British Board of Film Classification

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Video Nasties

Overview of the inception of The Video Recordings Act.

Date 19/05/2005

Driller Killer As VCRs became increasingly popular in the early 1980s, the market became saturated with titles, some of which had never previously been classified for theatrical release in the U.K., and others which contained material previously cut as a condition of classification.

The market was unregulated and many titles 'of the horror variety' included hyperbolic packaging copy accompanying often graphic imagery which may not have featured in the film itself (some was commissioned artwork from artists who may not have viewed the film itself and may have based their interpretations upon the titles alone).

Popular press concerns, fuelled by a number of cases which attempted to link violent crimes to exposure to this unregulated medium, were augmented by a compilation tape of highlights culled from horror videos which was shown to Conservative MPs at their 1983 party conference by Mary Whitehouse's moral watchdog The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) – an organisation now known as Mediawatch.

Following this, the phrase 'video nasty' - originally coined by NVALA - passed into popular parlance as a catch-all term defining a perceived graphically gory or excessive type of film, usually 'of the horror variety'.

To assist police forces confused as to which titles could be seized as potentially obscene under the terms of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, the Director of Public Prosecutions' office subsequently drew up a list of around sixty potentially obscene titles (i.e. works with a "tendency to deprave and corrupt, or make morally bad, a significant proportion of the likely audience", which in this case included children who might view the work in the home), and these along with others were repeatedly seized and prosecuted, a factor which reinforced the media and public perception of them as 'video nasties'.

However, juries in one part of the country could still acquit a title which had been found guilty in another region so in 1984 the recently returned Conservative government - which had made an earlier manifesto pledge to tackle the unregulated nature of the video market - allowed parliamentary time be set aside for a Private Members' Bill introduced by their backbencher Graham Bright which subsequently passed into law as the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA).

This Act required all video works intended to be supplied for sale or hire in the U.K. (with some exemptions) to be classified by a designated authority.

This authority was delegated to the BBFC's President and Vice-Presidents and flowed through them to the BBFC which acts in their name and is responsible to Parliament and the public for administering the classification requirements of the VRA.

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