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Grease (1978)

To coincide with a special sing-a-long format of Grease, showing in cinemas across the UK this Valentine’s Day, we take a look at how BBFC Examiners responded to their first look at the film in summer of 1978.

Tags: Grease, archive, romance, teenage, language

Grease (1978) came to the BBFC for classification in June 1978. A musical romance, set in the 1950s, and starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, the film follows the story of a pair of teenagers who fall in love despite their differences. Danny (Travolta) is the tough leader of a gang, who romances quiet Sandy (Newton-John) during the summer holiday. Both of them are surprised to meet again on the first day of the new term at Rydell High School, and Sandy is confused by the cool and disinterested way Danny treats her. Sandy is soon drafted into the Pink Ladies gang where she seems pious because she doesn’t drink or smoke and is still a virgin. Danny and Sandy’s relationship develops across a number of encounters and although, as the Examiner report notes, these scenes are visually discreet, the language used in the film is at the very top end of what was acceptable at the advisory A category, which admitted children but with parents cautioned that the film may be unsuitable for young children.

The Examiner report for Grease available here, highlights language including ‘frigging A’ and ‘what do you think this is, an gang bang?’, as potentially questionable at the A category, but the overall light touch of the film in its handling of teenage romance, as well as the musical context which would likely appeal to youngsters, ultimately kept the film in the A category.

However, upon its cinema release, the film did generate some public feedback. A letter, available here, from the BBFC deals with a complaint from a member of the public. The letter explains the decision to pass the language in the film at A, particularly a reference to contraception, which is described by the BBFC Examiner as an ‘Americanism’ not widely understood by most young people who would see the film and therefore not significant enough to raise the film to the AA category.

When the film was submitted again on video in 1987, the cheeky high school dialogue is again mentioned by Examiners, but thought to be acceptable at the PG rating, the modern equivalent of the A. Today Grease remains at PG, with the BBFCinsight warning parents of ‘frequent mild sex references and mild language’.

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