one of the most insanely disproportionate responses to a minor problem ever dreamed up within Whitehall. Clearly not the slightest lesson has been learned from the fiasco of the Dangerous Dogs Act. Furthermore, it is grotesquely irresponsible to suggest at that there is a 'spectrum' with, at one end, paedophiles using sex videos to 'groom' children, and, at the other, adults who 'inadvertently' let their children see a video intended for a higher age range. In fact, there's a yawning chasm, an unbridgeable category distinction, between these two entirely different kinds of activity, and the former is already, and rightly, an extremely serious offence under child protection legislation. Furthermore, what of the conscientious parents who show their fifteen-year-old an '18' video not 'inadvertently' but because they feel that, whatever the BBFC in its wisdom has decided, their child is quite capable of watching it? Presumably they too are to be carted off by the video police, closely followed, according to the logic of the 'spectrum' analogy, and given the current climate of hysteria, by a mob intent on stringing them up as paedophiles. Turning finally to the third option - the replacement or reformation of the Video Appeals Committee - it is extremely difficult to regard this proposal as anything other than a petty and vindictive form of punishment to be visited on a body which had the temerity to disagree with the Home Office and thus sparked the final act of the whole 'RI8' debacle. In point offact, it would have been difficult at the time to disagree with the consultation document's strictures about the secrecy of the VAC's appointments procedures and the lack of diversity amongst its membership, but it was hardly unique in these respects in a country in which the fundamental democratic principles of openness, representativeness and public accountability seem to be barely understood at governmental level. However, as Geoffrey Robertson argued in his written opinion for the VSC: Behind the fashionable language used in this section of the Consultation Paper ('modernisation', 'accountability', 'openness' etc.) I suspect that



the real purpose is to replace the independent spirits on the VAC with more strait-laced legal careerists who are assumed to find favour with the Lord Chancellors Department. This would mean that the VAC membership will change from persons who care for culture and are totally independent - such as Fay Weldon, Nina Bawden and Laurie Taylorto lawyers, magistrates, lay justices and others who may be perceived as part of the legal establishment or who may have connections with the Home Office through appointments to other public bodies. And 'legalising' the VAC by turning it into another Lord Chancellorappointed tribunal would mean, Robertson warned, that 'the courts will be much readier to entertain judicial review applications, and indeed the tribunal's decisions will become more legalistic and will therefore invite more challenges'. Or as I put it at the time in my response to the consultation: One would thoroughly welcome a more 'diverse' VAC if one believed that a genuinely diverse body was really what the Home Office had in mind. In particular one would want to see a body in which regular cinema-goers and video-viewers, who were broadly representative of the cinema and video audience, constituted the majority of members. This would indeed be a 'modernisation'. However, nothing in this proposal leads one remotely to believe that this is what the Home Office has in mind; instead, there arises the depressing spectre of a bunch of carefully vetted worthies tut-tutting and turning up their noses in prune-faced distaste at videos never remotely intended for them in the first place. Admittedly the proposal does mention 'lay members', by which is presumably meant plain and simple viewers, but one fears that these will be completely outnumbered by 'experts in child welfare' and the like, whose presence is no more required on a body such as the VAC than it is in the family home every time the children sit down to watch TV. However, it is extremely difficult to dispel the distinct impression given in this section of the consultation document that the only reason why the VAC's future is in doubt is that it has committed the cardinal sin of being allegedly too 'liberal' in the eyes of the Home Secretary and the Mail. It will thus have to be made not more representative and accountable in the true sense of those words, but, on the contrary, representative of and accountable to that bigoted, bile-filled section of 'middle England' that believes every word it reads in the Mail. When bowing to the demands of the most reactionary opinion imaginable can seriously be presented as an example of 'modernisation' then the clock really has struck thirteen.




However, somewhat unbelievably, this story actually has a happy ending - if you are not Jack Straw or Mail editor Paul Dacre, that is. In the end, nothing came of the consultation process. The BBFC, which was secretly delighted that it had not been granted a judicial review which of course it never wanted in the first place,18 published in September 2000 a new set of classification guidelines, and, in the case of the 'RI8', these were Jar more liberal than anything attempted in the Ferman era, permitting the legal distribution and sale of properly hard core DVDs and videos for the first time in Britain. What these permitted was the sight of: • • • • • • •

aroused genitalia masturbation oral-genital contact including kissing, licking and sucking penetration by finger, penis, tongue, vibrator or dildo non-harmful fetish material group sexual activity ejaculation and semen.

However, a large amount of material which was legally available nearly everywhere else in Europe remained (and remains) banned, and this is the subject of Chapter 13. What was still unacceptable was: • Any material which is in breach of the criminal law. • Material likely to encourage an interest in abusive sexual activity (for example paedophilia, incest) which may include depictions involving adults role-playing as non-adults. • The portrayal of any sexual activity whether real or simulated, which involves a lack of consent • The infliction of pain or physical harm, real or (in a sexual context) simulated. Some allowance may be made for mild consensual activity. • Any sexual threats or humiliation which do not form part of a clearly consenting role-playing game. • The use of any form of physical restraint which prevents participants from withdrawing consent, for example ball gags. • Penetration by an object likely to cause actual harm or associated with violence. • Activity which is degrading or dehumanising (examples include the portrayal of bestiality, necrophilia, defecation, urolagnia). However, in respect of the first bullet point, it does need to be pointed out that the BBFC does not know what material is in breach of the criminal law until it



is actually found to be so in a court of law. What the BBFC really meant here was that it banned material which the CPS and the police think would be likely to be found to be illegal by such a court. There is a very significant difference. But it was not simply its effective victory over the Home Office which enabled the BBFC to liberalise the 'RI8' guidelines to this extent. In 2000 the Board published a study, based on interviews with thirty-eight professionals concerned with child welfare, which showed that although the majority of interviewees felt that viewing pornography could be harmful to children, and that they should therefore be protected from it, there was little actual evidence that pornography harmed children unless they were already being subjected to wider abuse or neglect. In 1999-2000 the Board had also undertaken the largest public consultation exercise in its history, 19 consisting of roadshows, surveys, questionnaires and two citizens' juries. The results of this exercise were published in September 2000 in Sense [5 Sensibilities: Public Opinion [5 the BBFC Guidelines ( downloads#policyandresearch). In terms of the representation of sexual activity, nearly half of the national and postal samples agreed that 'people over eighteen have a right to see graphic portrayals of real sex in films and videos', and after they had experienced the citizens' jury process, threequarters of the participants came to the same conclusion. As far as the draft of the new 'RI8' guidelines was concerned, both juries concluded that anything legal should be permitted. However, 36 per cent of the national sample thought the draft guidelines for 'RI8' 'not strict enough', 49 per cent 'about right' and 13 per cent 'too strict'. The BBFC's decision to liberalise its 'RI8' guidelines was also buttressed by the findings of a survey which it co-sponsored for the 1999 British Social Attitudes Survey. This focused mainly on the representation of sex on television, but when asked about 'a frank scene showing a man and a woman character having sex', 13 per cent thought that a video depicting this should be banned altogether, 24 per cent thought it should be sold or rented only in special adult shops, and 46 per cent that it should be available in any shop but not sold or rented to those under eighteen. When it came to a video showing a frank sex scene between two men, 32 per cent felt it should be banned altogether, 28 per cent felt it should be sold or rented only in special adult shops, and 29 per cent that it should be available in any shop but not sold or rented to those under eighteen (Hill and Thomson 2000: 78---(j). In June 2001 the responsibility for the BBFC passed from the Home Office to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. This change was not sought by the Board, and was the result of a wider process of departmental restructuring. However, one can safely assume that there was a collective sigh of relief at the Board. And in the years which have followed, the



relationship between the Board and the government has once again become wreathed in shadows and obscurity - which is doubtless how both sides would like it to remain.


The story of the liberalisation - up to a point - of the 'RI8' guidelines is a long and at times tortuous one, but it matters greatly for a number of reasons. In particular, it demonstrates extremely clearly how the BBFC is not the master of its own destiny, but has to take full account of the laws of the land, and in particular how these are enforced by the police and Customs and interpreted by the CPS, judges, jurors and magistrates. But most of all, in this respect, it illustrates how an activist and interventionist Home Secretary had powers at his disposal to bring the BBFC to heel, powers which are still available to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, thus somewhat sullying the myth of the BBFC's political independence and of its 'arms-length' relationship with the state, a myth so carefully nurtured by successive governments. The fact that Jack Straw ultimately failed to bend the BBFC to his will makes the existence of those powers no less disturbing. (This is a topic which will be explored in greater detail in the Conclusion.) More specifically, however, it sheds a great deal of light on the fundamental illiberalism of 'New Labour'. Again, the fact that none of the options canvassed by the consultation document was put into practice makes it no less shocking, indeed outrageous, that the second and third ones could have been seriously considered in the first place. Much has been made of 'New Labour's' really quite scandalous record on civil liberties, but because bien-pensant liberals do not, on the whole, want to be thought to be defending pornography, they have largely ignored this episode and also the 'extreme pornography' provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (which are discussed in Chapter 13), both of which show 'New Labour' at its censorious and illiberal worst. One of the very few liberally-minded people to speak out at the time of Jack Straw's bullying of the BBFC was Polly Toynbee, who, though no fan of pornography, had nonetheless been a member of the Williams Committee mentioned at the start of this chapter. As she put it in the Guardian (19 May 2000):

These days if you bleat sheepishly at senior ministers that the liberal agenda has become the sacrificial lamb in the New Labour project, they grin and lick their lips wolfishly. They take it as a complement. Labour likes to balance its progressive social policies with toughness on liberal causes. If liberals aren't hurting, then the third way isn't working.



She concluded by stating how much she objected to 'Jack Straw's persistent and deliberate war on every liberal front he can find, stamping Labour with his macho Mail-friendly imprint'. But, there again, as we saw in Chapter I, the first attempt to introduce a Bill curbing the sale or rental of videos was by a Labour MP and, as we saw again in Chapter 7, Labour MPs were only too happy to push toward the statute book legislation that would have outlawed any video not suitable for children. Plus fa change . ..

NOTES 1. This article is also reproduced in Young (2003: 249-52). 2. This is quoted in Paper I, 'The 'RI8' Category and Licensed Outlets. Historical Background - Chronology 1975-1996'. This and Paper 2 (see below) are internal BBFC documents and were not intended for wider circulation. I am extremely grateful to the BBFC examiner who leaked them to me and who had better remain anonymous. 3. Quoted in ibid. 4. Paper I. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Paper 2, BBFC 'RI8' Standards 1985-1999. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. Emphasis in original. 10. Ibid. 11. Quoted in ibid. 12. HM Customs and Excise, Volume C4: Import Prohibitions and Restrictions: Part 34: Indecent or Obscene Material: Appendix F. 13. Quoted in Paper 2. 14. Ibid. IS. Video Appeals Committee Appeals Numbers IS and 16: Judgment. 16. Ibid. 17. Applicant's Skeleton Argument. This was presented by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC. 18. I know this to be a matter of fact; however, I cannot reveal my sources. 19. In the interests of honesty I should add that I appeared as a witness before one of these .. ,. . cItIzen s Junes.

Part IV New Millennium, New Beginning?

Introduction to Part IV

s we saw in Chapter II, late in 1997 the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, imposed Andreas Whittam Smith, one of the founders and the first editor of the Independent, as the BBFC's new President. But as also noted in that chapter, if Straw thought that Whittam Smith was simply going to act as his patsy, he was very much mistaken. In January 1999, Robin Duval was appointed as the Board's Director, following a seven-year stint as deputy director of programmes at the Independent Television Commission (one of the forerunners of the present-day Ofcom). As already noted at some length, the biggest problem he had to face right away was a hang-over from the days of his predecessor James Ferman, namely the Board's apparent inability to relax the guidelines for 'RI8' videos in the face of Home Office intransigence. At the same time, however, the Board was continuing, indeed greatly intensifying, the policy rather belatedly embarked upon by James Ferman of holding 'roadshows' up and down the country in order to try to gauge public opinion of the Board's standards, and, in March 2000, it went even further by organising citizens' juries in Birmingham and Portsmouth in order to gain the fullest picture to date of public attitudes to, and knowledge of, film and video classification. This entirely welcome process of glasnost was complemented by the establishment of a robust and efficient press office headed by a press officer with very considerable experience in central government. Among the primary roles of the press office was to attempt to defuse potential controversies before they could develop, and to make it abundantly clear to hostile and ill-informed journalists that the BBFC was simply no longer prepared to act as their whipping boy and, in particular, that aggressive behaviour towards members of the BBFC staff would not be tolerated. In 2002 Sir Qpentin Thomas took over as President of the BBFC, and in 2004 David Cooke as Director. However, these were entirely run-of-the-mill developments, and the work of the Board carried on in very much the same




way as it had done under Andreas Whittam Smith and Robin Duval. In classification/censorship terms, as the following chapters demonstrate, this meant ridding itself of such self-imposed bugbears of the Ferman era as The Exorcist and Straw Dogs and taking a rather more liberal line on horror films, even passing a number of erstwhile 'nasties' uncut on DVD. However, it is important to understand that, its name notwithstanding, the Board remains very far from fulfilling a purely classificatory role, and the purpose of the final part of this book is to illustrate the kinds of material which the Board still refuses to pass even in the '18' and 'RI8' adults-only categories, and to analyse the reasons why it still finds it necessary to impose such a degree of censorship. To a considerable extent, this is because the BBFC cannot pass films or DVDs that it feels may infringe laws such as the Video Recordings Act and the Obscene Publications Act, but there is also the matter of how the BBFC interprets the requirements of such legislation, and the extent to which this leads it to make judgements which are as much moral as legal in nature.


'The Way Things Are Now': An Interview with Robin Duval

JP: How do you take Christopher Tookey in the Daily Mail describing you as 'less notorious but no less permissive' than James Ferman? RD: I don't particularly enjoy being referred to as notorious, and I don't particularly like being described as permissive, but I've no special objection to liberal, and I don't mind at all being characterised as a director of the BBFC who has moved things on into the twenty-first century. That inevitably involves a degree of liberalisation because that is the way the British community has moved. JP: You've certainly introduced much greater openness and transparency into the Board's operations. RD: One of the difficulties with the Board throughout a large part of its history was that, because it wasn't fashionable in those days to be reasonably up-front about decision-making criteria, it left an awfully large space available for newspapers and others who were hostile to the Board to fill in their own interpretations; naturally, in the absence of proper explanation of what the Board had been doing, those interpretations were factually all over the place. So, as far as I'm concerned, transparency is not simply a duty in the modern age which should be imposed on any regulator, it's also extremely advantageous in making sure that the starting point for any public argument is one that the regulator can actually recognise.

This is the unedited version of an interview published in Sight and Sound, December




]p: You've also speeded up the classification process, which makes it much more difficult for the press to agitate whilst controversial movies await certification. RD: I came to the Board with certain priorities, one of which was to overhaul the Board's processes and make them as efficient as I could. As well as making the Board more transparent, another was to engage with the public in such a way that I could be confident that the basis for the Board's decisions would reflect, to as great a degree as was reasonable, what the public found acceptable. But, overall, I derive my policy from precisely the same fundamentals as my predecessor James Ferman, who had a remarkable record over his twenty-four years at the Board, namely the law, the concept of harm, and what was likely to be acceptable to the public. If there's a difference between us, it's that I inherited his mantle with a background ofexperience essentially at the Independent Broadcasting Authority and Independent Television Commission where the emphasis was very much on collecting evidence of what the public expected.

]p: The Annual Report I999 states that: 'Whatever the outcome of any particular case, harm will remain the abiding and central concern of the BBFC'. However, except possibly in the case of imitable techniques, what difference can cutting little bits of violence possibly make - as in the four seconds of changes to Fight Club? RD: I come from a film-making background, and because of this I am sensitive to the effect that very small elements of a film may have on the whole. I don't know any director who would accept the proposition that taking ten seconds out of a movie makes no difference; that moment may be the crucial ten seconds, the moment that caps and seals the effect which he's seeking to create. However, looking back on Fight Club I'm not sure that the cuts which we imposed made as much difference as we believed at the time, and that's a concession which I'll readily make. On the other hand, I'm absolutely clear that the ten seconds which we removed from Baise-moi has the effect of removing the specific erotic/pornographic element from the rape scene. What you're left with there is still extraordinarily powerful, but the message it conveys is slightly different - it's now entirely to do with the sheer pain and horror which the women suffer; you no longer have the erotic element, the bit that confuses the response of the viewer - or, depending on your point of view, that adds another important layer, but it's not a layer 1 which we felt we could accept within the guidelines.

]p: Certain horror titles still seem to be presenting the Board with problems on video. For example, Re-animator, which remains cut, and Lucio Fulci's 2 Nightmare Concert/Cat in the Brain, which is still banned.



RD: These are works about which decisions were taken in the early months after my arriving at the BBFC, and it takes a little time to become entirely comfortable with the nature of the job. I'm not sure that, if! were presented with those titles now, quite the same decisions would be taken - for two reasons. One is because after quite a long time here, my own views are not necessarily the same as they were at the beginning, and the other reason, which is the more substantial one, is we did spend the first eighteen months of my time here researching with the public the acceptability and suitability of our guidelines. There have also been certain legal developments which have changed the environment around us. So these factors could mean, though I'm not saying it would mean, that were these titles to be re-submitted, we might take a different view. JP: Doesn't the Video Recordings Act simply mistake offensiveness for harmfulness? The Board certainly found it extremely difficult to 'prove' that pornography was harmful to children when it appeared before the Video Appeals Committee in 1999 during the 'RI8' affair, as it frankly admits in its Annual Report 2000. RD: The elements which the amendment lists as those to which the BBFC should have special regard, which include the matter of harm, were not novel elements grasped out of the air for the purpose of amending the VRA. They had featured as criteria in the way that the BBFC had been operating for a very long time, and if you look at the Independent Broadcasting Authority programme guidelines, which were then superseded by the Independent Television Commission code, you would find the same kind of categories admittedly not set out quite so bleakly and simply as in the amended VRA, 3 but nonetheless following the same agenda. JP: Far be it from me to argue with you over the ITC code since you drafted it! However, Section I isn't only about harm, as is suggested by its title: 'Offence to Good Taste and Decency, Portrayal of Violence etc'. RD: Perhaps we can come to a compromise here. Because the code has to respond to paragraph 6 (I) (a) of the Broadcasting Act, which concerns offence to taste and decency, I acknowledge that there is throughout the code a responsiveness to that. But I think you really will find if you look throughout Section I that a great deal of it is couched in terms of concern about harm. The entire violence code [Section I :6] is to do with an analysis of different kinds of potential harm. JP: OK, we'll compromise. However, at the VAC your witness Dr Milavic had such a hard time trying to convince the other side's counsel, the redoubtable



QC David Pannick, of the harm that pornography could do to children that I almost felt sorry for her. RD: Well, you may have regretted that she wasn't a more highly trained actress, but she knew her facts and she spoke as someone who is unquestionably one of the leading experts in child harm. She had to deal with a problem which we had set her and which certainly wasn't of her making. The problem was that she recognised, from a lifetime's experience of dealing with children, that if material of that kind was presented to the kinds of children who are most likely to be her patients, then they were going to be harmed. But she also recognised that she had only one recent case to which she could point a finger, but in that case the pornography to which the child had been exposed was not an 'RI8' video, which is what the appeal was about. So you might reasonably argue that we were a little unfair to put her up. But she was happy to appear and I thought she did bloody well.

