Published: 19th December 2011

The British Board of Film Classification revive 100 years of Theatrical Black Cards to mark their centenary year

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is marking its 100th year in 2012 by resurrecting its historical Theatrical Black Cards.

Beginning in January cinema-goers across the UK will see updated versions of the vintage Black Cards ahead of all 2012 theatrical releases. The six retro designs based on those used in 1913, the 1940s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and the present day will be released as a series with each design appearing for two months at a time.

The first 'retro' card to be show in cinema's in 2012 will be based on the 1912 theatrical card, first shown in 1913.

Other activities taking place to mark the BBFC Centenary year include a film season at BFI Southbank; an exhibition about the history of the BBFC; and a Centenary book mapping 100 years of film classification and controversy.

David Cooke Director of the BBFC says:

'The BBFC's Centenary is a chance for us both to look forward and to celebrate our past. We are constantly striving to develop new services; provide the public with fuller, richer information; and to improve our efficiency. At the same time, we recognise our duty to explain our history, and we do a lot of this, particularly with schools and teachers. The retro Black Cards are a way of celebrating our history. I think they're pretty stylish too'.

Established as the British Board of Film Censors in 1912, the BBFC was designed by the film industry to ensure uniformity in film classification and was a reaction to the 1909 Cinematographers Act whereby all Local Authorities had the power to provide or withhold licenses for cinemas in their area.

Areas of notable interest in the Board's history include T.P. O'Connor's 1916 list of 43 grounds for deletion, intended as a guide for Examiners; the shifts in public opinion and changes in the law over the decades; and the classification of various controversial films from Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange to the 'video nasties' of the 1980s.

Today the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, private, not for profit company which classifies films, videos, DVDs and certain video games, advertisements and trailers under the Video Recordings Act (1984).


For more information contact Catherine Anderson 0207 440 3285 (out of hours: 07946 423719).

Notes to Editors

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, private, not for profit company which classifies films, videos, DVDs and certain video games, advertisements and trailers.  The BBFC operates transparent, well-understood and trusted co-regulatory and self regulatory classification regimes based on years of expertise and published Guidelines which reflect public opinion and the risk of harm; and is accountable to Parliament.

History of the BBFC

Key moments in the history of the Board include:

  • 1912 The British Board of Film Censors is established by the film industry to ensure uniformity in film classification.
  • 1932 The 'H' classification is introduced to mark out Horror themes that might be inappropriate for children.
  • 1952 Changes to the Cinematographers Act in 1952 resulted in the 'X' classification, the first age-restricted classification which prevented children under 16 seeing any 'X' rated film at the cinema.
  • 1970 The 'X' age restriction was raised to 18 and the 'U' for Universal, 'A' for Advice and 'AA' certificates were introduced, with any one under 14 prevented from seeing an 'AA' rated film.
  • 1982 The BBFC certificates were refreshed with the introduction of 'PG' , '15', '18' and 'R18' classifications. The first film to be passed PG was 'Return of the Soldier'.
  • 1984 The Video Recordings Act (VRA) was passed following the arrival of video in the UK.  The BBFC was named the designated authority for classifying videos by Parliament and was re-named the British Board of Film Classification.
  • 1989 Tim Burton's Batman was the first film to receive a '12' Classification in the UK. Children under 12 were not permitted to see a '12' film at the cinema and the category was for theatrical release only.
  • 1994 An amendment was made to the VRA in the wake of the Jamie Bulger murder case. The BBFC was asked to 'pay special regard to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers. or society.' in any given video or video game.
  • 2002 Following an extended period of consultation, the '12' certificate for cinemas is replaced with the advisory '12A'. The first film to sport the new certificate is 'The Bourne Identity'.

Rejection cases

Recent media reports have repeated the mistaken claim that the BBFC has only ever refused classification to 11 works. Over the Board's entire 99 year history, the true figure is approaching 1,000 such decisions. Many of these decisions date from the early years of the Board. In more recent years, the Board has typically refused classification to 1-2 works a year.