“Ban it. Cut it. Classify it.” That was the stance the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) took when rating movies in the middle of the last century, according to Professor Christopher Frayling. Frayling is just one of the subjects interviewed in Matt Pelly’s BBC Four documentary, “Dear Censor,” originally released in 2011 as part of the doc series “Timeshift.” The hour long film takes a look at regulations and alterations the BBFC imposed upon films distributed to for UK audiences, and how such censorship led filmmakers to buck the system in sometimes surprisingly profitable ways.
Overseen by Arthur Watkins, Chief Censor from 1948-1956, the BBFC took an incredibly harsh stance against films now considered iconic, including “Rebel Without A Cause.” While the studio fought for an A rating on that release, which would have dubbed the film suitable for adults, the Board felt James Dean would have been seen more straight-laced had his father been depicted as more masculine. Such a demeaning portrayal was deemed detrimental to adolescent audiences, and the film was hit with an X rating, which banned audiences under 16 years of age.
Later, the board would also take issue with “The Wild One” and “A Clockwork Orange,” as well as countless other films currently considered classics. Yet not all films suppressed by the BBFC have withstood the test of time. Writer/director Michael Winner’s 1962 “Some Like It Cool” was a filmmaker’s response to the BBFC regulations. Made for £9,000, the film centered on a nudist couple and rapidly took in over £200,000 at the box office.
The Board was not happy, especially as other filmmakers became even more brazen, infusing their films with full frontal, male and female nudity. Ken Russell’s 1969 “Women in Love” featured homoerotic male nudity, and of course the BBFC flipped.
“Dear Censor” is a fascinating look at the relationship and communication between the British ratings board and filmmakers and producers, who defended their products as legitimate art (sometimes genuinely, sometimes primarily while seeing dollar —or pound— signs). Watch the entire illuminating documentary below. [The Seventh Art]