]p: What's the position concerning the re-release of videos originally on the Director of Public Prosecutions' 'nasty' list? Do they have to be cut? Is there a point at which previous convictions no longer count? RD: They certainly don't have to be cut automatically. Over the last two years we've tried to develop a flexible, common-sense policy in this area. If a title was on the DPP's list then we need to know why and to find out its history, in particular if it received any prosecutions under Section 2 or Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. Properly speaking, it shouldn't make any difference to our view of it whether it was tried under Section 2 before a jury, or simply forfeited by a magistrate under Section 3, because if the police achieve a result in either respect it still marks that title as unacceptable. But time does pass, and if we look at a film now, and we're quite clear that, in terms of our own guidelines, we would not ourselves have a problem with it if it didn't have an OPA record, and if we also discover that no jury has found it obscene for, let's say, ten years or more, then that's the point at which we can move towards a more liberal position, although very cautiously and carefully because we don't want to put up a challenge to the law. In general terms, the only way in which to deal with films fairly is to start from first principles in terms of the way things are now.

]p: According to the Annual Report I999, The Exorcist was passed on video because 'the Board decided that the passage of time since its first release had done much to date its special effects and generate familiarity with the film's contents' whilst in the case of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre it was decided that 'the film's horrors were unlikely to be taken too seriously'. Similarly,



according to the Annual Report 2000, Herschell Gordon Lewis's The Wizard oj Gore and The Gruesome Twosome were passed uncut since they 'lacked the power to disturb today's viewers'. But surely the whole point of horror films is that they are horrific and disturbing? RD: Since Andreas Whittam Smith and I have been here, the Board has actually taken a fairly relaxed view on horror films. I'm struggling to think of a single mainstream horror film that we've interfered with since I've been here, and the reason for this is that we absolutely recognise that going to horror movies is a rollercoaster experience. However, just as there as certain people, for example those below a certain height, who are not allowed to go on certain rollercoasters, so we say that people below certain ages can't legally have this rollercoaster horror experience. Furthermore, if you start making decisions such as passing The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which you know will appear to parts of the outside world as being a sea-change, you have to explain why, in their terms, they shouldn't be anxious about this. There are pragmatic realities with which we have to deal here, although I don't think that now we'd use the kind of expressions which you've just quoted, or at least I hope not, although I can't vouch for every single press release which we've ever issued, especially those which have had to come out fairly rapidly. JP: The Annual Report I999 also states that: 'Whether or not something is acceptable still depends ultimately upon how it is treated, i.e. context'. Doesn't this offer ammunition to those who accuse the Board of being softer on art house than commercial movies? RD: It's interesting how this argument has changed since people have become aware of the deficiencies in it! It was difficult to combat the argument that we had different standards for English and foreign language movies as long as all the films that posed something of a challenge to the guidelines were in fact non-English language movies - until Intimacy turned 4 up. Of course, we applied exactly the same contextual tests and exactly the same guideline criteria to Intimacy as we would to anything else, and 10 and behold we passed uncut an English-speaking movie with the same kind of content that people thought had been specially reserved for art-house movies such as Ai No Corrida, Romance and The Idiots. So then the argument shifts, and we're told that Intimacy is a British art house movie. You can't win but nor do we expect to. So now we're sitting here patiently waiting for a popular movie which sets these identical challenges, and we will treat that exactly the same; it makes not the slightest difference to us that the audience for that popular movie might include a range of people who never go to art movies. If it's a movie which, within its own internal context, justifies



something unprecedented, then it's quite possible that we would take a liberal view of that.

]p: In that case, why does the Board defend Baise-moi as a film with 'a serious cultural purpose' which 'offers an important perspective'? Isn't it simply Roger Corman in French and with real sex - and none the worse for that? RD: Well, as a French film it will end up in the art houses anyway! But I don't think that what you've quoted is a defence of Baise-moi, it's a defence of the position we have taken on the film; what it also does, and what we strive to do all the time, is to identify a legitimate point of view. However you or I may personally respond to Baise-moi, it has a serious purpose - it is about women reacting to the violence and humiliation habitually visited upon them by men. When I first saw the film, I wasn't actually particularly sympathetic to it, unlike some of my colleagues, but by the time I'd seen it three or four times I'd come not only to enjoy it more but to begin to understand that it does seriously express a very interesting feminine viewpoint, although not necessarily a feminist one.

]p: In the matter of DVDs, the Annual Report I999 states that the Board has 'established a policy of only permitting different versions of the same work providing they can be accommodated in the same classification category'. Doesn't this result in unnecessary cuts being made, and doesn't it only further encourage people to buy uncut Region I DVDs? RD: When a distributor first issues a copy of a film on video, and now DVD, they naturally want to reach the largest target audience possible, and in the process they're often prepared to accept cuts, as in The Matrix or The Mummy Returns. So we might offer the distributor a '15' uncut, but they might then ask us to tell them what cuts to make so that it can be issued as a '12'. Now, especially given the advent ofDVD, the distributor might come back at a later date and say that they want to issue the film again, this time at '15' and with the cuts restored. We've decided not to allow this kind of thing, because of the position in which it places both ourselves and the trading standards officers who are responsible for regulating the retail sector. It would put us in the position of endorsing a release which is immediately going to be gobbled up by all the kids who were deprived of the cut sequences the first time round, and would thus implicate us in the business of promoting forbidden fruit. And, secondly, how on earth can the local regulators such as the TSOs deal with a situation in which there are differently rated versions of the same film around on DVD and the local shopkeepers are telling them that it's simply too confusing for them to be able to enforce the VRA properly?



JP: Does the 'gentleman's agreement' with the DPP still exist, whereby the latter will not prosecute a film passed by the BBFC - as long as he feels that he can rely upon its judgements? RD: I strongly suspect that the 'gentleman's agreement' has been as comprehensively forgotten by the Crown Prosecution Service as it had been by me until you mentioned it. It's hardly necessary these days. Our business is to track what is going on at the CPS, particularly in relation to actions which they take under the OPA and to make sure that our decisions are consistent with these. The bottom line is that if we're clear that something submitted to us could be prosecuted successfully under Section 2, then I'm afraid that we cannot pass it, at least without cuts. JP: Are you relieved that the 'RI8' matter has been to some extent resolved, and that the Board has been able, finally, to liberalise its guidelines in this area? RD: It's certainly a relief that it's over. I need to pick my words fairly carefully here, but let me just say that the 'RI8' affair had long been a running sore for the BBFC and was probably the biggest difficulty that my predecessor ever had to deal with. I may not have liked the outcome of the judicial review which brought the matter to a close, but there was a clarity about it, particularly in the acceptance of the fresh guidelines that followed. There was still work to be done, and one of the main things that had to be achieved was to get agreement, although not consensus, between all the affected parties such as the Home Office, the CPS, the police, Customs and so on. All these bodies had to agree that the guidelines which we were proposing would not create any difficulty for them, or rather that they were content to make any necessary amendments to their own policies. Having said that, we still cut more 'RI8 submissions than any other category, because there's still a lot of material coming in which is probably in breach of the CPS's OPA guidelines and is certainly in breach of our own 'RI8' guidelines, since ours lie short of theirs. There has to be some blue water between them, otherwise we'd be taking too much of a risk. JP: Scenes of urolagnia, otherwise known as 'golden showers', still seem highly likely to be cut at 'RI8'. Since this is now a staple of so much hard core pornography, what's the problem? RD: The local police, or rather the local police on CPS advice, are still from time to time looking for convictions under Section 2 for urolagnia, and they're getting them. And as long as juries take that view, that has to be our benchmark.



]p: Similarly, although the Board tries for parity between the representation of homosexual and heterosexual acts, there are legal problems regarding the representation of homosexual acts involving more than two people. RD: Yes there are if the films were shot in Britain, because the acts themselves are illegal here under both the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Justice 5 Act. Similarly the common law offence of indecency in public places can pose problems for videos featuring sex in public - again, if they were made in the UK. These are all examples of the legal constraints under which we have to operate.

]p: The Board has told the distributors of Baise-moi that they will consider its video release only after they have been able to judge the public reaction to its cinema release. Why is this, and how will the BBFC gauge public reaction? RD: The decision to classify the film for cinema release with just one cut was a very difficult one. We're confident enough of public reaction to the cinema version to have made the decision which we did, but it was a close thing, and video sets a sharper test because of its much wider availability. It seems to us sensible - in fact it's something that we find we have to do - to acquaint ourselves with public reaction to this benchmark decision. We've moved the goalposts, and we need to know if people feel we've moved them too far. We haven't made a final decision on how we're going to gauge public opinion, not least as the film is not opening till next year, but there's a range of things we can do, possibly including formal public opinion research, or relying upon the evidence that we'll cull from the debate in the media and the responses which we'll receive from people who contact the office. The key consideration is public, not journalistic, reaction. Press comment is a valuable indicator of a particular sector of opinion. However, the days when the BBFC was influenced by the personal, perhaps too personal, views of a single journalist or critic are - I hope - long gone.

]p: What factors led recently to Boy Meets Girl being passed on video? RD: The video was originally rejected by the Board in 1995 because it found the depictions of torture sadistic and unrelenting. Interestingly, the work had previously been given an '18' certificate, uncut, for cinema release. Six years later, and after a thorough-going review of public opinion from which it emerged that the public is rather more robust than we had thought, we felt able to take a more relaxed view. By present-day standards this is not a very realistic portrayal of torture, with very little significant or graphic detail. It was not in breach of our new, publicly tested guidelines.



JP: Since the Board has passed Christiane F uncut on video, will it now allow the reinstatement of the cuts in Bad Lieutenant? RD: This is one of those hypothetical questions I simply can't answer. Bad Lieutenant has not been submitted for reclassification, and until it has been, my mind remains entirely open. I would say only that sexual violence and instructive detail of drug use are still issues for us even today at '18'. On the other hand, you are probably aware that the Board passed it uncut in 1992 for 6 the cinema. It was only the later video submission that was cut. JP: How do you see the future? RD: My personal ambition is that we move progressively towards a better informed public in relation to films both in the cinema and on video. Right at the end of this very long road, one whose end we certainly won't reach whilst I'm still at the BBFC, the mandatory ratings system, with its element of criminal sanctions in the case of videos, will eventually and inevitably give way to something which is more advisory. I would be very surprised if the public will want any radical change for perhaps ten years or more. In the meantime, I think the industry as well as the board has a fundamental duty to provide more information about why a film has a particular classification. Cinema-goers and videojDVD-viewers will not take uncritically our ratings for ever. They need to know enough about the ingredients on the package to make their own judgements. Is it '12' for bad language, or for sex, or for violence? It makes a difference to many people as to whether they expect to enjoy the film or not. We are already testing this proposition with an experimental advisory 'PG-I2' in Norwich, and later perhaps in other towns. We are offering the public an opportunity to decide for themselves - instead of leaving it entirely to us whether a particular '12' rated film is right for their ten- or eleven-year-old child, or not. But the crucial ingredient is what we call the consumer advice provided to assist them to make that decision. I think it may well work at '12' because there are no real harm-related issues at that level. An advisory' 12' (or thereabouts) is also pretty well the norm in continental Europe and North America. I would be much less confident about making 'IS' or '18' advisoryI think there are very serious difficulties there. But, whatever happens, the 7 decision will be a public one - not the BBFC's, and certainly not mine.



Fight Club has since been passed uncut on DVD, but the DVD of Baise-moi is cut by twelve seconds. Both films are now available uncut on DVD.



3. The ITC code has now been superseded by the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, Section z of which is entitled 'Harm and Offence'. 4- Based on a novel by Hanif Kureishi and starring two reputable British actors, Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox, this contains a number of sex scenes more explicit than anything which the Board had hitherto passed in an English-language film at '18', including a scene of unsimulated fellatio. 5. Group homosexual sex was decriminalised by the Sexual Offences Act zo03, allowing the Board to be even-handed in its treatment of depictions of heterosexual and homosexual • activity. 6. The film has since been passed uncut on DVD. 7. The BBFC introduced the 'IzA' category in zooz for cinema films only. The current BBFC Guidelines explain that 'no one younger than twelve may see a 'IzA' film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult, and films classified 'IzA' are not recommended for a child below twelve. An adult may take a younger child if, in their judgement, the film is suitable for that particular child. In such circumstances, responsibility for allowing a child under twelve to view lies with the accompanying adult'. The first film passed at 'IzA' was Spider-Man. •



The Limits of the Possible

n 18 June ZOOI Carl Daft of the distributor Blue Underground angrily declaimed that 'the right to free speech in the United Kingdom died today, and for that I have to say that I am ashamed to be British', whilst Mark Kermode in the Independent (ZI June) bemoaned a decision that 'leaves British horror fans once again in the wilderness'. The cause of such fury and bemusement was the decision of the Video Appeals Committee (VAC) not only to uphold the British Board of Film Classification's decision to insist on sixteen seconds of cuts in the video ofWes Craven's debut feature Last House on the Left before giving it an '18' certificate but also effectively to criticise the Board for being too lenient to the film in the first place. Last House on the Left is loosely based on the Ingmar Bergman film Jungfrukiillen (The Virgin Spring). Craven's film tells the story of two country girls who, on a visit to New York, are abducted by a gang of drug peddlers, and, in the course of a journey towards the Canadian border, raped, tortured and finally killed. When their car subsequently breaks down in the country, the gang members ask for help at a nearby house, which turns out to be the home of the parents of one of their victims. Once they have discovered the truth of the situation, the parents wreak a terrible revenge. The film was first submitted to the then British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for cinema exhibition in 1974 and, unsurprisingly, given the strictness of the Board's policies at that time, rejected outright. It subsequently became available on video in those halcyon days before the Video Recordings Act (VRA) came into force, but inevitably came to feature prominently on the Director of Public Prosecutions' (DPP) infamous 'Top 60' list of 'video nasties', attracting no fewer than II3 convictions under the Obscene Publications Act between 1983 and 1987. In 1999, in supposedly less hysterical times, Last House was submitted to the BBFC by the Feature Film Company for classification as a cinema release.




On 19 May that year BBFC Director Robin Duval wrote to the company explaining that the film 'contains a number of sequences involving gross violence committed against women, often in a context with clear sexual overtones. It invites the viewer to relish the detail of the violence and the killings'. The Board thus required cuts totalling some eighty-five seconds, but the company signalled its unwillingness to make these, and thus, in February 2000, the BBFC formally rejected the work, explaining that it had 'concluded that the gross violence committed against women, often of a sexual nature, in The Last House on the Left is unacceptable both in terms of our published guidelines and in terms of public expectations'. On 20 August 2001 Blue Underground submitted the film for video classification. It was viewed at every level of seniority in the Board, and finally by its President and two Vice-Presidents. In the end, four cuts totalling some sixteen seconds were requested, all of them concerning the scenes in which the two girls are tortured and killed. On 5 November Blue Underground received a cuts list detailing four excisions which the BBFC required in the film. These were described as follows: 'remove downward panning shot from woman's face to the front of her urine stained jeans. Resume on side shot of woman's face'; 'remove all sight of entrails being pulled out of woman's body'; 'remove all sight of young woman's chest being carved with knife'; and 'during nightmare sequence, remove all sight of young woman's chest being carved with knife'. On I4 November Blue Underground informed the BBFC that they were unwilling to make the cuts required, and requested that the matter be referred to the VAC. In the course of the following months, as the video proceeded through the appeals process, it soon became clear that the Board's concerns about sexual violence in the film were predicated on a number of other concerns. I want now to explore each of these in turn as they arose at various points in the video's unhappy journey towards being distributed in truncated form, since these so clearly illuminate the reasons why certain kinds of material are still likely to find themselves cut by the BBFC. And although it should be noted that Last House was finally passed uncut on DVD in 2008, the second part of this chapter will explain what kinds of material are still likely to find themselves cut from films, and more particularly DVDs, in contemporary Britain, even in the adults-only '18' and 'RI8' categories, and, more importantly, explain the reasons behind such acts of censorship. It would be comforting to be able to regard the Last House furore as the last gasp of the ancien regime at the BBFC, but it would also be extremely misleading.




The cuts letter to Blue Underground cited the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA) as the ground for making these excisions, and in its submission to the VAC, on 8 January 2002, the BBFC again brought up the matter of the OPA, stating that: The Board considers that an overriding test of suitability for classification is that a video does not infringe the criminal law. The video work The Last House on the Left has been the subject of a number of convictions under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the most recent being: 23 March 1994 - S3 forfeiture; 17 January 1994 - S2 conviction; 18 September 1991 - S2 conviction. Both of the Section 2 cases were heard before magistrates; the defendants pleaded guilty and thus no sustained defence of the film was made in either case. It is thus quite reasonable to suppose that the video was dealt with in exactly the peremptory fashion described in Chapter 11. Indeed, in its landmark decision to grant an 'RI8' certificate to Makin' Whoopee! in July 1998, the VAC itself had stated: 'There is no doubt that magistrates courts reach inconsistent decisions on obscenity. It is unsurprising they should do so, given the widely subjective views held in respect of pornography'. In the event, the VAC was not swayed by the argument that Last House might, if passed uncut, be found guilty under the OPA. As they put it in their final judgement: We give some weight to the previous convictions but not very much. We do think that many, especially women, would find the video work to be contrary to Section 2 of the OPA. A jury consisting entirely or substantially of women is, however, so unlikely as to be discounted. No jury so far has had the benefit of evidence in support of a Section 4 defence. Taking into account all the circumstances we have our doubts whether a conviction would result, indeed we think it might be difficult to get a jury to agree upon a verdict. However, the BBFC's insistence on invoking the OPA for its refusal to pass Last House also cast a little more light on the fate of the erstwhile 'nasties' mentioned by Robin Duval in the preceding chapter, as, according to his written statement to the VAC (13 May 2002): 'Recent evidence of a work's unacceptability in law must weigh heavily with the Board. The more recent the conviction, the more likely it is that cuts will be required or the work rejected'. However, he added: 'The Board has never operated any policy of



automatic cuts or rejection for a work which has received an OPA conviction. Nor has the Board ever operated a time limit (Mr Daft has suggested ten years) on convictions before they can be deemed to be spent'.


