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British Board of Film Classification

The British Board of Film Classification (common short form - BBFC) is the organisation responsible for film classification (see Motion picture rating systems) within the UK.

The BBFC was established in 1912 as the British Board of Film Censors. In 1984 it changed to its current name to 'reflect the fact that classification plays a far larger part in the Board's work than censorship'[1]. At that time it also took responsibility for classifying videos for hire or purchase to view in the home as well as films shown in cinemas. It is very often the case that home video and cinema versions of a film will receive the same certificate, although occasionally a film may receive a more restrictive certificate for the home video market, as it is easier for children to watch a home video than to be admitted into a cinema.

The Board is an independent, non-governmental organisation. In the case of films shown in cinemas, local authorities have the final legal say about who can watch a particular film. Almost always local authorities accept the Board's recommendation for a certificate for a film. There have been some notable exceptions. In 2002, local authorities, apparently under pressure from distributors and cinema chains, threatened to ignore the BBFC's ruling that Spiderman receive a 12 rating, and allow children younger than 12 to see the film. The issue was resolved with the replacement of the 12 rating by the new 12A which allowed under 12s to see the film, provided that they are accompanied by an adult. Spiderman was reclassified as 12A. Local authorities do not have such power for video recordings. Under the Video Recording Act 1984[?], all such recordings must be classified by an authority chosen by the Home Secretary. This classification is then legally binding. Since the introduction of the Act the BBFC has been the chosen authority. In theory this authority could be revoked, but in practice such a revocation has never been suggested.

Historically the Board has faced criticism for an over-zealous attitude in censoring film. Film classification has been, and generally still is, more restrictive than in the United States for example. However under recent Presidents James Ferman and Andreas Whittam Smith and current incumbent Sir Quentin Thomas, more relaxed guidelines have been followed. Hardcore pornography has been made widely available to an adult audience through the R18 rating. Films with this rating are however only legally available from licenced sex shops of which there about 100 in the UK. Violent or films with mixed sexual and violent themes are more likely to be acceptable at an 18 rating than ever before. Recent examples that attracted controvesy in the conservative press include the passing of Straw Dogs uncut on video and Irreversible uncut for cinema viewing.

The Board is located in Soho Square[?], Soho, London.

[1] Source : BBFC website, April 2003.

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