Stepping back in time - Celebrating 100 years of the BBFC | British Board of Film Classification
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Stepping back in time - Celebrating 100 years of the BBFC

Date 02/01/2012

This year BBFC is 100 years old. To mark the centenary we are bringing back several of our historical black cards.

The theatrical black cards are the cards that filmgoers have always seen on the cinema screen before the film starts. They include the classification symbol, the film title and the signatures of the BBFC’s incumbent Director and President.

Cinema-goers across the UK this year will see updated versions of the vintage Black Cards at the start of all new films. 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 shown in cinemas in 2012 will be based on the 1912 theatrical card, first seen in front of a film before the First World War in 1913.

Other activities taking place to mark the BBFC Centenary year include a film season at the BFI; two exhibitions about the history of the BBFC; a Centenary book mapping 100 years of film classification and controversy and several education events such as video conferences, screenings, master-classes and competitions.

David Cooke, Director of the BBFC, said the centenary is a chance for the board ‘to look forward and to celebrate our past’.

He added: ‘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’.

The BBFC was originally named the British Board of Film Censors when it opened in 1912. For more information about the legal background, and the reasons the film industry wanted a uniform classification system see our students guide.

straw dogsAreas 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.


Key moments in the history of the BBFC so far 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 fhorror cardor children
  • 1952 Changes to the Cinematographers Act in 1952 result in the X classification, the first age-restricted classification which prevented children under 16 seeing films in the cinema
  • 1970 The X age restriction is raised to 18 and the U for Universal, A for Advice and AA certificates are introduced. Anyone under 14 is not allowed to see an AA rated film
  • 1982 PG, 15 and 18 certificates are introduced. The first PG is Return of the Soldier
  • 1984 The Video Recordings Act (VRA) is passed.  The BBFC is named the designated authority for classifying videos by Parliament. In the same year it is re-named the British Board of Film Classification.
  • 1989 Tim Burton’s Batman is the first 12. Children under 12 are not permitted to see a 12 film, and there is no 12 on video
  • 1994 An amendment is 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

Find out more in our  timelines section.

Also as part of our centenary celebration, we’re taking a look at significant items of BBFC history from the last 100 years.  Something different will be shared each month, so click here to discover the latest!

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