If the OPA and the manner of its enforcement present one set of problems for videos containing violent imagery, then the Video Recordings Act 1984 poses an even tougher challenge. When Blue Underground first approached the BBFC with the idea of submitting Last House for classification, Robin Duval, in a letter to Carl Daft on 30 April, stated that, in the Board's view, 'the disputed elements in The Last House on the Left are "potentially harmful to society"', a clear reference to the VRA, which the BBFC later elaborated upon in its cuts letter of 5 November. At various points in this book, serious doubts have been cast on the validity of the notion of 'harm' enshrined in the VRA, so it is worth pointing out that in the course of the Last House appeal, David Pannick QC reminded the BBFC that even its own Annual Report 2000 had stated that, on the question of whether videos have an adverse effect on conduct, 'the evidence is, at best, inconclusive'. And Robin Duval himself was forced to admit that, 'though the literature provides reason for concern about the possible social harms that may arise from portrayals of conventional violence in films, videos and on television, the accumulated evidence is not - taken as a whole - conclusive'. This is indeed putting it mildly, and in this context it is worth quoting Guy Cumberbatch on the issue since, as we shall see shortly, he is an expert in whom the Board clearly places a good deal of faith. Thus, in a report for the Video Standards Council, he argued that: The real puzzle is that anyone looking at the research evidence in this field could draw any conclusion about the pattern let alone argue with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm of violence on television, in film and in video games. While tests of statistical significance are a vital tool of the social sciences, they seem to have been used in this field as instruments of torture on the data until it confesses something which could justify a publication in a scientific journal. If one conclusion is possible, it is that the jury is not still out. It's never been in. Media violence has been subjected to lynch mob mentality with almost any evidence used to prove guilt. (2001: 21; emphasis in original)



In the specific case of Last House, the Board argued that it was the way in which the film portrayed the violence inflicted on the two girls which made it so 'harmful' as to necessitate its cutting. In this respect it is important to note that, when Blue Underground first contacted the BBFC about a possible video release of the film, Robin Duval wrote to Carl Daft drawing particular attention to the press release concerning the cutting of the theatrical print of Baise-moi, which stated that:

The Board's policy on sexual violence (published in its Classification Guidelines in September 2000) warns that where the portrayal eroticises sexual assault, cuts are likely to be required at any classification level. Additionally, any association of sex with non-consensual restraint, pain or humiliation may be cut. The policy is in part informed by the evidence of media effects research that violent pornography may excite aggressive responses from some male viewers. But the Board also recognises that the graphic presentation of violent non-consensual sex is unlikely to be acceptable to the British public at any level. There are clearly two issues intertwined here. One is the Board's view that watching certain kinds of imagery involving violence in a sexual context may in itself be 'harmful'. The other is that such imagery may well not be acceptable to a significant number of people - quite probably because they too think it 'harmful'. Let's try to deal with these issues separately, as far as possible. The Board's own view of the matter of 'harm' was made explicit in Duval's statement to the VAC, in which he quoted approvingly the latest edition of the Independent Television Code, published in Spring 2001, to the effect that: Research indicates that there is particular danger in representations of violence in a sexual context. Scenes of rape, or other non-consensual sex, especially where there is graphic physical detail or the action is to any degree prolonged, require great care. Graphic portrayal of violent sexual behaviour, or violence in a sexual context, is justifiable only very exceptionally. After dealing with the controversy over the alleged effects of non-sexual images of violence, he continued: The situation with regard to violence where there is a sexual or erotic element is rather different. Here reservations fall away. There is a large and persuasive body of evidence over the years from respected and responsible researchers which shows that, where violence and sex are



intermingled, the effects upon some people are likely to be harmful. The people concerned may only represent a small minority of the population (though some researchers would go further than that) but they themselves may be harmed and their actions may have a disproportionate and harmful effect upon society. In line with its specific duties under the VRA, the Board has concluded that there is more than a sufficient basis in the evidence here for it to treat material of the kind represented by The Last House on the Left very cautiously indeed. (emphasis in original) Duval was clearly basing his arguments about research into the effects of viewing sexually violent material on an internal BBFC document written in 2002: Sexual Violence. The Media Effects Research Evidence; a BBFC Review. According to this: 'The strongest statements of concern come from American academics such as Donnerstein, Malamuth, Check and others'. However, this largely laboratory-based research by which the BBFC sets so much store (although, inevitably, others do not) concerns violent pornography, and is thus irrelevant in the case of Last House on the Left which belongs firmly to a particular sub-genre of the horror film. It might, of course, be relevant if the BBFC were correct in arguing that the film 'eroticises sexual assault', but this is a highly questionable and contentious reading of the scenes featuring violence against the women. In this respect it is very difficult to disagree with Kim Newman's judgement that Craven uses his film 'forcefully to make the point that violence degrades everyone involved, victim and victimiser, just and unjust' and that it 'really communicates a powerful, intellectual revulsion that makes a far more effective anti-violence statement than Hooper's rollercoaster ride [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre]' (1988: 55). In his statement to the VAC, Duval also argued that:

It is important to be clear that the main significance of evidence of this nature from a regulatory point of view is that it identifies an essential area of policy concern. It does not tell us that any single work by itself will have a significant effect. But it does provide a clear warning about the harmfulness that would arise from the wider availability of similar abusive material. The concern is that ready accessibility would feed and stimulate individual predispositions to abusive behaviour. As ever, the regulatory issue is one of precedent. Thus Last House on the Left and, presumably, the nineteen other videos which Duval revealed had been cut - one, Ruggero Deodato's The House on the Edge oj the Park, by nearly twelve minutes! - in order to gain an '18' certificate, appear to have been judged not solely on their own merits and



demerits but, to some extent, according to the well-worn 'finger in the dyke' principle. This may seem hardly fair to individual films, but this argument from quantity does, of course, enable the BBFC to get round the familiar criticism that snipping out little bits from one particular film does nothing to alleviate its allegedly 'harmful' qualities. Turning to the allegedly 'harmful' qualities of Last House in particular, we find Robin Duval responding to David Pannick's remark that the violence in Last House was hardly exceptional in that 'humiliation, entrail-pulling and attacks with knives are all staples of the horror genre' by arguing that: Of course the BBFC has in the past allowed scenes of humiliation and attacks with knives. But, when assessing the suitability for classification of a sequence, the BBFC will always take into account the context within which the acts occur and the amount of detail, particularly of a violent and sexual character, which is shown. If the activity is unconvincingly portrayed, undetailed, comic, brief, or lacking in any elements which sexualize the violence, threat or humiliation, then the Board is less likely to require cuts. By contrast, in works in which such activities are portrayed with realistic brutality, graphically, at length and with elements that sexualize, the scenes will always be treated with great caution. They have been consistently cut by the BBFC. Of Last House itself, he stated that: 'The technical and narrative crudeness of the film makes it difficult to justify except as an exploitative exercise in portraying extreme violence'. Noting that Wes Craven had gone on to direct the Scream series, he observed that: 'The parodic touch often apparent in that series is wholly absent from the presentation of the violence in The Last House on the Left, which is brutal and naturalistic with no possibly redeeming arguments of fantasy, comedy or social comment'. The problem with this kind of approach, however, is that it rests on a reading of Last House which runs completely counter to that of every known expert who has commented on the film (see, for example, Wood (1986), Robb (1998) and Szulkin (2000)). But there again, if censors accepted the full implications of the idea, now commonplace in media and cultural studies, that different readings of the same text are perfectly possible, they would simply be making themselves redundant. Furthermore, Duval's remarks about 'context' and Scream also suggested that things had not progressed all that far beyond the days when, as Mark Kermode has lamented, 'horror cinema in Britain was hamstrung by the demands of a censor board which insisted that it could be anything but horrific' (Kermode 2002: 14-15).




Let us turn now to the second issue involved in the Board's attitude to violent imagery, and especially violent imagery involving sexual elements: namely the acceptability to the public of such imagery. In his statement to the VAC, Duval began by referring to some of the findings which arose from the BBFC's lengthy process of public consultation in 1999-2000, pointing out that there was special concern about violence generally. Forty-six per cent of the national sample (base: 1,249) were of the opinion that watching violence in films generally makes people more likely to be violent in real life. However, 51 per cent believed the BBFC violence guidelines were 'about right'. 42 per cent thought they were not strict enough. Most significantly, perhaps, only 5 per cent thought the guidelines were too stnct. •

With particular reference to the two citizens' juries which the Board organised he noted that 'their main concern was sexual violence, which they felt strongly should be handled with great care. One jury stipulated that it should not be allowed unless it was shown in a negative light', and the Board concluded that 'it is reasonable to place some weight on the commonsense opinion of ordinary people in this area ... The reaction of ordinary people in general to what material may cause harm is of importance to the Board'. Duval also drew attention to a survey entitled Where Do You Draw the Line, conducted by the above-mentioned Guy Cumberbatch (2002)2 for the BBFC which found that only 38 per cent of the 276 video-renting adults in the survey thought adults had the right to see graphic portrayals of sexual violence in videos and films. As this survey is still frequently cited by the BBFC to justify its policy on sexual violence, it is worth saying a little more about it. The survey consisted of two pieces of audience research, the first being a survey of 277 video renters and the second a much more fine-grained analysis of the responses of a fiftyperson viewing panel to six films containing sexual violence, namely Baisemoi, A Clockwork Orange, Death Wish II, I Spit on Your Grave, Last House on the Left and Straw Dogs. The first revealed liberal attitudes where those believing there was 'too little' regulation of television, cinema and video were heavily outnumbered around four to one by those believing there was 'too much'. Nevertheless, the majority - just over one half - believed that the amount of regulation of 'films you can see at the cinema' and 'films you can see on



video' was 'about right'. This was also true of '18' rated videos where respondents thought that the amount of regulation was 'about right' for sex (58 per cent), violence (49 per cent) and sexual violence (52 per cent). Among the remainder, those thinking there was 'too little' regulation were outnumbered by those thinking there was 'too much' by four to one in the case of sex and two to one in the case of violence. However with sexual violence the ratio dropped to almost one to one. Additionally, almost twice as many respondents believed that people over the age of eighteen had a right to see graphic portrayals of violence (74 per cent), or real sex (67 per cent) as said this about sexual violence (38 per cent). This and other data suggests that sexual violence in films remains far more controversial and less acceptable to viewers than either sex or violence ... There were large differences in attitudes to regulation due to gender (men were far more liberal) and age (older people were more conservative). The most liberal minded were heavy video renters and those with an interest in fantasy films especially horror. However, educational level, newspaper readership type, having children at home and hours of television watched per week revealed less variation. (Cumberbatch 2002: I) As far as the viewing panel was concerned: Surprising tolerance of sexual violence in film was found among both conservative and liberal minded people so long as it was justified in the storyline and it was 'in context'. Conversely, among those films perceived to have little merit or justifying narrative, even liberal minded participants recommended not releasing the films uncut. As in the survey findings, gender was a clear discriminator: almost seven out of ten recommendations by men were to release the films uncut compared with only four out of ten recommendations by women. (ibid.: 2) However, it does need to be pointed out that the members of the viewing panel did not constitute what one might term the 'natural audience' for these films; as Cumberbatch admits: 'In selecting participants to take part in the viewing panel, the main consideration was to achieve a good cross section of views'. It is also interesting to discover that 'those who had declared themselves to be "very" or "quite" religious were somewhat better represented than in the survey findings' (ibid.: 21). And some idea of the spirit in which at least some participants in this exercise approached it can be gleaned from Cumberbatch's remark that:



A few participants were 'dying to see [the film], they had heard about (and so saw it first), a few participants mentioned [putting] 'in the tape and thought the picture was so [bad] that I'd leave it till later'. Two participants mentioned that Last House 'sounded familiar' (implying 'safe') and so watched it first. Three people either expected Baise-moi to be subtitled or, on discovering that it was, decided it was 'something to watch' (meaning when they felt like concentrating rather than just 'sitting down in front of it'). (ibid.: 24) And one participant, having watched Straw Dogs and then Last House on the Left 'could not bring herself to watch Baise-moi (ibid.: 22). That many participants were watching films which they would not normally have watched becomes abundantly clear from the sections of the report devoted to their reactions to individual films (ibid.: 25-61). As the report notes: 'It was very clear from the interviews that many participants simply had not appreciated just how "graphic" some of the films might be. Indeed, a number admitted to being "quite shocked" at the level of gritty sexual violence' (ibid.: 59). In this respect, it is particularly interesting that in the case of Last House, the report notes that 'viewers had difficulty understanding why anyone should want to watch such a film and this raised concerns about the kind of people who might enjoy it' (ibid.: 58). And although this is admittedly slightly unfair, compare Robin Wood's remark that 'no film is more expressive than Last House ofa(n) (inter) national social sickness, and no film is richer in Oedipal references - an extension, in its widest implications, of the minutiae of human relations under capitalist culture' (1986: 128) with the comments of one of the members of the viewing panel: I've been thinking about that one, I've been trying to find something, um, some redeeming feature for it, but the acting was awful, er, the cinematography was awful, there was um ... the plot I found ... um, pretty dire, and I couldn't work out if it was supposed to be slapstick comedy with the policemen, or horror or ... well, it just seemed a bit confused, and I didn't like that one at all. And that was the only one that I almost turned off. (Cumberbatch 2002: 41) And this is from a viewer described as 'moderate'. Faced with the statement: 'The film invites the viewer to enjoy the spectacle of being stripped and killed', 29 per cent of viewers strongly agreed, and 38 per cent agreed (ibid.: 42). But here is Robin Wood again: 'No act of violence in the film is condoned, yet we are led to understand every act as the realisation of potentials that exist within us all, that are intrinsic to our social and personal relationships' (1986: 128).



On the other hand, it is interesting that the report notes that 'none of the participants used the term "titillating" about any of the films before this idea was introduced in a direct question by the interviewer' (2002: 43) and that 'the term "pornographic" was rarely used (by only 13 per cent) spontaneously in the film descriptions - that is before being introduced by the interviewer in a direct question' (ibid.: 44). And in the specific case of Last House: When invited to say whether they would describe any of the scenes as titillating, only five participants (20 per cent of those who had seen the film) agreed that this was the case, but slightly more (25 per cent) thought that scenes were intended to be titillating. However, as noted elsewhere, none used the term 'titillating' before it was introduced by the interviewer. Similarly only one viewer described the film as 'pornographic' spontaneously, but as many as 29 per cent agreed that this term could be applied to scenes in the film when invited to comment on this by the interviewer. (ibid.: 48) Also interesting is the comment in the report that: When asked specifically whether the film or scenes gave any message about sexual violence or about men and women and so on, the responses were somewhat hesitant. Many answers simply described the plot. Moreover, there seemed to be no obvious relationship between agreeing that a film had a 'bad' message and willingness to censor it. The impression from interviewees was that they did not usually think of these films in such terms. (ibid.: 53) On 17 June 2002 the VAC delivered its verdict. The omens were not good. Early in its detailed judgement it warned that: 'At present, public opinion is greatly concerned at the violence prevailing in our society especially when weapons such as knives are used'. When it came to considering the evidence presented by Mark Kermode in the film's defence, the committee seemed to be holding its metaphorical nose, sniffily and peremptorily dismissing it as 'difficult to accept'. In the end, however, it was the matter of 'effects' that sank the appeal. On this question the VAC was adamant, stating that: We do not have any doubt that there is real concern among the public about the effects of showing violence, particularly upon children and vulnerable adults. Much of the violent crime committed in this county is by young adults and the current level of knife related crime is high. There must also be a worry that a work such as the Last House on the Left will fuel this violence and cause susceptible viewers to imitate some of the scenes in it.



In this respect the film could indeed be harmful, and thus contravened the VRA. The Committee concluded its deliberations by stating that: We found it an unpleasant work with, we believe, the danger that parts may be imitated, especially the humiliating urination scene. We agree that there is a continual atmosphere of sexuality and violence and that the violence is sexual violence. The viewer is asked to relish the violence, the violence is relentless and the parts to be cut are the extreme end of that violence and humiliation. We are of the opinion that a significant number of viewers would be fascinated by the violence and excited into amoral behaviour, in other words, harm may be caused ... We repeat, violence is greatly concerning the public especially the use of weapons, in particular knives which is a common denominator of this video. We need only rule upon sixteen seconds of cuts but we are bound to say, using the words of Mr Duval in paragraph 36 of his statement, that we think the Board has been 'generous to the film-maker', indeed inappropriately so in our view, and we believe that this would be the view of the public. The appeal was unanimously dismissed. On 28 June Blue Underground received a cuts letter that had been revised in the light both of the VAC's comments and Cumberbatch's research. The scenes that the Board required to be cut remained the same, but the total amount of time to be excised from one of these scenes (that involving the entrail-pulling) was increased from three to eighteen seconds, making a total of thirty-one seconds to be removed. At first it appeared as if an outraged Daft would refuse to make the cuts and thus leave the video effectively banned from UK distribution. However, having purchased the video rights to the film, as well as entering into an extremely costly action with the BBFC and VAC, he had little option, ultimately, but to accede to their demands, and the video was passed on 17 July with the requisite thirty-one seconds of cuts.


As in the James Ferman era, sexual violence is a theme that has continued to preoccupy the Board, and is one of the most common reasons for cuts at the '18' and 'RI8' levels. The Board addresses this issue every year in its annual reports, and that for 2004, during which year David Cooke took over as Director, makes its attitude particularly clear: Scenes or narratives which offer sexual violence as a pornographic pleasure or which suggest that the victims enjoy or deserve the sexual



assault are a particular concern, even at '18'. Much of the relevant research into the effects of depictions of sexual violence was undertaken in the USA in the I980s by researchers such as Donnerstein, Linz, Malamuth, Check, Zillman, Bryant, Berkowitz and Burt. In general, it tended to identify three possible harmful effects, particularly when the victim was shown 'enjoying' the sexual violence: the stimulation of aggressive thoughts and fantasies; the cultivation of anti-female attitudes; and more aggressive subsequent behaviour. Of course, like all 'media effects' research, these findings are hotly disputed. But in the view of the Board, this is an area in which the evidence supporting the case for possible harm is unusually strong, and the BBFC continues to work on the precautionary assumption that particular violent scenes with the potential to trigger sexual arousal may encourage a harmful association between sexual violence and sexual gratification. On these grounds, and on DVD, three elderly Jess Franco films, Sexy Sisters, Ilsa, the Wicked Warden and Love Camp, were cut, as was the equally elderly Jean Rollin film Les demoniaques. Other victims included Faces oj Death III, Nikos the Impaler, Angel Blade, Nude Jor Satan and the 'Additional Erotic Scenes' on the DVD of The Man with the Severed Head. Banned entirely for similar reasons was the 'Fake Porn Movie' extra on the DVD of The Howling 'which merely presented sexual violence in a titillatory and pornographic fashion', and another Jess Franco film from the I970s, Women in Cellblock 9. The latter faced the additional handicap of featuring a lead actress who was just over sixteen when the film was made, and the Sexual Offences Act 2003 had just amended the Protection of Children Act 1978 to make it an offence to distribute or show indecent photographs of a child under eighteen - the previous limit being sixteen. Films considered to be simply too sexy to be passed uncut on DVD at '18' included Tinto Brass Presents - 4 ('too close in tone and intent to a sex work designed to produce sexual arousal') and yet another slice of I970S sleaze from Jess Franco, Barbed Wire Dolls (which 'blurred the line between erotic drama and sex work'). All in all, about a third of 'soft core' porn films submitted were cut and passed at '18' in order to avoid being consigned to the less profitable sex-shop category. Imagery involving real sex was allowed in 'sex education' DVDs but only 'if it is kept to the minimum necessary to illustrate the educational or instructional points being made, and if it occurs within a work which genuinely and manifestly seeks to inform and educate'. However, in the case of one such work, Modern Loving, 'some scenes of explicit imagery were reduced because they went beyond the level of detail necessary to illustrate the point being made'. And, as the above-mentioned Sexual Offences Act made it illegal to expose oneself with intent to cause harm or distress, in addition to



the broader common law misdemeanour of 'indecent exposure', the Board cut scenes of public nudity in Dirty Sanchez and Pritchard Vs Dainton. It also prohibits a person filming someone else's private activities if they are doing so for their own or someone else's sexual gratification and if the person concerned has not consented to being filmed. This clearly has an impact on that sub-genre of pornographic movies which depend on hidden cameras. At 'RI8' in 2004, over 20 per cent ofDVDs were cut, a far larger percentage than in any other category. As the Annual Report 2004 explained: This reflects the Board's strict policies on material which is potentially illegal or harmful, including activity which is abusive, involves a lack of consent or the infliction of pain or harm, is potentially harmful if copied, or is humiliating, degrading or dehumanising. Some allowance is made for clearly consenting role-playing games ... The Board continues to seek to avoid passing material which is in breach of the criminal law - for example, material likely to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, on which the Board has taken advice from the Crown Prosecution Service. Such material includes sado-masochistic activity which goes beyond mild and consensual, and activities such as urolagnia (urination during sexual activity, drinking and smearing of urine). In point of fact, the CPS has provided the Board with a list of 'material most commonly prosecuted' under the OPA, namely: Sexual act with an animal; realistic portrayals of rape; sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient [see below] infliction of injury; torture with instruments; bondage (especially where gags are used with no apparent means of withdrawing consent); dismemberment or graphic mutilation; activities involving perversion or degradation (such as drinking urine, urination or vomiting on to the body, or excretion or use of excreta); fisting. In 2005 the Board published a new set of guidelines. On the matter of sexual violence, these stated that: Works which glorify, glamorise or sexualise violence will receive a more restrictive classification and may even be cut. The BBFC has a strict policy on rape and sexual violence which might eroticise or endorse sexual assault the Board may require cuts at any classification level. This is more likely with DVD or video than film because DVD and video scenes can be replayed repeatedly. Any association of sex with nonconsensual restraint, pain or humiliation may be cut.



