Film censorship in Britain


Censorship is always a thorny issue. How far should freedom of expression be curtailed in pursuit of other social objectives? Does Britain really need what has been described as "the most rigorous film censorship system in the western world"? Why is even the softest of soft pornography banned in this country when explicit sex films are available throughout most of the rest of Europe? Who are the censors of film and videos? And how can we question their decisions about what we are or are not allowed to see?

This is a list of the principal organisations with an interest or involvement in film censorship in Britain. Although the main regulatory bodies are primarily concerned with what is screened rather than what is not, there is no reason in principle why, for example, anyone wishing to complain about specific instances of film censorship should not do so to the relevant body. These organisations, of course, also deal with complaints if you believe that something was screened (on television, for example) that should not have been.

British Board of Film Classification

3 Soho Square London W1V 6HD
Telephone: 0171 439 7961
Website: www.bbfc.co.uk

Andreas Whittam Smith set himself three objectives on his appointment as BBFC president in 1997: to promote consistency in the classification process; to encourage the board to be as open as possible; and to make sure that the board is well informed about the public's attitude to its work. To this end the BBFC has organised public meetings, issued press releases and detailed explanations of its more controversial decisions, set up a website and established an ongoing research programme.

In 1997/98, the BBFC received 251 letters from the public. These ranged from comments on the controversy over the film Crash to letters (eight in all) asking why The Exorcist had not received a video certificate. There were also 39 letters in support of the more liberal “R18” experiment (now abandoned) and eight in opposition. All letters from the public receive a response and those from individuals (as opposed to organised write-ins) are given particular attention.

Independent Television Commission

Main offices:

London: 33 Foley Street
London W1P 7LB
Tel 0171 255 3000
Fax 0171 306 7800

Winchester:  Kings Worthy Court
Kings Worthy
Winchester SO23 7QA
Tel 01962 848600
Fax 01962 886141

Details of national and regional offices representing the ITC in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions are available from the above. Complaints or other representations may also be made to the television company concerned directly.

The ITC makes no programmes itself, nor does it broadcast or transmit programmes. But as the programme regulator, it sets the standards for programme content and ensures that the television companies licensed by the ITC comply with them. Commercial television companies are obliged to respond to all comments and complaints from viewers -- and tell the ITC about them.

Broadcasting Standards Commission

7 The Sanctuary,
London SW1P 3JS.
Tel: 0171-233-0544

Fax: 0171-233-0397/222-3172
The BSC website is at www.bsc.org.uk

The Broadcasting Standards Commission is the statutory body for both standards and fairness in broadcasting. It is the only organisation within the regulatory framework of UK broadcasting to cover all television and radio. This includes BBC and commercial broadcasters as well as text, cable, satellite and digital services. Thirteen Commissioners are responsible for the work of the Commission. They are appointed by the Secretary of State for National Heritage and serve part-time for a period of three to five years. The current chairman is Lady Howe. Their work is supported by a full-time staff managed by the director, Stephen Whittle. The Commission does not have the power to preview or to censor broadcasting.


Other organisations with an interest in film censorship

Article 19, the international centre against censorhip

Article 19 33 Islington High St N1 9LH Fax 0171 713 1356 Tel 0171 278 9292

An anti-censorship organisation campaigning for freedom of expression in other countries.

British Federation of Film Societies

PO Box 1DR, London W1A 1DR  Tel: 0171 734 9300.

Provides practical help and resources to the UK’s 300 film societies and people wishing to start their own. Can put you in touch with your nearest society.

Index on Censorship

Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH  Tel 0171 278 2313  Fax 0171 278 1878  Email contact@indexoncensorship.org

An anti-censorship magazine dealing with freedom of expression issues


21 Tabard St, London SE1 4LA Tel 0171 403 3888 Fax 0171 407 5354 Email liberty@gn.apc.org

Campaign group on civil liberties issues in the UK.

National Viewers and Listeners Association

All Saints House, High Street, Colchester CO1 1UG  Tel 01206 561155  Fax 01206 766175  Email NationalVALA@compuserve.com

The group made famous by Mary Whitehouse. Campaigns for greater regulation of television and video output.

Sexual Freedom Coalition

PO Box 4ZB, London W1A 4ZB  Info Line 0171 460 1979  Email info@sfc.org.uk

Campaign group “promoting reform of Britain's silly old sex laws”, including film and video censorship.


On the web

Melon Farmer’s Video Hits


A comprehensive website dealing with (and campaigning against) film and video censorship in Britain. Contains details of virtually all cuts made to videos released since 1995, as well as general information on film and video censorship and extensive links to other websites. Probably the best resource of its kind on the Net.

Also on the web, www.dcs.napier.ac.uk/~mikej/bbfc/ provides an exensive information resource, with a wide variety of links, for information related to film censorship in Britain.



The definitive book on film censorship in Britain is Censored! What they didn’t allow you to see and why -- the story of film censorship in Britain (Chatto and Windus 1994) by Tom Dewe Mathews. Screen Violence (Bloomsbury Paperbacks 1996), edited by Karl French, is a varied collection of essays by everyone from Oliver Stone and John Waters to Mary Whitehouse and Michael Medved. The monthly magazine Home Cinema Choice contains a regular “Banned in Britain” page covering film and video censorship by anti-censorship campaigner and writer Phil Martin. Alternatively, for a trenchantly pro-censorship view, see Censorship: the time is right by Alan Cadwallender, published by the Conservative Christian Fellowship (PO Box 25158, London SW1P 4WE  Tel/fax 0171 896 4245  Email tory.christians@lineone.net).


Censorship milestones

The censors and the law

What gets censored

What gets censored: the BBFC guidelines