The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, non-governmental body, which has exercised responsibilities over cinema for a hundred years, and over video and subsequently DVD since 1985. A summary of our history is below, or look deeper decade by decade at how classification has evolved over time.
The British Board of Film Censors was established in 1912 by the film industry when local authorities started to impose their own, widely varying, censorship standards on films.
The BBFC was set up in order to bring a degree of uniformity to those standards. The object was to create a body which could make judgements that were acceptable nationally. To this end the BBFC has needed to earn the trust of the local authorities, Parliament, the press and the public. It must not only be independent, but be seen to be so, taking care, for example, that the film industry does not influence its decisions, and that, similarly, pressure groups and the media do not determine its standards.
Statutory powers on film remain with the local councils, which may overrule any of the BBFC’s decisions on appeal, passing films we reject, banning films we have passed, and even waiving cuts, instituting new ones, or altering categories for films exhibited under their own licensing jurisdiction. However, by the mid-1920s it had become general practice for local authorities to accept the decisions of the BBFC.
In 1984 Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act. This act stated that, subject to certain exemptions, video recordings offered for sale or hire in the UK must be classified by an authority designated by the Secretary of State. The following year the President and Vice Presidents of the BBFC were so designated, and charged with applying the new test of ‘suitability for viewing in the home’. At this point the BBFC’s title was changed to the British Board of Film Classification to reflect the fact that classification plays a far larger part in the Board’s work than censorship.