Specifically at '18' the guidelines warned that cuts would be most likely where material or treatment appears to the Board to risk harm to individuals or, through their behaviour, to society - for example, any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts, or of illegal drug use which is likely to provoke this activity. The Board may also intervene with portrayals of 'sexual violence which might eroticise or endorse sexual assault'. Also at risk were 'the more explicit images of sexual activity - unless they can be exceptionally justified by context and the work is not a sex work', which the Board defines as one 'whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation' and which contains only simulated sexual activity. The prohibitions at the 'RI8' level remained to all intents and purposes the same as those published in September 2000 and quoted in Chapter I I of this book. However, given the reservations expressed throughout this book about the reliability of 'public opinion' as a basis for censorship, it is disturbing to note that one of the three main considerations which the Board takes into account in its operations is: 'Is the material, at the age group concerned, clearly acceptable to broad public opinion?'. It is made explicit that this applies equally to the '18' category 'although here it is balanced against the public expectation that adults should be free to chose their entertainment, within the law'. This is repeated as a 'General Principle' in the 2009 guidelines. The BBFC also published Public Opinion and the BBFC Guidelines, which drew together the results of a series of surveys of public opinion on the guidelines which it had undertaken in 2004.3 These revealed, inter alia, that 69 per cent of respondents agreed that: 'Watching criminal or dangerous activity in films can sometimes lead to copycat behaviour in real life' (with 19 per cent remaining neutral and 13 per cent disagreeing), whilst 45 per cent agreed that: 'Watching violence in films generally makes people more likely to be violent in real life'. On the other hand, 66 per cent of respondents agreed that: 'Adults (over eighteen) should be able to watch whatever they want on film and video( DVD'. Asked about the amount of sex allowed by the guidelines at '18', 41 per cent thought that they permitted too little, 32 per cent that they were about right, and 27 per cent that they allowed too much. Faced with the statement that: 'People over eighteen have a right to see graphic portrayals of real sex in films and videos(DVDs', 30 per cent of respondents were neutral in their attitude, half agreed and only 22 per cent disagreed. With specific regard to the 'RI8', participants in the survey were asked whether or not they agreed with the statement that: 'There should be no limits on what can be shown in 'RI8' videos(DVDs, providing they do not contain sexual violence or break the law'; 52 per cent of respondents agreed, 31 per cent disagreed, and 17 per cent were neutral. And when it came to the statement that: 'There should be no limits on what can be shown in 'RI8' videos(DVDs, 60 per cent disagreed, 23 per cent agreed, and 17 per cent were neutral.



The Annual Report 2005 demonstrated once again that even elderly films were subject to censorship at '18' on account of their inclusion of scenes of sexual violence. These included cuts to the 1968 compilation film Scare Their Pants Off! and the removal from the film of the entire trailers for The Sin Sindicate and Prostitutes Protection Society; and cuts to Doris Wishman's The Amazing Transplant (1970), Amando de Ossorio's Tombs oj the Blind Dead, Jess Franco's Sadomania (1981) and the Japanese 'Hentai' series La Blue Girl Returns, Episodes I, 2, 3 and 4 (1994-6). In terms of purely sexual content, explicit images were cut from Desperately Seeking Seka, a documentary about a porn star, on the grounds that these were 'considered gratuitous rather than serving any important documentary or narrative purpose'. The Board also cut The Bride oj Frank, a deliberate exercise in low-budget, Troma-esque bad taste, on the grounds that footage which purported to show the eponymous anti-hero 'decapitating a man and then defecating down his throat and penetrating the eye socket of a woman with his penis' might infringe the OPA. At the 'RI8' level, Severe Punishment was rejected outright; this involved sado-masochistic activity, some of which 'went way beyond the mild and clearly consensual activity which the Board allows under its Guidelines at 'RI8' and challenged UK law in relation to sado-masochistic activity as clearly established in the "Spanner" case'. This is a reference to the case in which, in 1987, in the course of a house search (apparently without a warrant), the police discovered a videotape of what they naively but entirely typically believed to be a 'snuff movie. During their enquiries, they discovered that it was actually a record of a number of gay men involved in heavy, but consensual, SM activity. And there, of course, the matter should have stopped. But, whether motivated by outraged moral rectitude, or the desire to have something to show for the ÂŁ4 million which the investigation allegedly cost, the police and prosecuting authorities insisted on proceeding with charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. And, in an extraordinary judgement in 1990, Judge Rant ruled that, under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, BDSM activity provides no exception to the general rule that consent is no defence to a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm or causing grievous bodily harm, if the injuries are more than 'trifling and transient'. The defendants were thus either sent to jail, given suspended jail sentences or fined, and, remarkably, their convictions were upheld by the Court of Appeal, the Law Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. This archaic, superannuated piece of legislation, then, is yet another law which the BBFC has to take into account when carrying out its classification activities. The Annual Report 2005 also demonstrated that it is not simply representations of sexualised violence that the Board considers harmful, and brings us back to the moral dimensions of the 'harm' issue discussed in Chapter 7 of



this book. Giving its reasons for banning the compilation films Terrorists, Killers and Other Wackos and Traces of Death, the Board argued that neither film 'could accurately be described as "documentary" as they failed to present any journalistic, educational or other justifying context for the images shown. Rather the works presented a barrage of sensationalist clips, the purpose of which appeared to be prurient entertainment'. The Board concluded that: By presenting actual human death, mutilation and suffering as entertainment, the works, in the Board's view, had the potential to desensitise viewers, and perhaps even to incite some to harm others. The works invited the viewer to take sadistic pleasure in death, injury, mutilation and pain and encourage callousness toward victims. In essence they had the effect of devaluing human life. Given the potential for the works to deaden the sensitivity of viewers to pain and suffering and to impair the moral development of younger viewers in particular, the Board also considered that the works raised serious concerns about a possible breach of the OPA, which prohibits the publication of material likely to deprave and corrupt. Further light was shed on what the Board considers unacceptable at 'R18' by the Annual Report 2006 which revealed that: Almost half the cuts to this material [293 such works were cut in 2006] were for acts considered abusive, or harmful under the terms of the VRA, for example aggressive erotic asphyxia or gagging during deep throat fellatio. Thirty per cent of the cuts were for OPA breaches, mainly urolagnia, which is the combination of urination and sexual activity. Such material still attracts prosecution under the OPA. References to childhood or incest accounted for 12 per cent of cuts. The remaining cuts removed the use of implements which, if used without particular care, could lead to lasting injury or death. In 2007, the BBFC published the results of a very interesting piece of research commissioned from Professor Martin Barker of the University of 4 Aberystwyth. This was an unusual project for the BBFC, in that it was undertaken by a team with a film and media studies background. The aim of the research was to explore the ways in which naturally-occurring audiences understand • and respond to five films - A Ma Soeur, Baise-moi, The House on the Edge of the Park, !chi the Killer, and Irreversible - chosen because the BBFC had been exercised over their inclusion of scenes of sexual



violence. The central issues for the project were to find ways to explore: how audiences' understanding and response to the films were affected by the existence of different versions of the films, and the impact of the cuts required for four of the films; how audiences use the idea of 'context' as they make sense of the scenes of sexual violence; and how in particular audiences who respond positively to the films are understanding these scenes. (Barker et al. ZOOT I) Like Cumberbatch's work with the viewing panel outlined above, this is another piece of fine-grained audience research, but a key difference between the two projects is that Barker's work involved members of the 'natural audiences' for the films in question, who, unsurprisingly, generally responded to them positively and in an entirely different manner from the members of Cumberbatch's panel. This is a richly detailed piece of audience research of an intellectual sophistication and complexity that, sadly, one rarely encounters inside or outside academia, but quite deliberately avoids indicating any policy implications. It does, however, note that: As researchers, we knew we were working in a field dogged with moral fears and preconceptions. A good many of these take the form of claims about what 'audiences' must be doing if they watch and enjoy screened sexual violence. From our knowledge of the field, we are sure that there is little existing research to draw upon, and even less that we would regard with any confidence. Yet we do know that, in certain ways, the BBFC's judgements are guided by some such claims. Although we have only had sight of abbreviated versions of the BBFC's judgements in the case of these five films, we could see clear evidence within these of such criteria at work. We do not wish to imply that the mere employing of such 'figures of the audience' is automatically a bad, or reprehensible thing. But where the criteria remain implicit, and any research or 'expert opinion' upon which these are based remains unavailable for critical scrutiny, it is very hard for research to put them to any test. (ibid.: 191) The BBFC Annual Report 2007 stated that the report 'makes very interesting reading and underlines the complexity of the issue', adding that 'the research offers some clear and valuable insights into the ways in which real audiences understand and respond to scenes of sexual violence in contemporary cinema and the BBFC is currently considering the implications of its findings for future classification decisions'. However, from reading the Board's subsequent annual reports and other outputs, it would appear that it has not changed its policies on the matter of sexual violence, and thus it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, when censoring films, it is not the attitudes



and understandings of these films' 'natural audience' which matter most, but those who have never actually seen them but are nonetheless worried about their 'effects' on nebulous and ill-defined 'others'. The BBFC Annual Report 2008 notes cuts to two more elderly films on DVDs for reasons of sexual violence: Emanuelle's Sweet Revenge (1980) and The Erotic Adventures of Zorro (1972), along with the more recent Blackout. Import Export contained images of real sex but was passed uncut at '18' because 'the scenes in question are devoid of eroticism and designed to confront the audience with the grimness of the life of a sex worker'. Also passed at '18' was Nicholas Roeg's Puffball, which contained images of real sex, the majority of which were filmed from inside a woman's vaginal canal using specialist medical equipment. These images, which are not dissimilar to those which might be observed in documentary or scientific feature, together with other more conventional depictions of real sex are brief, support the narrative and are not intended to arouse the audience. Foot Domination, which contained 'mostly mild foot fetish scenarios', was passed at '18', but only after the removal of material which 'focussed on potentially harmful breath restriction', which the report states would also have been removed at 'RI8'. Rejected outright on grounds of sexual violence were Murder Set Pieces and The Texas Vibrator Massacre, the former also posing possible problems under the Protection of Children Act 1978. The report also unveiled yet another piece of legislation of which the Board would have to take note when carrying out its activities in future: this is the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which makes it illegal even to possess what it defines as 'extreme pornography'. As the report explains:

In order for a work to be in breach of this legislation it must be pornographic - i.e. having been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal - be obscene and, in an explicit and realistic way, portray either an act which threatens a person's life; an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals; an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse; or a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive). However, deeply problematic though this offence may be (see Petley 2009), it is highly unlikely, given the Board's extremely strict guidelines on 'RI8' material, that it would ever have passed imagery such as this in the first place. In June 2009 the BBFC released a new set of guidelines, but in the areas



with which this chapter is concerned there were no significant changes from the 2005 guidelines, except that more explicit images of sexual activity no longer needed to be exceptionally justified by context. The guidelines do, however, contain a useful list of types of material which are most likely to face cuts, namely: material which may promote illegal activity material which is obscene or otherwise illegal material created by means of the commission of a criminal offence portrayals of children in a sexualised or abusive context sexual violence or sexualised violence which endorses or eroticises the behaviour • sadistic violence or torture which invites the viewer to identify with the perpetrator in a way which raises a risk of harm • graphic images of real injury, violence or death presented in a salacious or sensationalist manner which risks harm by encouraging callous or sadistic attitudes • sex works which contain material listed as unacceptable at 'RI8'.

• • • • •

(However, in respect of the second bullet point, it does need to be pointed out that material is not obscene until it is found to be so in a court oflaw. What the Board really means is that it bans material which the CPS and the police think would be likely to be found obscene by a court.) Furthermore, perhaps emboldened by Mr Justice Mitting's endorsement in 1998 of the BBFC's interpretation of the 'harm' provisions of the VRA (see below), the guidelines spelt out in greater detail than heretofore what this interpretation actually consists of, namely that in its view 'harm' includes not just any harm that may result from the behaviour of potential viewers, but also any 'moral harm' that may be caused by, for example, desensitising a potential viewer to the effects of violence, degrading a potential viewer's sense of empathy, encouraging a dehumanised view of others, suppressing pro-social attitudes, encouraging anti-social attitudes, reinforcing unhealthy fantasies, or eroding a sense of moral responsibility. Especially with regard to children, harm may also include retarding social and moral development, distorting a viewer's sense of right and wrong, and limiting their capacity for compassIOn. •

In the same year the Board became involved in a somewhat convoluted controversy over Anna Span's DVD Women Love Porn, which the Board claimed contained scenes of urolagnia, which it wanted to cut, but which the



film-maker insisted were images of female ejaculation. Span stood her ground, producing scientific evidence that such a phenomenon does indeed exist, and the Board eventually agreed to pass these scenes at 'RI8'. Its Annual Report 2009 thus announced that: In consultation with enforcement agencies and in order to ensure intervention is consistent with current interpretation of the legislation, the BBFC may pass brief and isolated examples of limited sexualised urination [sic], so long as there are no harm concerns under the VRA and only in certain contexts where there is no realistic prospect of successful prosecution under the OPA. Less fortunate was NF7I3, a DVD which the Annual Report 2009 describes as an extended sequence in which a man tortures a woman psychologically, physically and sexually. The woman is bound and restrained throughout and the man in question tortures the woman to make her confess to crimes against an unnamed "State". But ultimately the aim is to break her down, make her fully compliant, and eradicate her individuality and make her the mere number of the title. In the Board's view: With the primary focus on the woman's naked, humiliated body together with the conventional BDSM aspects of the later part of the work, it is apparent that the primary purpose of NF7I3 is sexual arousal or stimulation. It is within the BBFC's strict policy on sex works that material will not be passed if it depicts non-consensual sexual activity (whether real or simulated), the infliction of pain or physical harm (whether real or simulated), or sexual threats, humiliation or abuse that does not form part of a clearly consenting role-playing game. NF7I3 focuses exclusively on these elements. In addition to the concerns raised under BBFC Guidelines and policy on sex works, the submission also breaches BBFC policy on sexual violence through its eroticisation of the torture of the woman. Given that the unacceptable material runs throughout, and that the theme of sexual violence and sexual threat is pervasive, cuts were not a viable option and NF7I3 was refused certification at any category. However, the film was photographed by one of the world's leading erotic photographers, China Hamilton, and stars Niki Flynn, a leading BDSM model and actress whose autobiography Dances with Werewolves is a remark-



ably forthright account of her work in the BDSM world. Not unsurprisingly, both were outraged by the ban, Flynn arguing that the BBFC was 'patronising and insulting' in regarding women as being somehow fragile and in need of extra protection, and complaining that: While I'm not too surprised the film didn't get an 18 certificate, I'm actually fairly disturbed by some of the alarmist language in the rejection note. The note describes the unremitting torture inflicted throughout the film, making it sound far worse and more graphic than it actually is. Frankly, in the cut submitted to the BBFC there is very little actual abuse shown and the focus is mostly on the psychological aspects of interrogation and the resulting Stockholm Syndrome. But they felt its primary intent was to sexually arouse the viewer and as such it's a sex work and the non-consensuality makes it unsuitable for the British public, who are apparently likely to become rapists and torturers after " viewing such a dangerous film.) Meanwhile Hamilton dismissed the BBFC as 'daft as a brush', and, citing films from Hostel to V for Vendetta, he objected that: The BBFC has a long history of passing for release unpleasant films that boast of their extreme and violent content. The problem was that we did too good a job: this film was intended to be a disturbing and realistic film about a serious subject. The narrative echoes what was accepted with little difficulty in Closet Land, which also included extreme images of torture. The only difference lies in the extent to which the victim remains fully clothed and the fact that the BBFC seem to equate nudity with sexual arousal. In 2009 the Board also banned My Daughter's a Cocksucker in which young women engage in fellatio with masked men whom they address as 'Daddy'. According to the BBFC: In this work the dialogue encourages the male viewer to be aroused by, among other things, the idea of instructing and watching their daughter in the act of fellatio. This effect is potentially heightened by the implication that the daughter also finds this paternal interest arousmg. •

The film was banned on the grounds that it was likely to encourage interest in sexually abusive behaviour, namely incest, and also because of the presence of scenes 'in which the female performers were made to gag



and choke during fellatio while their heads were firmly held, causing evident discomfort'. Moving away from the 'RI8' area, the Annual Report 2009 further reveals that the Japanese horror film Grotesque was also the subject of a ban by the Board. Very much in the 'torture porn' mode, this particular example was deemed unacceptable by the BBFC on the grounds that it 'features minimal narrative or character development and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting, unremitting scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism' and largely consists of scenes of 'sexual or sexualised violence which endorses or eroticises the behaviour, and sadistic violence or torture which invites the viewer to identify with the perpetrator in a way which raises a risk of harm'. However, the press release announcing the ban, like the reasons cited above for banning Terrorists, Killers and Other Wackos and Traces oj Death, usefully expands on the notion of harm with which the BBFC operates, noting that 'the Video Recordings Act makes it clear that harm is not to be interpreted narrowly as behavioural harm, but may also include more insidious risks, and the Board follows this approach in having regard to, 6 for instance, moral harm and possible densensitisation', an interpretation which had been upheld by Mr Justice Mitting in zo08 when the BBFC took the Video Appeals Committee to judicial review over its decision to overturn the Board's rejection of the video game Manhunt 2. This raises two important issues. Firstly, there is no conclusive empirical evidence to back up the 'desensitisation' hypothesis (which is all it is), and secondly, it once again emphasises how broadly the Board actually interprets the 'harm' provision of the VRA. Finally, in this section, we should note that Z009 saw the passing of the Coroners and Justice Act, sections 6z to 68 of which criminalise possession of what it calls a 'prohibited image of a child'. The purpose of creating this offence was to 'close a loophole' in the existing battery of child protection legislation by making it possible to target certain non-photographic images of children, for example computer-generated imagery. The new law made it a criminal offence to possess non-photographic images that are pornographic, 'grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character' and focus on a child's genitals or anal region, or portray a range of sexual acts 'with or in the presence of a child'. As in the case of the 'extreme porn' provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act zo08, this measure criminalised the possession of material which the BBFC would almost certainly have refused to pass anyway, but it could conceivably make the Board even more cautious than it is already in passing, or at least passing uncut, certain kinds of Japanese animation, such as the Urotsukidoji series.





