The Dam Busters is a classic war film from 1955 about the determined and resourceful team who developed the bouncing bomb during the Second World War. Directed by Michael Anderson, the film goes on to explore the tense mission to deploy the bombs in an air raid over Nazi territory.
The BBFC classified it U, uncut for cinema release in 1955, and U again in 1988 for VHS.
The film is an adaptation of Guy Gibson's popular book Enemy Coast Ahead, detailing a real mission from World War 2. A key plot point in the film involves the Wing Commander Gibson's pet dog, who becomes the mascot of 617 Squadron - his name becomes a call sign on the mission. The dog's name was 'N****r', in the book (and real life), a comment on the colour of the animal's fur. The film retains the dog's name, so the term is repeated several times. The dog's name is used repeatedly in more than one scene and is later in the film used as the code word (in Morse code) to confirm the successful bombing of the dam.
The BBFC upheld the U for The Dam Busters' DVD release in 2006 and cinema re-release in 2007.
The 2006/7 classification decisions were on the grounds that the racist term employed in the film occurs within a historical context. The use of the term is not 'aggravated', or made worse, by other factors such as abuse, racist violence, or any specific intention to offend. For both releases, the BBFC content advice highlighted the language, and the war violence, with more detail about the historical context available online.
Since then, the BBFC's large scale public consultation exercises in 2009 and 2013 both revealed increased public concern about discrimination, including racist language, as a classification issue. As a result, our Classification Guidelines now specifically highlight discrimination alongside other classification issues such as violence, sex, drug misuse and bad language.
The BBFC's current Guidelines state that at U 'Discriminatory language or behaviour is unlikely to be accepted unless clearly disapproved of' whereas at PG ' Discriminatory language or behaviour is unlikely to be acceptable unless clearly disapproved of, or in an educational or historical context, or in a particularly dated work with no likely appeal to children'.
From time to time distributors will resubmit films and videos for a modern BBFC classification. When this happens, the BBFC considers the film alongside changing public attitudes, research and the law, including the BBFC's own public consultations.
The Dam Busters was resubmitted in March 2018 as the distributor planned to put the film back in UK cinemas (including, on this occasion, at the Royal Albert Hall) 'for one day only' in order to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the events depicted.
BBFC Compliance Officers viewed the film and considered all the issues in line with the current Classification Guidelines. Under these Guidelines, they recommended a new classification of PG uncut as the most appropriate category for the film today. Though this raised the classification from U up to PG, it is the most appropriate category for the film.
In April 2018, the distributors sent The Dam Busters in for a new video classification, so the film now carries a PG rating on both formats, along with the BBFC content advice of 'racist terms, mild bad language'.
The PG rating does not prevent children from seeing the film, but does send a clearer warning to parents that the film contains discriminatory language of a nature that will be offensive to many. The film's content advice acknowledges that the language merely reflects the period in which the film was set, and the time in which the film was made.