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Full Circle


In August 2009 it was discovered, while preparing the Digital Economy Bill, that the Video Recordings Act (VRA) had never been properly passed in the first place and thus could no longer be enforced in the UK courts! In a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Minister for Culture and Tourism, Barbara Follett, was forced to admit that: 'It has come to light that offences under the Act are unenforceable and, accordingly, all affected current prosecutions under the Act should be discontinued and future prosecutions should not be undertaken'. The opportunities here for intense Schadenfreude were even greater than they at first seemed, as the special advisor to the Home Secretary in 1993-4 when the law was last amended (in the wake of the Bulger case) was David Cameron, and it will also be remembered from Chapter 7 that the deal which enabled this to be done was brokered by none other than Tony Blair. The reason why the legislation had never been properly enacted is that before the Act was passed it should have been notified in draft to the European Commission (EC) in accordance with what was then Council Directive 83!189!EEC, the Technical Standards Directive, which required all technical regulations (of which the VRA is one) to be examined by the Commission and other member states to ascertain whether or not it would act as a barrier to Community trade. That this was not done in the first place illustrates perfectly the scant regard which Britain pays to many of its commitments as a member of the European Union; indeed, when this matter was debated in the Commons on 6 January 2010, the Tory MP Ed Vaizey (then Shadow Minister for Culture but, at the time of writing, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries), stated that:



Part of me would like to think that it was a deliberate attempt to subvert the European project. I like to think of the Act standing alone, redoubtable on the white cliffs of Dover, saying something colloquial to the European Commission, such as, 'We'll deal with our own pornographers, thank you very much'. Sadly, however, this one last redoubt that has stood against Europe for twenty-five years is to be snuffed out today. More importantly, in the present context, it also perfectly illustrates one of the many negative consequences of passing legislation in the febrile and hysteria-laden moment of a full-blown moral panic. In order to enact video legislation which was actually enforceable, a draft Video Recordings Bill (which consisted of two clauses, one repealing the provisions of the VRA and the other reviving them) was notified to the EC on 10 September 2009 (only twenty-six years late). No objections were received before the expiry of the three-month waiting period required by the Directive on I I December 2009 - even though the measure is indeed a form of restraint on intra-ED trade, as a feature film on video or DVD in circulation in, say, France may not be legally sold or rented in Britain as it does not have the requisite BBFC classification. In the meantime, the British Video Association urged its members to continue submitting DVDs as normal to the BBFC. The draft Video Recordings Bill was fast-tracked through the parliamentary process, and received Royal Assent on 21 January 2010. This bizarre episode is worth analysing in some detail because it demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt the absolute determination on the part of the authorities to ensure that an utterly unchanged VRA was made enforceable again at the earliest possible opportunity, and that the ghastly spectre of all those convicted under the VRA (1,703 between 1995 and 2007, according to the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), with reliable estimates suggesting a similar number for the previous thirteen years) having their convictions set aside (and in all likelihood claiming compensation too) was banished utterly from the scene. By 'the authorities' I mean here the Government, Parliament as a whole, the Crown Prosecution Service, the BBFC and local authorities (whose employees, the trading standards officers, playa key role in enforcing the Act). It should also be noted that the BBFC and the Orwellian-sounding Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) compiled a substantial briefing document for the two Parliamentary debates outlined below, the thoroughness of which was repeatedly praised by those taking part in the debates. Inter alia, this revealed that, following the revelation of the unenforceability of the VRA in August 2009, submissions to the BBFC were down, year on year, by I I per cent in September, 20 per cent in October and 38 per cent in the first half of



October. In September 2009 there were no less than I I I ongoing cases under the VRA, and all of these had to be dropped. As already noted, this extraordinary episode also flushed into the light the fact that between 1995 and 2007 there had been 1,703 successful prosecutions under the Act, and it would be fascinating to know the total in fines, costs and prison sentences incurred as a result of these and the preceding prosecutions, not to mention the total costs to the public purse incurred both by these court cases themselves and by the person-hours spent by the police and trading standards officers in bringing the cases to book in the first place. During the Commons debate on 6 January, the question inevitably arose of whether convictions under the original Act were in fact safe. Sian Simon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, argued that as any appeal would be out of time (that is, it would be launched more than twenty-one days after conviction in a magistrates' court or twenty-eight days after conviction in a Crown Court), it would be very unlikely to succeed, and he added: 'If a criminal mounts an appeal because they have discovered a brief loophole in the law, they are pretty unlikely to receive a sympathetic hearing from a court'. Simon also pointed out that it was only the enforceability of the Act which had been invalidated by failing to refer it to the EC, noting: 'The Act remains an Act of Parliament. It remains in force. Only the ability of the authorities to enforce it is affected by the failure to notify under the Technical Standards Directive'. And when the Bill was debated in the Lords, on 18 January, Lord Davies stated for the Government that: 'My understanding is that the court is likely to give permission to appeal out of time in these cases only in exceptional circumstances, as it will look beyond technicalities and consider whether there has been any substantial injustice'.


Concluding the debate on 18 January, Lord Davies noted that 'I have indicated our expectation of the likely judgements' in any cases arising from the discovery of the unenforceability of the VRA. And just how very accurate his 'expectation' turned out to be was revealed when the Court of Appeal heard the case of three applicants who had been convicted under the VRA and l were now attempting to have their cases re-opened out of time. In this case, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport played the role of 'Intervener' (a party who has not been named as a plaintiff or defendant in a particular instance of litigation, but who has been permitted to join that litigation, without the permission of the defendants, in order to defend interests which he or she reasonably fears may be compromised or interfered with by the result of that litigation). And inevitably it was not long into the



case before the ghastly spectre noted above was conjured into life before the eyes of the court, which duly noted that: As there is nothing to distinguish the convictions of these applicants from those of any other defendant convicted of offences contrary to the 1984 Act between 1985 and 2009, the logic of the applicants' case is that every conviction for such offences during that period must be set aside, notwithstanding that in every case those convicted had contravened the provisions of properly enacted primary legislation. Clearly this was quite an appalling vista from the point of view of both the Crown and the DCMS, and whilst I would hesitate to suggest that the court reached its conclusions first and then set about searching for legal reasons to justify them, it is abundantly clear from the remarks of Sian Simon and Lord Davies quoted above that the relevant authorities had already decided how they would deal with this matter long before any actual case reached the courts. In its judgement of 29 June 2010, the court pointed out that, even before the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998: The House of Lords and The Court of Appeal have consistently held that, in analogous circumstances where a conviction was based on the law as it was then understood to be, a subsequent change of the law or in the understanding of the law will not be a valid ground for leave to appeal out of time, unless substantial injustice has been done. The court concluded that: 'We are wholly unpersuaded that the convictions in these cases have given rise to any substantial injustice'. (At this point it might be useful to note that one set of defendants had been fined £5,000, with £25,617.22 in costs, for sending 'RI8' videos through the post, and the other fined £60,000 and subject to confiscation orders in the sum of £3 12,74°, with costs amounting to £1,380, for distributing unclassified videos.) In respect of ED law regarding the consequences of non-notification in accordance with the Directive, the court noted that jurisprudence from the Court of Justice made it clear that 'failure to notify does not have the effect of rendering the national measure a nullity, void or non-existent', although national courts are indeed required to disapply the offending provisions of legislation once non-notification has come to light. In respect of national law regarding this point, the court stated that: 'The first and most fundamental point is that no court has the power to strike down an Act of Parliament and declare it a nullity', quoting the 1956 judgement of Lord Radcliffe to the effect that:



An order, even if not made in good faith, is still an act capable of legal consequences. It bears no brand of invalidity upon its forehead. Unless the necessary proceedings are taken at law to establish the cause of invalidity and to get it quashed or otherwise upset, it will remain as effective for its ostensible purpose as the most impeccable of orders. The applicants also argued that, because the decisions originally reached in respect of their cases were contrary to EU law, failure to reopen these cases would infringe the 'principle of effectiveness' in EU law. The court disagreed, arguing that EU law 'does not require a national court to reopen a final judicial decision, even if failure to do so would make it impossible to remedy an infringement of a provision of EU law'. In this respect, the court noted that: In the decentralised system of the EU legal order, rights of individuals under EU law are given effect principally through national courts. In the absence of EU rules on the subject, EU law leaves to the domestic legal system of each Member State the designation of the courts having jurisdiction and the rules governing proceedings intended to secure rights conferred by EU law.

However, national law is not given an entirely free hand in such matters, and the applicable national rules 'must not render the exercise of rights conferred by Community law impossible or excessively difficult'. This is what is meant by the 'principle of effectiveness' above. However, the court ruled that: 'The principle of effectiveness does not require that EU rights will be enforced by national courts in all circumstances. On the contrary, there are clearly limits to the application of the principle', and in the court's view the case in question was clearly subject to such limits. Failure to comply with many procedural rules in national law would be likely, in the court's view, to restrict to some extent the rights of affected parties to invoke EU rights before national courts. However such procedural rules, it argued, did not normally infringe the principle of effectiveness because they are justified by the requirement oflegal certainty (the fundamental principle of jurisprudence which holds that laws must be sufficiently clear and precise so that those subject to them can fully understand what they entail and require). The applicants also argued that because of the Government's failure to notify the European Commission of the law under which they were tried, their convictions and punishments infringed Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which provides that no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time that it was committed. In the applicants' view, the state was not entitled to prosecute them under a



law which was unenforceable, particularly when its unenforceability had not been disclosed to them. However, the court disagreed on the grounds that the conduct prohibited by the VRA was clearly and unequivocally defined and that the applicants had admitted infringing it; furthermore, the fact that its unenforceability was not known about until 2009 neither made it arbitrary nor entitled the applicants to defy it. The court also repeated in this context its earlier point that the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights does not impose on signatory states any obligation to undo all the consequences of a national law which is later found to be incompatible with the ECHR. In other words, the EU law that had been infringed was simply a technical requirement and it made no difference in substance to the legislation itself - a point underlined by the fact that the VRA, as it was re-enacted, contains exactly the same offences as the original statute. However, this raises a very interesting issue, namely what would the court have ruled had Parliament taken the discovery of non-notification as an opportunity substantially to change the VRA? As well as demonstrating the British authorities' absolute determination to retain the VRA without any form of amendment, this case also demonstrates remarkably clearly, and in contradistinction to the Europhobic and juridically illiterate nonsense about Britain being 'ruled by Brussels' and 'dictated to' by the European Court of Human Rights spouted daily by British newspapers, just how much power rests with the courts of individual EU states. If anything ever proved just how utterly impervious is the British system of film and video censorship to the UK's obligations stemming from its membership of the EU and its signing up to the ECHR, then this, surely, is it. If Britain wishes to saddle itself with a system of state video censorship unparalleled in its scope and severity in the EU except in the Republic of Ireland, then 'Europe' is most certainly not going to prevent it from doing so, whatever the Mail may say to the contrary.


Significantly, the only possible changes to the VRA which MPs discussed on 6 January and the House of Lords discussed on 18 January would have involved extending its scope and tightening it still further! In doing so, some also revealed their ignorance of what the VRA actually contains. Thus, for example, Ed Vaizey argued that: There is some concern that music and sports videos remain exempt from classification. Again, that exemption could have been removed in



a draft submitted to the European Commission. There is not a shred of logic or intellectual credibility to keeping music and sports videos exempt. Why should something be exempt because it is of a particular genre? ... We are worried about inappropriate content being distributed to minors and adults. Whether it is a video game, DVD, film, a music video or something related to sport is quite irrelevant. The exemption is bizarre. In this respect, Vaizey singled out for particularly criticism 'the video by Motley, which depicts a George Bush lookalike with a prostitute' and 'a video by the band Slipknot, which includes self-mutilation by teenagers'. However, the plain and simple fact of the matter is that Section 2 (2) of the VRA plainly states that videos which, 'taken as a whole', are 'concerned with sport, religion and music' are specifically not excluded from the requirement to be classified if 'to any significant extent' they depict, inter alia, '(a) human sexual activity or acts of force and restraint; (b) mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence towards humans or animals'. However, this somewhat inconvenient fact signally failed to stop this particular hare from running. Indeed, it had already been prodded into action by the Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt on I December 2009 at the Manchester Media Festival when he pledged to seek to broaden the scope of the VRA, eliciting the headline on the following day in the Telegraph: 'Tories Want Music Videos to Have Ratings for Sex and Violence', with the strap 'Music and sports videos should be rated in the same way as films to protect children from violent or sexual content, the Conservatives have demanded,.2 And the next day, during a debate in the Lords about the Digital Economy Bill, Baroness Howe (a former chair of the Broadcasting Standards Commission) complained that: This Bill represents a missed opportunity to update all the exemptions in Section 2 of the current [Video Recordings] Act. These exemptions relate not only to video games which the Bill does amend, but also to other video work such as music and sports videos. Such works can claim exemption from the VRA and can be sold perfectly legally to children even if they contain material which is clearly potentially harmful, such as graphic violence, sexual content falling short of actual sexual activity, and imitable, dangerous behaviour and drug use. She singled out for particular criticism Motley Criie's Greatest Video Hits, which 'features topless lap-dancing', and Slipknot's Tenth Anniversary DVD, which 'features the sight of the band's name carved into girls' arms and torsos'. Sounds familiar?



Shortly after the VRA debate in the Commons outlined above, the Telegraph (II January), under the headline 'Violent DVD Sales Could be Closed to Children', and the strap 'Violent videos containing cage-fighting, nudity and self-mutilation could be reclassified under plans to stop them being sold to children', revealed that Labour MP Andrew Dismore (somewhat ironically, the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights) was about to table proposals which would mean that 'the law allowing these films to be exempted from the usual classification system would be scrapped'. This turned out to be the ten-minute rule Bill entitled Video Recordings (Exemption from Classification) which he introduced the following day, requesting that 'leave be given to introduce a Bill to extend the criteria under which music and sports video works and documentaries lose their exemption from classification', explaining that 'my Bill is not intended to extend the VRA to all such exempted works, only those that contain content that is potentially harmful, such as graphic violence, sexual content falling short of actual sexual activity, imitable dangerous behaviour and drug use'. As examples of the kind of material which he wished to see falling within the remit of the VRA, he cited the Ultimate Fighting Championship's UFe Best of 2007, Gorgoroth's Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam, and - gosh, what a coincidence! - Motley Criie's Greatest Video Hits and Slipknot's Tenth 3 Anniversary DVD. In the Lords (8 February) there was an unsuccessful attempt to amend the VRA via an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, so that Section 2 (2) (b) of the VRA would consist simply of the words 'graphic violence', with the phrase 'mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence towards humans or animals' being dropped altogether. The amendment also attempted to lift the exemption on sports and music videos if they depicted criminal activity in such a way as to stimulate or encourage 'dangerous behaviour' or 'racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language'. Baroness Howe argued that the exemption currently in force 'may have been appropriate in 1984 but appears out of date and na"ive now. Most of us would expect boundaries to have been pushed to their absolute limits, and that is what has happened. The standards in the current Act are way too high for successful prosecutions to take place'. This particular amendment may have failed, but in a further debate on the Digital Economy Bill in the Lords on 8 March, an amendment was introduced and passed which allowed the government to intervene directly in the video classification process. As a consequence, Section 40 (4) of the Digital Economy Act 2010 has amended Section 2 of the VRA to the effect that 'the Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section - (a) by adding or removing a case in which a video work is not an exempted work, or (b) by amending a description of such a case'. In introducing the amendment



for the Government, Lord Davies noted that: 'By giving the Secretary of State a power to amend the non-exempt criteria, we will ensure that the wording of the Bill properly reflects the type of content available and achieves the most effective level of regulation on the ground'. He also indicated that this further extension of the power of the state into the video classification/censorship process (although he did not put it quite like that) 'is supported by the British Board of Film Classification, the Video Standards Council and the British Video Association'. Baroness Howe reminded her colleagues that Andrew Dismore's Video Recordings (Exemption from Classification) Bill showed that the Commons too supported tighter video regulation, and also cited in support of the amendment the recently published review commissioned by the Home Office, Sexualisation oj Young People, one of whose recommendations reads thus: 'The current gap in the regulatory protection provided by the Video Recordings Act 1984 be closed, either by removing the general exemption for "works concerned with . . . music" or by lowering the threshold at which exemption is forfeited' (Papadopoulos 20ro: 82). Lord Davies also revealed that the Government was 'committed to carrying through consultation on the issue by the end of the year'. As a result, on 12 March Andrew Dismore withdrew his Bill. And although the consultation idea fell by the wayside when the Government was defeated in the general election of May 2010, there can be not the slightest doubt that this issue will return to the political agenda - and sooner rather than later. However, this furore did at least have the merit of flushing out into the open the fact that the BBFC itself was not at all happy about the way in which the exemption system had been working and wished to classify a wider range of sports and music videos. Thus in the 6 January debate, the Tory MP and chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee, John Whittingdale, revealed that: 'I hosted a dinner that the BBFC gave in the House just before Christmas, at which it showed us examples of some of the material that is now available in music videos and sports games that does not require certification because of the loophole in the 1984 Act'. But if the nature of this apparent 'loophole' was still not entirely clear, more light was shed on the subject by Andrew Dismore when, introducing his Bill, he stated that the BBFC supported his move 'to broaden the criteria that determine when a video work loses its exemption', and elsewhere a spokeswoman for the BBFC revealed that: As the regulator, the BBFC has been concerned for some time about the content of some very popular music and sports DVDs which have claimed exemption under the Video Recordings Act, but which we believe should not be exempt. We do not have any powers to require



these DVDs to be submitted for classification. We believe that it is important that material which will be attractive to young audiences should be properly labelled to enable parents to know that their children 4 are protected from inappropriate materia1.


In the light of the narrative unfolded in this book, readers will almost certainly not have been surprised that the VRA emerged from this process wholly intact, and now looks to be strengthened still further. Anybody who in August 2009 thought that the revelation of its unenforceability presented a remotely realistic opportunity either to reform it or simply to ditch it altogether was very seriously underestimating the sheer strength of the authorities' determination to retain entirely intact the system of state video classification and censorship which has been in existence since 1984, not to mention the complicity of the BBFC, the Video Standards Council and the British Video Association with that system. But there are, of course, alternatives to that system, and by way of conclusion, rather than once again rehearsing the charges against the present scheme of things, let me suggest a programme of reform.

Abolishing the Obscene Publications Act First, and as suggested by the Williams Committee in 1979, we need to make a basic distinction between material that is offensive, and whose distribution needs only to be restricted, and material that is harmful and needs to be prohibited. As Williams argued: The existing variety of laws in this field should be scrapped and a comprehensive new statute should start afresh. Terms such as 'obscene', 'indecent' and 'deprave and corrupt' should be abandoned as having outlived their usefulness. The law should rest partly on the basis of harms caused by or involved in the existence of the material: these alone can justify prohibitions; and partly on the basis of the public's legitimate interest in not being offended by the display and availability of the material: this can justify no more than the imposition of restrictions designed to protect the ordinary citizen from unreasonable offence. The principal object of the law should be to prevent certain kinds of material causing offence to reasonable people or being made available to young people. Only a small class of material should be forbidden to those who want it, because an objective assessment of likely harm does not support



wider prohibition. (Home Office 1979: 159"-60) Clearly this would involve abolishing the Obscene Publications Act,' but not, for example, the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981.

Defining harm Second, and again as suggested by Williams, we need to define exactly what is meant by 'harm' in the context of media legislation. Since Williams produced his report, the notion of harm has appeared with increasing frequency in such legislation, surfacing first in the VRA, as we have seen, and later in the Communications Act 2003, which requires Ofcom to apply to all broadcast services 'standards that provide adequate protection to members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material'. Previous broadcasting legislation had referred not to harm and offence but to taste and decency, and the then chair of the Ofcom Content Board, Richard Hooper, suggested that the new wording 'supports a move away from the more subjective approach of the past, based on an assessment of taste and decency in television and radio programmes, to a more objective analysis of the extent of harm to audiences' (quoted in Millwood Hargrave and Livingstone 2009: 27). However, pace Hooper, the notion of harm, in this context, is no more objective than are the notions of taste and decency, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, in practice, the notion of harm has largely been collapsed into the notion of offence so as to produce the composite harm-and-offence; it also needs to be pointed out that enshrining the notion of harm in laws governing media content does not make it any more intellectually coherent or philosophically cogent, it merely gives it legal force and, in so doing, paves the way for acts of censorship on highly dubious and questionable grounds. As Williams pointed out, there is a crucial difference between the harm undoubtedly done to the body by, for example, certain drugs and the harm that some allege is done by reading certain books, because, in the case of the latter, there is a real question about 'who is to judge' what counts as harm; since it is a question of moral harm, there is room for disagreement about what such harms are, and there is a danger that the moral opinions of some group, presumably some rather conservative group, should be made authoritative for the moral health of readers. (Home Office 1979: 58) Williams thus stresses the importance of 'the requirement, for legal purposes, that the causation of harm should lie "beyond reasonable doubt'" (ibid.: 59) and concludes that, on the basis of the available evidence, and specifically in



the case of pornography, this requirement has not been met - with one exceptIOn. This exception concerns the harm done to certain of those involved in the production of pornography - namely adults who have been coerced into taking part, and children who, by virtue of their age, are simply unable to give informed consent to what are anyway illegal acts. I propose, however, that a similar definition of harm - namely one that focuses on actual harms done to real people without their consent - should be the only definition enshrined in any law governing any form of allegedly harmful media content, and not simply pornographic content. •

Abolishing the Video Recordings Act It is very important, however, to understand that Williams, controversially not to say inconsistently - did not adopt the same liberal attitude towards all forms of media, and actually proposed that the BBFC be replaced by a statutory film censorship organisation. Indeed, when it came to the area of films, the Committee suddenly abandoned what one had hitherto taken to be a principle applying to all forms of expression - namely that the distribution and display of material which some people might find offensive should be merely restricted and that only material whose making involved harm to the participants should be banned outright. The reason for this appears to have everything to do with the Committee's encounter with the very films which were about to be labelled 'video nasties' in the process described at the start of this book, although these would have been encountered as cinema films, as home video was barely in its infancy when the report was written. Thus the report reveals that

what clinched the argument for some of us at least was the sight of some of the films with which the censorship presently interferes. We feel it necessary to say to many people who express liberal sentiments about the principle of adult freedom to choose that we were totally unprepared for the sadistic material that some film makers are prepared to produce. (ibid.: 144) Thanks to Williams Committee member Professor Brian Simpson, we know that one such film was Ilsa - Harem Keeper ojthe Oil Sheiks (198J: 38), whilst fellow member Polly Toynbee in the Guardian (19 May 2000) cited Ilsa - She WolfoJthe SS, as 'just one of the many indescribably vile films' which she saw and which she thought should be banned. Warming to its theme, the report continued:



It is not simply the extremity of the violence which concerns us: we found it extremely disturbing that highly explicit depictions of mutilation, savagery, menace and humiliation should be presented for the entertainment of an audience in a way that appeared to emphasise the pleasures of sadism. Indeed, some of the film sequences we saw seemed to have no purpose or justification other than to reinforce or sell the idea that it can be highly pleasurable to inflict injury, pain or humiliation (often in a sexual context) on others. (Home Office 1979: 145)

Indeed, so distressed was the committee by these films that it entirely abandoned its earlier insistence that, for censorship purposes, 'the causation of harm should lie "beyond reasonable doubt'" and fell back on what has always been the last resort of the censorious on these occasions - speculation and 'common sense'. Admitting that research had not 'demonstrated any convincing link between media violence and violence in society', the report suggested that this was 'due in part at least to the weakness of experimental research as a means of determining human motivations' (ibid.: 144), seemingly oblivious to the fact that exactly the same argument could be made in relation to pornography as well. However, nothing daunted, the report argued that: It may be that this very graphically presented sadistic material serves only as a vivid object of fantasy, and does no harm at all. There is certainly no conclusive evidence to the contrary. But there is no conclusive evidence in favour of that belief, either, and in this connection it seems entirely sensible to be cautious. (ibid.: 145)

The fact that an otherwise sensible, liberal document on censorship has a severe fit of the vapours and feels the need to stand its other recommendations on their heads when it comes to film is the clearest possible confirmation of the truth of Robertson and Nicol's observation that: It is a remarkable tribute to the power of film censorship (or to the power of film) that British liberal intelligentsia and media, so hostile to other infringements of free speech, never seriously challenge it. Yet the BBFC censorship apparatus is perceived as an anomaly in Europe, where erotic and violent movies appear in cinemas and video shops and even on late night television without any of the fuss that attends them here. (zo08:

861) Thus in direct opposition to the approach taken to film by Williams, I would argue that the Video Recordings Act should simply be abolished hook, line and sinker. However, this should not entail the abolition of the BBFC as



well. In its purely classificatory role, the BBFC actually performs an extremely useful consumer guidance and media literacy function, especially for parents of young children. There is absolutely no reason why, in the absence of the VRA, it should not continue to do so, although the process of submitting DVDs to the BBFC would be voluntary, its classifications would be only advisory, and it would not have the power to cut films submitted in any form. However, the majority of DVD distributors regard the consumer information currently provided on DVD packaging by the BBFC as being of distinct commercial value, as do the shops which sell or rent those DVDs, and there is no reason at all to suppose that they would change their views were the BBFC to become a purely classificatory body. Those thought by the police and prosecuting authorities to be offending the law in some way would, like books or magazines, simply have to take their chances in court, and it would have to be clearly established in law that, if the BBFC had classified such a film or DVD, it would not be prosecuted along with its distributor. On the principle of offensiveness adumbrated above by Williams, certain kinds of material, such as that currently rated at 'RI8' by the BBFC, would still have to be limited to premises such as sex shops, which should no longer be required to be licensed by local councils.

Abolishing an anachronism Finally, the powers of councils over the films shown in their localities should be removed. This is a topic which was discussed briefly in Chapter 10 and broached in the Introduction, though it has not been dealt with in great detail in this book as local authority film censorship has not occurred to any significant degree in the period which it covers. (For useful accounts of local authority activism in this area, see Phelps (1975), Robertson (1989) and Mathews (1994).) But however dormant these powers may be, they still exist and while they do so they entail that the BBFC, when classifying a film for cinema distribution, must take into account the sensibilities of local watch committees or other such bodies. This means, as Geoffrey Robertson has pointed out, that in Britain, 'the cinema, alone of art forms, is subject to moral judgement by local councils' (1993: 77). This is a ludicrous anachronism which needs to be abolished forthwith. However, after I had written on 22 May 1997 to the then Home Secretary Jack Straw to make this very point during the Crash furore, I eventually received a reply from a minion on 10 July laboriously explaining the legal situation (in spite of the fact that I had fully outlined this is my own letter) and informing me that 'the Government has no plans to change the cinema licensing regime provided by the Cinemas Act 1985'. Well, there was a surprise! I have not the slightest doubt that all the other suggestions for reform



outlined above would today meet with exactly the same response. And the fact that a different government is now in power, even though it is one that has promised to repeal some of 'New Labour's' more egregious assaults on civil liberties and human rights, will, on past experience, make not the slightest difference. The events outlined in this book cover the Tory era from 1979 to 1997, the 'New Labour' era from 1997 to 2010, and the beginnings of the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition era in May 2010, but changes of government and of prime minister have, with the exception of the 'RI8' furore when 'New Labour' came to power, made no impact at all on the narrative advanced here. As far as film and video censorship in contemporary Britain is concerned, the message from the political class continues to ring out loud and clear: there is no alternative. Never mind that comparable democratic countries manage perfectly well without state video censorship, never mind that the whole apparatus is increasingly anachronistic both in the Internet age and in a society which is ever more diverse and heterogeneous in terms of its inhabitants' values, this is the way we do things here and this is the way we will carryon doing them. Doubtless our rulers believe that they are setting a shining example to the rest of the democratic world, which jolly well ought to follow suit. But, one wonders, does it ever occur to them that this obsession with regulating, not to say micro-managing, UK citizens' film viewing might just give the impression that our elites believe that the British are either too impressionable, feeble-minded or indeed wicked to be allowed access to the same wide range of films, whether in the cinema or on DVD, as their counterparts in comparable societies?


z. 3. 4. 5.

This case, which received no mainstream media coverage at all, can be found at http:// I0/ I486.html. uk/culture/culturenews/6703869/Tories-want-music-videos-tohave-ratings-for-sex-and-violence.html). uk/culture/culturenews/696z476/Violent-DVDs-sales-could-beclosed-to-children.html. I3/sport_and_music_video_nasties/ I discussed this possibility in some detail with John Beyer of MediaWatch at http://

Appendix: The DPP List of 'Video Nasties'

In the early 1980s the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a series of lists of videos that had either been found to be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act, or that his office believed would be likely to be found guilty under the Act if brought before a court. The contents of the lists varied over time, but below is listed every video that appeared on the list at one time or another. I have also indicated which films had previously passed through the BBFC classification/censorship process in their cinema incarnations. For further details of these films, see Wingrove and Morris (2009).

Absurd (uncut version), '18' with cuts on film Anthropophagous the Beast Axe/California Axe Massacre, 'X' with cuts on film The Beast in Heat The Beyond, 'X' with cuts on film Blood Bath, 'X' with cuts on film Blood Feast Blood Rites Bloody Moon The Bogey Man, 'X' with cuts on film The Burning (uncut version) Cannibal Apocalypse Cannibal Ferox (uncut version) Cannibal Holocaust Cannibal Man Cannibal Terror, 'X' with cuts on film Contamination, 'X' with cuts on film



Dead and Buried, 'X' with cuts on film Death Trap, 'X' with cuts on film Deep River Savages, rejected on film Delirium Devil Hunter Don't Go in the House, 'X' with cuts on film Don't Go in the Woods Alone Don't Go Near the Park Don't Look in the Basement, 'X' with cuts on film The Driller Killer The Evil Dead, 'X' with cuts on film Evil Speak (uncut version) Expose, 'X' with cuts on film Faces oj Death Fight Jor Your Life, rejected on film Flesh Jor Frankenstein, 'X' with cuts on film Forest oj Fear Frozen Scream The Funhouse, 'X' uncut on film The Gestapo's Last Orgy House by the Cemetery, 'X' with cuts on film House on the Edge oj the Park, rejected on film I Miss You Hugs and Kisses InJerno, 'X' with cuts on film Island oj Death, 'X' with cuts on film I Spit on Your Grave Killer Nun Last House on the Left, rejected on film twice The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, 'X' with cuts on film Love Camp 7 Madhouse Mardi Gras Massacre Nightmare Maker Nightmares in a Damaged Brain Night oj the Bloody Apes, 'X' with cuts on film Night oj the Demon Possession, 'X' uncut on film Pranks Prisoner oj the Cannibal God, 'X' with cuts on film (as Mountain oj the Cannibal God) Revenge oj the Bogeyman Snuff


SS Experiment Camp Tenebrae, 'X' with cuts on film Terror Eyes, 'X' with cuts on film The Toolbox Murders, 'X' with cuts on film Unhinged, 'X' with cuts on film Visiting Hours, 'X' with cuts on film The Werewolf and the Yeti The Witch Who Came from the Sea Women Behind Bars Zombie Creeping Flesh, 'X' with cuts Zombie Flesh Eaters (uncut version)



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Mathews, Tom Dewe (1994), Censored: What They Didn't Allow You to See and Why: The Story oj Film Censorship in Britain, London: Chatto & Windus. Millwood Hargrave, Andrea and Sonia Livingstone (Z009, znd edn), Harm and Offence in Media Content: A Review oj the Evidence, Bristol: Intellect. Morrison, Blake (1997), As If, London: Granta Books. Newman, Kim (1988), Nightmare Movies: A Critical History oJthe Horror MovieJrom 1968, London: Bloomsbury. Ofcom (Z009), The Broadcasting Code, London: Ofcom. Papadopoulos, Linda (ZOIO), Sexualisation oj Young People, London: Home Office. Pearson, Geoffrey (1983), Hooligan: A History oj Respectable Fears, London: Macmillan. Petley, Julian (1997), 'No redress from the PCC', British Journalism Review, 8: 4, pp. 66-73Petley, Julian (zooo), 'Snuffed out: nightmares in a trading standards officer's brain', in Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper (eds), Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics, Guildford: F AB Press zooo, pp. zOI-19. Petley, Julian (ZOOI), 'John McNaughton', in Derek Jones (ed.), Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, pp. 1488-90. Petley, Julian (zooz), '''A crude sort of entertainment for a crude sort of audience": the British critics and horror cinema', in Steve Chibnall and Julian Petley (eds), British Horror Cinema, London: Routledge, pp. Z3-41. Petley, Julian (Z004), 'Savoy scrapbook', in D. M. Mitcell (ed.), A Serious Life, Manchester: Savoy Books, pp. 395-407. This is an expanded version of an article which first appeared, under the same title, in Index on Censorship, Januaryf February 1996, pp. 16z-6. Petley, Julian (Z007), 'New Labour, old morality', Index on Censorship, 36: z, pp. 13 Z-4°. Petley, Julian (Z009), 'Pornography, panopticism and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act zo08', Sociology Compass, 3: 3, pp. 417-3Z. Petley, Julian and Mark Kermode (1989), 'For their eyes only', Time Out, 6-13 December, pp. ZI-3. Phelps, Guy (1975), Film Censorship, London: Victor Gollancz. Robb, Brian J. (1998), Screams and Nightmares: The Films oj Wes Craven, London: Titan. Robertson, Geoffrey (1979), Obscenity, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Robertson, Geoffrey (1993, 7th edn), Freedom, the Individual and the Law, London: Penguin. Robertson, Geoffrey and Andrew Nicol (zo08, 5th edn), Media Law, London: Penguin. Robertson, James (1989), The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action 1913-1975, London: Routledge. Rose, Nikolas (1999, znd edn), Governing the Soul: The Shaping oj the Private Self, London: Free Association Books. Schlesinger, Philip and Howard Tumber (1994), Reporting Crime: The Media Politics oj Criminal Justice, Oxford: Clarendon Press.



Sereny, Gitta (1995, znd edn), The Case oj Mary Bell: A Portrait oj a Child Who Murdered, London: Pimlico. Simpson, A. W. B. (1983), Pornography and Politics: The Williams Committee in Retrospect, London: Waterlow. Smith, David James (1995), The Sleep oj Reason: The James Bulger Case, London: Arrow Books. Szulkin, David A. (zooo), Wes Craven's Last House on the LeJt: The Making oja Cult Classic, Guildford: FAB Press. Thomas, Mark (1993), Every Mother's Nightmare: The Killing oj James Bulger, London: Pan Books. Trevelyan, John (1973), What the Censor Saw, London: Michael Joseph. Walker, Alexander (1998), 'Walker and Petley on CRASH course', British Journalism Review, 9: I, pp. 41-4. Williams, Linda (1999, znd edn), Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy ojthe Visible", Berkeley: University of California Press. Wingrove, Nigel and Marc Morris (Z009, znd edn), The Art ojthe Nasty, Guildford: FAB Press. Wood, Robin (1986), Hollywood From Vietnam to Regan, New York: Columbia University Press. Young, Hugo (zo03), Supping with the Devils: Political Writing from Thatcher to Blair, London: Atlantic Books.


Note: page numbers in italics denote figures or tables Abbott, Norman and BBFC, 3' British Video Awards ceremony, 77 on government legislation, 27, 28 interviewed, 53 packaging for videos, 74 small video companies, 78 on Video Recordings Bill, 37 Video Standards Council, 76 on VRA, 72, 73 academic research, 104-5, 180-3, '90-' ACTT (Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians), 33, 37, 40

Anti-Nowhere League: Live in Yugoslavia, 42 Anti-Social Behaviour Order, 12 Appleyard, Bryan, I07 Armstrong, Michael, 29 Arnold, Jeanette, I 'S, I 18 art-house films, 167 Associated Newspapers, 84, 85, 86, "5, II6, 128m Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians see ACTT Association of Independent Producers, 52 Attenborough, David, 38 audience research, 180-3, '90-'

The Accused, 68 Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam,

authoritarianism, 204

Advertising Standards Authority, '7, 23, 73, 74 age factors, 94-6, ,8,; see also categories for classification Ahmed, Imtiaz, 90

Ai No Con'ida, 167 AIDS, 69 Airlift Books, 42 Alton, David on BBFC, 123, 124, '40 Crash, 118 Newson Report, 9'-2, 1°4 religious lobby, I04, I05 VRA amendment 90-2, 93, 107-8 The Amazing Transplaut, 187 Anderton, James, '34 Andrews, Nigcl, 44, 45

Angel Blade, 185 Anger, Kenneth, II8

Authropophagons, 46

I I,


Auty, Chris, II 5 Azad Video, 90

The Baby of MMon,


bad language, 65

Bad Lieutenaut, '7', I72n6 Bad Taste, 77 Bailey, Susan, I06 Baise-moi, 164, 168, '70, '7 In I, '77, 18o, 182, 189 Ballard, J. G., 46 Ban the Sadist Videos, 18, 84 Ban the Sadist Videos campaign, Daily Mail, 27

Barbed Wire Dolls, 185 Bare Behind Ban, IOI Barker, Martin, 18 on Child's Play J, 89 Crash, 128m in Guardian, 46 New Society, 44 and Perley, 84, 92



research for BBFC, 189-90 The Video Nasties, 44 Barr, Charles, 45 Basic Instinct, 120 Batman Forever, 109

Bawden, Nina, 153 BBC Enterprises, 79 BBFC see British Board of Film Censors; British Board of Film Classification BBFC Annnal Reports I9 87, 134-5 I9 88, 52, 63-4, n 96--? I99 0 , 135 I99 I , 99 I994-1J5, 95-6, 101, 109 I995-96, 110 I996-1)7, 98--<), 13 8 I997-1J8, 99-100, 13 2, 142-3 I998, 13 1- 2, 143-4 I999, 164, 166-7, 168 2000, 167, 176 2004, 186 2005, 187--<) 2006, 189 2007, 190 - 1 2008, 191 2009, 193-5 BDSM, 188, 193-4 Beckett, Sam ue!, 134 Bergman, Ingmar, 173 Bertolucci, Bernardo, 122 The Best Bit oj Crumpet in Denmark, 37 Beyer, John, 211n2 Birkett, Lord, 139, 141 black market videos, 34, 38, 41, 134-5, 142 Blackout, 191 Blair, Tony criminal justice, 11-12 Daily Mail, 124, 140-1 family values, 124, 127, 140-1 as shadow Home Secretary, 93, 95 VRA amendment, 197 blaming the poor, 107 blasphemy, 65 Blood Feast, 46 Blood Rites, 46 La Blue Girl Returns, 187 Blue Underground, 173, 177, 184 Blue Velvet, 120 Body Double, 57 Bor, Michael, 127 Boston, Richard, 104 Bottomley, Virginia, 116, 117, 121 bowdlerisation, 134-5 Box oj the Banned, 18, 84 Boy Meets Girl, 170 Braine, Bernard, 20, 36, 38, 39, 41, 76

Bramley, Stephen, 143, 144 Braveheart,


Brazier, Julian, 117, 124, 140 The Bride oj Frank, 187 Bright, Graham, 30, 31, 34, 37-8, 46, 47-8 Bright Bill, 41, 47, 72 Brinton, Tim, 40 British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), 2,18,24-5, 27, 47, 58 British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and Abbott, 31 Alton, 123, 124, 140 Barker research, 189-90 blasphemy, 65 and BVA, 24-5, 27, 31 classification fees, 21--2, 30-1, 34-5, 56, 57 Crash passed uncut, 123, 128n3 Daily Mail on, 126--? Department of Culture, Media and Sport, 155, 156 and DPP, 40, 59, 169 European comparisons, 79 Guide to Implementation and Practical Consequences oj the Video Recordings Act, 59---60 guidelines, 130-1, 154-5, 177, 186-7, 191-2 harm concept, 94-6, 177, 188--<) Home Viewing Panel, 114 Howard, 92, 110, 113-14, 122 judicial review sought, 129-30, 146--? Last House on the Left, 173-4, 176, 180 liberalisation, 39, 155, 163 music and sports DVDs, 205-6 Obscene Publications Branch, 135 OPA, 39, 95 press, 32, 84, 102, I I 1-12 public consultation exercise, 155, 180 public opinion, 4, 39, 66--?, 180-4 Public Opinion and the BBFC Guidelines, 187 renamed from Censors, 2, 58 sexual violence, 64-5, 177, 186-7 Sexual Violence. The Media Effects Research Evidence, 178 Straw, 127, 139-40, 156 television, 22 The Times, 20, 31 Tookey on, 122-3 VAC, 145-6, 165 Walker on, 120 see also BBFC Annual Reports British Film Institute, 19, 85 British Social Attitudes Survey, 6, 155 British Video Awards, 77 British Videogram Association (BVA) Abbott, 53 and censorship, 205, 206 classification scheme with BBFC, 24-5, 27, 31, 34-5


distributor numbers, 56 inaugural meeting, 17 publicity campaign on behalf of video industry, 75 video industry, 41 Video Recordings Bill, 33, 56, 198 VRA,7 2 Brittan, Leon, 2<>-30, 37-8 Britton, Paul, 123, 124-6 Broadcasting Act (1990), 43nt, 165

Broadcastillg Code,


Broadcasting Standards Council survey, 114 BSkyB, 85, 103 Bulger, James aftermath of case, 106, 108, 132 Child's Play J cited, 88-9, 90, 93, 102-3, 105, 110-11, lIZ

press, 87, 88, 97, 102-8, 114n3 VRA amendment, I, I I, 21, 83-4 Bull, John, 118-19, 127 Burgis, Janet, 127 Burroughs, William, 46, 134 Bush, George, 203 Butt, Ronald, 32 BVA see British Videogram Association cable television, 41 Cameron, David, 197 Campbell, Alastair, 7 Call1libal Holocaust, 23, 25, 26, 46, 73 Cannon, 69 Capper, Suzanne aftermath of case, 84, 90, 97, 106, 107, 108 alleged video influence, 89, 91, 102, 103, 106 police vs press evidence, 105

Carnival, 129 Carry Creenham Home, 36 Catacombs, 65 categories for classification 'IzA', 172°7

" , '18', 39, 47, 135, 147, 181, 184-5, 187



'PG-IZ', 3, 17 1 'RI8', 1-3, 12, 37, 38, 58-9, 84, 130-1, 135-8, 143, 149-5 2, 154, 156, 169, 184-5, 186, 210-11

The Cause oj Irelalld, 36 child protection Braine,


criminalising ownership of images of children and young people, 195

Daily Mail, 27 Lane, 31-2 Milavic, 146 Newson Report, 91-2 pornography, 39 Protection of Children Act, 59


Straw, 147

SUllday Express, 90 VRA, 147 Wardell, 26 Child's Play J, 109 BBFC Report, IIo-l I, 112-14 on BSkyB, 103 cited as influence, 88-9, 90-1, 93, 102-3, 105, 110-11, lIZ

police denial of involvement, 105

The Christiall Democrat, 104-5 Christialle F, 57, 171 Churchill, Winston, 43n4 CIC, 17, 90 Cinematograph (Amendment) Act (1982), 130 Cinematograph Exhibitors Association, 4,51, II9-20 Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act (1937), 63 Civil Service Department, Public Appointments Unit, 35 Clarke, Alan, 41 class factors, 7, I I, 34, 87, 10&-7, 127 classification fees, 21-2, 37, 56, 57

The Clinic, 57 A Clockwork Orauge, 29, 51, 119, 120, 180 Closet Lalld, 194 Cohen, Stanley, 8 Colourbox, 77, 78 Columbia Tri-Star, 118 Combs, Richard, 19 Comely, Basil, 39

A Comillg oj Allgels, 70 Communications Act (2003), 96, 207 Concerned Teacher figure, 23 Conservative Party, 10-1 I, 20-1, 28, 34, 38, 61 Contamination, 46

Contempt of Court Act (1981), 29 Cooke, David, 161, 184-5 Corman, Roger, 168 Coroners and Justice Act (2009), 195 Cotson, David, 127 Crash, 109, 110 Alton, 118 Associated Newspapers, 85, 115, 116 banning attempt, I, 84 Barker, 128nl BBFC passes uncut, I28n3 cinema awards, 116, 122 Daily Mail, I, 84-5, lIS, II6, 139-40 distributor, 118 Evenillg Stalldard, I, 84-5, 115, 116 and Ferman, 83 local authorities, 127 London Film Festival, 117





reception in France/Canada, 121-2, 128n2 Sony Executives, 120 Walker, 115-17



Craven, Wes, 173, 179 erime films, 46 • • CrIme statlstics, I I 1-12 Criminal Justice Act, 113, 170 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (2008), 13, 156, 19 1, 195 Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), 12 Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, 90 Criminal Justice Bill, 91, 108 criminal responsibility, age of, 12 criminality, 10, 67 Critcher, Chas, 6 Cronenberg, David, I, 84; see also Crash Crown Prosecution Service, 4, 83, 132, 144, 16g, 186 Culkin, Macaulay, 109 Cumberbatch, Guy, 176, 180-3 CllIfeW, 65, 6no The Cllrse oj Frankellstein, 45 Customs and Excise, 18, 134, 138-9, 141-2 Customs and Excise Act (1952), 142 Customs Consolidation Act (1876), 141 •

Dacre, Paul, 154 Daft, Carl, 173, 176, 177, 184 Daily Express, 12, 44, 85, 91 Daily Mail Alton, 91 Ban the Sadist Videos campaign, 27 on BBFC, 123, 126-7 Blair, 12, 140-1 blaming the poor, 107 on Britton, 125, 126 class factors, 7 Concerned Teacher figure, 23 Crash, I, 84-5, 115, 116, 122, 139-40 Dacre, 154 editorial, 123-4 on Ferman, 122, 140, 141 horror videos, 24 political parties, 6, 7, 124, 127 pornography laws, 148 Potter in, 108 readership, 8 Straw, 139-40 Tookey, 117, 120, 122 'video nasties', 46, 93 violence on screen/in real life, 104 Whitehouse, 27 Daily Mirror Bulger case, 89 cartoon, ji-ontispiece circulation wars, 1°3

on Howard, 91 on Straw, 147 'video nasties', 90, 93

violence on screen/in real life, 104, 106

Daily Star, 46 Daily Telegraph Alton, 91, 104 BBFC, 141 Blair, 12 censorship, 85 circulation wars, 103 Deedes, 39 on Howard, 91 violence on screen/in real life, 104 on Whitehouse, 27-8 Daily Worker, 45 Dangerous Dogs Act (1991), 6, 152 Davies, Nick, 7, 127, 199, 200, 205 Death Trap, 25 Death Wish, 68, 69 Death Wish II, 68, 69, 180 Deedes, Bill, 39 defecation, 154, 188 Les dellloniaqlles, 185 Deodato, Ruggero, 178 Department of Culture, Media and Sport, 155, 156, 198 deprave and corrupt test, 97, 132 desensitisation hypothesis, 189, 192, 195 Desperately Seeking Seka, 187 Dellce, 91 The Devils, 5 I, II 9 Diamond, Anne, 106 Die Hard With a Vengeance, 109 Digital Economy Bill, 197, 204-5 Dirty Sanchez, 186 Dirty Weekend, 109 discipline, lack of, I I Dismore, Andrew, 204, 205 Disney, 17 distributors classification fees, 56 decline in numbers, 56-7 independent, 17, 21, 37, 53, 78 stock reduction, 56 'video nasties', 25-6 documentary genre, 46 Donleavy, J. P., 134 Don't Answer the Phone, 24 Dorian Gray (Parker), 3 Downes, David, IQ-r I DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), 46, 48 and BBFC, 40, 59, 169 guidelines on 'RI8', 130 Last HOllse on the Left, 173 obscenity laws, 132-4 'video nasties' listed, 19,46,69,166,173,213-15 Dragollball Evoilition, 3 Driller Killer, 19, 23, 25, 45, 4 6, 73 Driver, Stephen, 12 Dunblane shootings, 98, 113


Dune, 57 Durrell, Lawrence, 134 Duval, Robin appointment of, 161, 162 interviewed, 163--'7 I The Last House ou the Left, 174

on OPA, 175-6 'RI8' category, 145 and VAC, 12<r30, 177-8 on violence, 176, 177 Eastham, Paul, 121 Eaton, Mick, 19 effectiveness, principle of, 200-1 ejaculation images, IJ7, 138, 142, 154 Electric Blue, 17 Elephant Video, 74, 78 elitist views, 107, 2II Emanuelle's Sweet Revenge, 191 Emmanuelle, 99

Enforcement Sub-Group, 143, 144 Eraser, 98---<J Ericson, Richard, 6 The Erotic Adventures of Zorro, 191

erotic photography, 193-4 Erotic Review, 136

European Commission, Technical Standards Directive, 197 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), 149-50, 151, 152, 200-1

European Union, 79, 198, 200-2 Evans, Nigel, 117 Evening Standard Crash, I, 84-5, 115, 116

London Film Festival, 117-18 video rapist case, 29 violence on screen/in real life, 104 Walker in, 26, 32, 84-5 The Evil Dead, 39, 45, 69, 70n4 The Evil Protege, 70 The Evil That Men Do, 57



The E\'orcist, 52, 67-8, 77, 98, 162, 166, 167

exploitation cinema, 17, 47 Faces of Death, 46, 214 Faces of Death III, 185

Falcon, Richard, 123, 127 Falklands war, 42-3 Family Code, 75 Fanny Hill, 133 Fast Formard, 57

appointment of,S I British film makers, 55 and Britton, 126 in Broadcast, 3<r40 censorship in practice criticised, 98---<) classification/legal status, 30-1 Daily Mail on, 122, 140, 141 distributor numbers, 56-7 on DPP, 5<r60 and Duval, 163, 164 Enforcement Sub-Group, 143 external pressures, 76 finances of BBFC, 57 interviewed, 55-62, 66--'70 mean world syndrome, 114n2 modus operandi,s I, 83, 98 moral questions, 56, 60-1, 96--'] and New Labour, 139-40 non-violent erotica, 142-3 packaging for videos, 73, 74 and politicians, 83-4 press coverage, 61-2 public opinion, 66--'], 161 replacing Murphy, 120 and Sackville, 136 shielding public, 18, 47 and Smith, 144-5 Straw on, 140 Video Standards Council, 75 Ferrers, Earl, 94, 97 Fiddick, Peter, 31 Fight Club, 164, 17Inl Fight for Your Life, 46

Film Distributors' Association, 4 Financial Times, 18, 44 Flaming Creatures, 118

Floyd, Nigel, 99 Flynn, Niki, 193-4 Follett, Barbara, 197 Foot Domination, 191

Ford, Margaret, 74, 136, 139 forfeiture, 25, 26, 133, 141-4, 146 Foucault, Michel, 4-5 Fox, Kerry, 172n4 Franco, Jess, 100-1, 185, 187 Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 42 Franklin, Bob, 87, I14n3 freedom, artistic, 43n4, 92, 151, 173 French, Philip, 117 Friday the IJth, 75

FrightFest film festival, 2 Fulci, Lucio, 45, 46, 74, 164

Feature Film Company, 173-4; see also The Last House ou the Left

fellatio, 142, 172n4, 189, 194-5 Ferman, James and Alton, 95

Gale, Roger, 123 Gay News, 42

Genet, Jean, 134 A Gentleman's Agreement, Channel 4, 28




Gerbner, George, 114n2 Gibson, Mel, 67 Goldeneye, 1°9 The Good Son, 109-10, 120 Goodfellas, 107 The Goonies, 106 Gorgoroth, 204 Gorris, Marleen, 37 Gray, Richard, 34 Greatest Video Hits, 203, 204 Green, David A., 87 Greenaway, Peter, 122 Grotesque, 195 The Gruesome Twosome, 167 Guardian banning of Crash, 118 Barker, 46 Fiddick, 3I Hodgkiss, 97-8 on Howard, 91 Malcolm, 36, 48 Mortimer, 35 Newson Report, 104 Perley, 121 Robertson, 33-4>37 and tabloids, 66 Toynbee, 156-'], 208 on Whitehouse, 25, 30, 42 Young in, 129

Highlander 3, 109 Hill, Annette, 155 HM Customs and Excise see Customs and Excise Hodgkiss, Ros, 97-8, 99, 128n3 Hollywood Production Code, 67 Home Office C01lSultation Paper ou the Regulation of RI8 Videos, '48-53 Makin' Whoopee!, 145 on OPA, 206-'] 'RI8', 130 sexual violence, 208-9 Sexualisation of Young People, 205 VAC, 145-6, 149, 150, 153 Williams, 131 Home Office Policy Unit, 139 Home Viewing Panel, "4 homosexuality, 10, 170, 172n5 Hooper, Mr Justice, 147, 148 Hooper, Richard, 207 Hooper, Tobe, 46 Horny Catbabe, 129 horror genre BBFC Annual Report I999, 166-'] cntlcs, 45 demonised, 108 DPP, 1<)-20 Kermode, 179 popularity on video, 47 press, 24

Hagell, Ann, 105 Hall, Laurie, 74-5, 75-6 Hall, Stuart, I I, 43n6 Hamilton, China, 193-4 Hammer horror, 46 The Hangover, 3 Harewood, Lord, 58-9, 65-6, "1-12 Hargrave, Andrea Millwood, 96 Harlech, Lord, 25, 51, 57 harm BBFC, In 188-9 defined, 96, 129-30, 132, 207-8 Ofcom, 172n3 pornography, 208 prevention of, 114 VRA, 96, 129-30, 144, 145, 165, 192, 195 Harron, Mary, 29 Harvey, Michael, 121 Hattersley, Roy, 90-1, 106 Hayes, Jerry, 38 Hemdale, 69 Hemy: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 99 Hentai series, Japan, 187 Hetherington, Thomas, 25, 26 Hibbin, Nina, 45 hidden camera videos, 186 Hidden Rage, 69

'video nasties', 24, 29 Hoskins, Superintendent, 136 Hostel, 194 The House by the Ce1lletelJl, 74, 78

The House on the Edge of the Park, 76, 178, 189 Howard, Michael BBFC, 92, 110, 113-14, 122 and Blair, 95 and Bottomley, 117 pressure from media, 90- I tightening of VRA, 92-3 Howarth, Gerald, 43n4 Howe, Elspeth, 203, 204-5 The Howling, 185 Hudson, Christopher, 118 Human Rights Act (1998), 200 Hungerford shootings, 66, 70n3 Hunt, Alan, 8, 9 Hunt, Jeremy, 203 Hutton, Will, 13 I Spit on Your Grave, 2, 25, 26, 29, 68-<), 180 IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority), 26-7, 41, 165 ICA, ,,8 !chi the Killer, 189 The Idiots, 167


lisa, the Wicked Warden, 185 lisa - Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, 208 lisa - She Wolf of the SS, 208 Import Export, In the Realm of the Senses, 120 indecency laws, '70, 186, 207 Indecent Displays (Control) Act (1981), 207 Independent blaming the poor, I07 circulation wars, 103 on Howard, 9', 93 Kermode, '73 Whittam Smith, '4', 161 Independent Broadcasting Authority see lEA Independent on Sunday Review, IOInI Independent Television Code, 177-8 Independent Television Commission, I05, 161, 165, '7 2n 3 Independent Television Companies Association,

Obscene Publications Act, '75 VAC, '73, '74, '75, 183 viewing panel, 182, 183 VRA, 184



intellectuals/press, I03-4 Intervener role, 199-200 Intimacy, 167, '72n4 Irreversible, 189

Isaacs, Jeremy, 122 Jacobs, Barry, 74, 78 Jaeckin, Just, 36 Jansen, Sue Curry, viii Japanese animation, '95 Jauch, Martin, '43 Jenkins, Roy, 10 Judge Dmld, I09 Juice, 91, 110-1 I, Jung/i'ukiillen, '73


Kaufman, Gerald, 90-1 Keane, Dillie, I06 Kerekes, David, 18, 84 Kermode, Mark, 52, 70m, 70n4, 85, '73, '79, 183 Kerr, Paul, '9 Kids, 110 Knockabout Comics, 42 Kraus, Karl, 43nI Kruger, Detective Superintendent, 25, 3' Kuhn, Annette, viii, 4, 5 Kureishi, Hanif, '72n4 Labour Party, '0, 33, 90-1, 156---]; see also New Labour Labouring Under the Law, 36 Lady Chatterley's Lover, I07 Lane, Lord Chief Justice, 24, 3'-2 Last House ou the Left BBFC, '73, 176, 18o cuts demanded, '74, 184


Last Tango in Paris, 5 I The Last Temptation of Christ, 65

Lau, Ferdinand, 127 law-and-order issues, 10-1 I, law-making, 83, 200-2 Lawrence, Frances,




Lawrence, Philip, IIO The Lawyer, 34 Lejeune, C. A., 45 Lethal Weapou 2, 67 Lewis, Herschell Gordon, 167 Listener, '9, 35-6 The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, 57 Livingstone, Sonia, 96, 207 local authorities, 3', "9, 127, 2IO Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, 198 Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (1982), '3° Lommel, Ulli, 46 London Film Festival, 47, 85, II7-I8 Loose Connectious, 57 Lord Horror, '34 Love Camp, 185 Lynne, Liz, 90 â&#x20AC;˘

A Ma Soeur, 189 Mail on Sunday, 124 Makin' Whoopee!, 138, '43-5, '75 Malcolm, Derek, 36, 47, 48 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, II2 The Man with the Severed Head, 185 Manhunt 2, '95 Maniac, 100 Mann, Derek, 28, 56, 7', 72-3, 75 March Hunnings, Neville, 148 Mardi Gras Massacre, 46 Martell, Luke, 12 Martin, John, 84 masturbatory fantasy, 65, IOO Mathews, Tom Dewc, 3, 51, 99, 120, 210 The Matrix, 168 Mayhew, Patrick, 28 Meagan, Graham, 127 mean world syndrome, "4n2 Mediawatch-UK, 4 Mellor, David, 37, 40 Menegazzi, Carmen, 118 Metropolitan Police, 24, 25, II8 MGM/CBS, '7 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, I09 Milavic, Gordana, 146, 165-6 Mill, John Stuart, II, "4



Milwood Hargrave, Andrea, 207 miners' strike, 43n7 Minter, Ian, 142 Miss Nude International, 129 Mitting, Mr Justice, 192, 195 Modem Loving, 185 Monthly Film Bulletin, 19 moral judgements, 60-1, 96-7 moral panic, I, 5-6, 8-10, 23, 26, 47 Morgan, Rod, 10-1 I MORI poll, 47 Morland, Honourable Mr Justice, 87, 88, 97 Morrison, Blake, 88, 112 Mortal Kombat, 109 Mortimer, John, 35, 48 Motion Picture Association of America, 2 I Motley Crtie, 203, 204 Moustaki, Maria, 127 Movement for Christian Democracy, 104-5, 140 The Mummy Returns, 168 Murder Set Pieces, 191 Murphy, Stephen, 51, 119-20 music and sports DVDs, 205-6 My Daughter's a Cocksucker, 194

Obscene Publications Act (1959), 4 abolishing, 206-7 artistic merit defence, 20 BBFC, 39, 95 broadcasting, 41, 43n2 CPS list, 186 deprave and corrupt test, 61, 132 Last House on the Left, 175 Sections 2 and 3, 25-6, 132-4, 141, 143, 166 proposed tightening up of, 41-2, 43n4 'video nasties', 25-6, 34, 36, 71 violence/sexuality, 58--<j Observer, 45, 117 O'Carroll, Lisa, 117-18 Ofcom, 22, 172n3, 207 Offences Against the Person Act (186 I), 188 Office of Fair Trading, 73 Office Tart, 129 Olympia Press, 133-4 Operation Julie, 69, 70n5 Oriental Blue, 31 Orlov, Alexandr, 20 Ossorio, Amando de, 187

National Institute of Mental Health (US), 24 National Viewers' and Listeners' Association see NVALA Natural Born Killers, 109, 110, 113, 114n4, 120 New Labour, 11-13 Daily Mail, 124, 127 Ferman, 139-40 'RI8' category, 211 Third Way, 129, 156 Nell) Society, 44 The Nell) York Ripper, 76 Newburn, Tim, 105 Newman, Kim, 19, 178 Newson Report, 91-2, 10102, 104, 105 NF7I], 193-4 Nicol, Andrew, 3, 19, 94-5, 119, 147, 209 Night oj the Bloody Apes, 46 Night oj the Demou, 46 The Night Porter, 120 Nightmare Coucert/Cat in the Brain, 164 Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, 36, 48 Nikos the ImpaleI', 185 Nilsen, Dennis, 29 'not suitable for home viewing' category, 90-3 Nude Jor Satan, 185 NVALA (National Viewers' and Listeners' Association) as agents of moral panic, 18, 23, 25, 33-4 on BBFC, 40 as Mediawatch-UK, 4 links to Thatcher, 37 Nympho Nurse Nancy, 129

packaging of videos, 73 Pannick, David, 166, 176, 179 Panorama on pornography, 136, 139, 142 Papadopoulos, Linda, 205 Parris, Matthew, 39 Paul B!art - Mall Cop, 3 Pearson, Geoffrey, 9 Peeping Tom, 45, 108 Penry, Ken, 3 I Petley, Julian with Barker, 84, 92 on Blair, 11-12 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, 191 with Franklin, 87, 114n3 on Henry: Portrait oj a Serial Killer, 99 letter to Guardian, 121 letter to Jack Straw, 210 on Savoy Books, 134 and Walker, 85-6 'PG-12' category, 3, 171 Phelps, Guy, 120, 210 Pink Flamingos, 100 police, 18, 43n5, 83; see also Metropolitan Police Policy Studies Institute, 105 Polygram, 17 pornography black market, 142 extreme, 13, 191, 195 hard core defined, 138 harm involved in production, 208 see also 129-57 Potter, Lynda Lee, 106, 108


press on academic research, 104-5 BBFC, 84, 102, II 1-12 on Blair, 12 Bulger case, 87, 88, 97, 102-8, "4n3 censorship, 5-"7, '9, 84-5, IIo-II, "3 circulation battles, 103 common sense assumptions, 105-6 Executions, I I I Falklands war coverage, 42-3 intellectuals, 103-4 miners' strike, 43n7 NVALA,34 politicians, 5-6, 6-"7 public opinion, 6, 37, "4 underclass, 107-8

also specific newspapers Press Complaints Commission, 47, 85-6, "5, 116 Primetime Promotions, '45

Pritchard Vs Dainton, 186 Private Eye, 103 Prospect, 122 Prostitutes Protectiou Society, 187 Protection of Children Act (1978), 59, 185, '9' Psycho, 36, 45, 108

Psycho II, 57 psychologists on violence, 104 public nudity, 186 public opinion BBFC, 4, 39, 66-7, 180-4 Ferman, 66-"7, 161 film censorship, 40 politicians, 84 press, 6, 37, "4 sexual violence, I 80, 187

Public Opinion and the BBFC Guidelines, 187 Puffball, '9' Pulp Fiction, 109 Purgatory Films, 138-9 The Pyramid, 136

A Questiou of Silence, 37 Radcliffe, Lord, 200-1 Rambo III, 63, 66 Rank, 79 Rant, Judge, 188 rape AIDS, 69

Baby of Macon,


Baise-moi, 164

Blair on, 93 Crown Prosecution Service, 186 CllIfeW, 70 cuts, 64

glorification of, 18 Hodgkiss on, 99

I Spit on Your Grave, 69 Independent Television Code, '77

Last House on the Left, '73 mythology about, 100 oral, 65 Weldon on, 148 RCA/Columbia, '7, 78 Read, Les, 84, 9 , 97 ' Reagan, Ronald, 107

Real Lives, 76 Re-animator, 164 Reservoir Dogs,


Rob Roy, '09 Robb, Brian J., '79 Robertson, Geoffrey, 5' BBFC classification, '9, "9, 120, '47 censorship in Europe compared, 209, 210 child protection, 3, 94-5 gross offensiveness test, 43n4 in Guardian, 33-4, 37 local authorities, 210 on obscenity laws, '33, '34 VRA re-draft options, '5' VSC, '52-3 Roeg, Nicholas, '9' Rollin, Jean, 185 Rolling Stones video, 42

Romance, 167 The Romans in Britain, 42 Rose, Nikolas, 9 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, 108 Ryan, Michael, 66 Rylance, Mark, '72n4 Sackville, Tom, 136 sadism, 209 Sadomania, 100-1, 187 sado-masochism, 120, 187 Sainsbury, Timothy, 28 satellite television, 103 Savoy Books, '34

Scare Their Pants Off!, 187 Schwarzenegger, Arnold, 98-9 Scotsman, 30, 41 Scream series, 179 Screen, 19, 25, 45

Screen Education, '9 Scruton, Roger, 147-8 Scum, 41, 42 SEFT (Society for Education in Film and Television), 25 self-censorship, 9, 74

A Serbian Film,


Death Wish, 68

Sereny, Gitta,

double standards, 58

Severe Punishment, 187





sex education videos, 135 Sex Pistols, 42 sex shops, 132, 134-5 Sexual Offences Act (2003), 170, 172n5, 185-6 sexual violence, 184-95 American studies, 185 audience research, 180-3 BBFC, 64-5, I n 186-7 cuts for, 184-5 Death Wish, 68--<J Duval on, 174 Ferman on,


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 99 public opinion, 180, 187 Sexualisation of Young People, Home Office,

2째5 Sexy Sisters, 185 Shaw, David, 41 Sheptonhurst, 143, 145 Shifty, 3 Showgirls, 109 Sigal, Clancy, 45 Sight and Sound, 52-3, 85 Simon, Sian, 199, 200 Simpson, Brian, 34, 131, 208 The Sin Sindicate, 187 Skinner, Dennis, 29 Slater, David, 18, 84 Slipknot, 203, 204 Slumber Party Massacre II, 70 Smith, David James, 88, 112 Smith, Jack, II8 Snuff, 24 Society for Education in Film and Television (SEFT), 25 Sony Executives, 120 Span, Anna, 192-3 Spanner case, 188 Spider-Man, 172n7 SS Experiment Camp, 23, 24, 25, 26, 73 St Trinians - the Legend of Fritton's Gold, 3 Star, 89 Starks, Robert, 77, 78 Stealing Beauty, 122 Stevenson, Wilf, 85 Stewart, Christine, 144 Stewart, James,


Stills, 56 Storr, Anthony, 58 The Story of 0, 36 Strange Days, 1째9 Straw, Jack and BBFC, 127, 139-40, 156 child protection, 147 as Home Secretary, 12, 84, 129, 139 Perley to, 210 'RI8' category, 12, 84, 154

Toynbee on, 156--'] Whittam Smith's appointment, 161 Straw Dogs, 51, 52, 77, 119, 162, 180, 182 Sudden Impact, 57 Sun Alton, 89 Burn Your Video Nasty campaign, 90 on Child's Play, 89 on Howard, 91

politicians, 6, 7 on Straw,


video nasties, 45 young offender readers, 105 Sunday Express, 90 Sunday Telegraph, 104, 147-8 The Sunday Times blaming the poor, 107 Bright Bill, 41 Bull in, 118-19 on Ferman, 140 horror videos, 24

on psychologists, 104 underclass, 1째7 video nasties, 25, 44 Szulkin, David A., 179 taste and decency, 96, 100, 165 Taxi Driver, 107 Taylor, Laurie, 153 Taylor, Teddy, 140 Tebbit, Norman, 10 Technical Standards Directive, 197, 199 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 98 television ACTT,4째 and BBFC, 22 effects of VRA, 40-2 modern cinema, 47 Obscene Publications Act, 41 violence, 24, 29 Temple, Julien, 42 Terrorists, Killers and Other Wackos, 189, 195 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 47, 56, 69, 77, 166, 167, 17 8 The Texas Vibrator Mass({Cre, 191 Thatcher, Margaret, 27, 29, 37, 41, 72 Thatcherism, 10, II, 13 theatre censorship, 10 Theatres Act (1843), 9 Theresa, St, 65 The Thing, 29 Thomas, Jeremy, 122 Thomas, Mark, 88, II 2 Thomas, Quentin, 161 Thompson, Robert, 87, 103 Thomson, Katarina, 155 Threatened Family trope, 27


Time aud Tide, 45 Time Out, 35, 52, 66, 99 The Times BBFC, 20, 3' blaming the poor, I07 Bright, 46 on Howard, 9' pornography laws, '47 underclass, I07-8 violence on screen/in real life, I05 Whitehouse, 24-5, 27-8, 32 Tiuto Brass Presents - 4, ,85 Today, 93 Tombs of the Bliud Dead, ,87 Tookey, Christopher, "7, '20, '22-3, ,63 Torneur, Jacques, 46 torture, '93-4, '95 Toynbee, Polly, '56, 208 Traces of Death, ,89, '95 Trade Descriptions Act ('968), 74 trading standards officers, 43n5 Traiuspottiug, 'IO Trash, 47 Trevelyan, John, 5', 55-6, 97 The Trip, 69 TV Sex, '29 Twentieth Century Fox, '7, 85


Best of 2007, 204 Ultimate Fighting Championship, 204 Uuder Siege 2, I09 underclass, I06-8 urolagnia, '42, '54, ,69, ,86, ,89, '92-3 Urotsukidoji series, '95 V for Veudetta, '94 VAC (Video Appeals Committee), 4 and BBFC, '45-6, ,65 and Duval, '77-8 Home Office, '49, '53 Last House ou the Left, '73, '74, '75, ,83 Makiu' Whoopee!, '43-5, '75 Mauhu1lt 2, '95 membership, '53 'R,8' category, '29 reform, '52 Vaizey, Ed, '97-8, 202-3 Venables, Jon, 87, 88, '03, I06 Venables, Neil, 88 Victory, 122 Video Advertising Review Committee, 73, 74-5 Video Appeals Committee see VAC Video Business, 17 Video Consultative Council, 68 video ind ustry, 7' concentration of, 77 Conservative Party,



major distributors, '7-,8, 78 self-censorship, 73, 74 'video nasties'

BBFC, 7' Conservative Party, 28 defined and described, 44-6 horror films, 24, 29 moral panic, 5-6, 8, 23, 26, 47 as mythology, 88 NVALA,25 Obscene Publications Act, 34, 36 press, '7, ,8, 44-5, '02, '03 stereotypIng, 45 see also Video Recordings Act ('984) Video Nasties: the Defiuitive Guide, ,8, 84 Video Nel1Js, '7 Video Packaging Review Committee (VPRC), 73 video rapist case, 29

Video Recordings Act ('984), '-2, 4, 6, '76-9 Abbott, 72, 73 abolition proposals, 208-II amendment, " II, 58, 83-4, 9', 97, '3 2 and BBFC, 2, 56, 72 breaches, 73 Bulger murder, 87 child protection, '47 consumer protectIOn, 72 contents, 20, 202-3

and Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, '3 economic effects, 77 enforcement, 72-3, 83 harm concept, 96, '29-30, '44, '45, ,65, '9 2, '95 Howard, 92-3 Last House au the Left, ,84 legitimacy of, '97-9 limitations of, 205 as moral regulation, 8 penalties for infringing, 93-4 precursors, 9 press influence, ,8 strengthening, 206 video industry, 79 'video nasties', 44

Video Recordings Bill, 20, 22, 33-4, 37, 39-40, 42-3, '98 Video Recordings (Exemption from Classification) Bill, 204 video rentals

charges, '7-,8 Family Code, 75 by genre, 79 popular videos, 47 scapegoating, 88 statlstlcs, 34 turnover, 7 I Video Retailer, 34



Video Standards Council, 4, 74-5, 76, 'S', '5 2-3, '76, 206 Video Trade Association, '7, 28, 7' Video Trade Weekly, '7, 3' Video Working Party, 58 Videodrome, 57 Videogram Standards Council, 28 violence BBFC Annual Report I988, 63-4 DPP, 60 eroticised, 178 graphic, 204 humiliation, 184 media effect, 87-8 pornography, 178 psychologists, I04 on screen/in real life, 29, 64, 87-8, 9'-2, 102-3, 105, I II-I2, 176, 180, 209 television, 24 violence against women, 64-5, IOO, '35, '74 VIPCO, 25-6 Visions of Ecstasy, 65, 70n2 Vizard, Michael, 127 VRA see Video Recordings Act (1984) Walker, Alexander on BBFC, 120 Crash, 85, "5-'7 in Evening Standard, 26, 32, 85, 86 in Listener, 35-6 state censorship,


in Stills, 35 on Video Recordings Bill, 34 The Wanderers, 29 Ward, Vicky, 121 Wardell, Gareth, 26-7, 28, 29 Ware, John, '39 Wareing, Robert, 90 Warhol, Andy, 47 Warner, '7, 68, 78, 98 Watch With Mother, 79 Waters, John, 100 Weldon, Fay, '48, '53 welfare state, 107 Westminster Council, 2, "7

Wet Nurses, 129 What Video/Popular Video survey, 47 Wheeler, John, 38 Where Do You Draw the Line (Cumberbatch), 180-3 Whitehouse, Mary on BBFC, 40 Bright Bill, 30 child protection, 25 on Crash, "7 Daily Mail, 27 Daily Telegraph, 27-8 on Ferman, '40 Guardian, 42 on Hetherington, 26 as moral campaigner, 20 and NVALA, 4, 18 obscenity legislation, 25, 27 ••

on permISSive society, 10

and press, 34 on Scum, 41, 42 and Thatcher, 37, 4' The Times, 24-5, 27-8, 32 Whitelaw, William, 27, 72 Whittam Smith, Andreas, '29-3', '4'-2, '44-5, 161, 162, 167 Whittingdale, John, 205 Wild Geese II, 57 Williams, Linda, 138 Williams Committee, 3', 34, 58, 61, 96, '3'-2, 206, 207-<) Wingrove, Nigel, 70n2, 138-<) Wishman, Doris, 187 The Wizard of Gore, 167 Wolfenden strategy, 12 Woller, Stephen, 26 Women in Celib/ofk 9, 185 Women Love Porn, '92-3 Wood, Robin, '79, 182 Young, Hugo, 129 young offenders, I05 Zamo,Gianni,


Ziplow, Stephen, 138 Zombie Flesh Eaters, 45

Julian Petley - Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain