How is the BBFC different?

When the BBFC was first set up, the guidelines which they orignally followed were more strict. However, as the understanding of the target audience has vastly improved, the BBFC have been able to adapt these guidelines, and have become more lenient, based on society and people's views developing and changing.
The classifications of films are now more understandable, and the public have a better idea of what to expect from films based on the rating they've been given.
Websites have been set up in order to provide extra and more detailed information for people with concerns. There is now a parents, students and children's website.


New Guidelines 2000
  • In 1999, the Board embarked on an extensive consultation process to gauge public opinion before the compilation of new Classification Guidelines.
  • The process involved a series of public presentations across the UK, two Citizens' Juries, surveys and questionnaires.
  • The film and video industry and other interested groups also contributed their views.
  • The major outcomes were that the depiction of drugs and drugs use was the cause of greatest concern to parents, as was the issue of violence in the lower classification categories.
  • Use of bad language on screen provoked a range of responses, reflecting varying tolerances in the general public. Portrayal of sexual activity, however caused less concern than previously.

  • In 1999 the BBFC had received three European films that challenged the Board's standards on sex.  These were The IdiotsRomance and Seul Contre Tous.  All three films contained scenes of unsimultated sex that would not normally have been be acceptable at '18'.  In the case of Seul Contre Tous it was decided that the images in question were too explicit - and of too great a duration - to be acceptable at '18' and the images were removed.  
  • However, in the cases of Romance and The Idiots, it was decided that the comparative brevity of the images, combined with the serious intentions of the films, meant that both films could be passed without cuts.   
  • A whole generation of European film makers seemed determined to push the boundaries of what was sexually acceptable on the screen.


The DCMS and Ofcom
  • In June 2001, governmental responsibility for film and video classification moved from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). 
  • Ofcom is the new regulator for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services. The regulation of films, videos and DVDs does not fall under Ofcom's remit and remains the responsibility of the BBFC.
  • The BBFC is still the only regulator which regulates material before it is seen by the public .

The '12A' rating

  • In 2002, the new '12A' category replaced the '12' category for film only, and allows children under 12 to see a '12A' film, provided that they are accompanied throughout by an adult.
  • The Board considers '12A' films to be suitable for audiences OVER the age of 12, but acknowledges that parents know best whether their children younger than 12 can cope with a particular film. 
  • The first '12A' film was The Bourne Identity. For more information about the '12A' rating see the Spider-Man case study.

Consumer Advice

  • A single line of information about the film's content indicates what viewers can expect to encounter in the film and therefore why it was given its rating.  This is particularly helpful for parents deciding what films are suitable for their children, and in particular whether to take children younger than 12 to a '12A' film. 
New Guidelines 2005

  • On 9 February 2005, the BBFC published a new set of Guidelines based on an even more extensive research programme than the one which resulted in the 2000 Guidelines. 

Educational Websites
  • Educational website created by the BBFC with the aim of helping primary school children better understand Film and DVD classification, this website,
  • (Students' BBFC) was launched in June 2005. .

Important 2006 Decisions

  • In 2006, landmark ‘18’ certificates were awarded to two high-profile films containing explicit images of real sex, e.g. Destricted, Shortbus. The Observer’s Philip French stated that ‘The award of 18 certificates by the BBFC to Shortbus and Destricted has brought close the abolition of censorship, but not of classification.’
  • The latest film in the 007 franchise, Casino Royale, received critical and commercial success and a ‘12A’ certificate from the BBFC. The film was seen on advice and the distributor was asked to reduce the impact of a torture scene in order to obtain the requested ‘12A’ certificate.

Moving on in 2007

  • 2007 saw the introduction of Parents’ BBFC, a website designed to help parents and guardians make what they consider to be sensible choices for their children’s viewing.
New Guidelines 2009

  • On 23 June 2009, the BBFC published its most recent set of Guidelines based on another detailed public consultation exercise conducted in 2008-2009.  Over 8,700 people contributed their views on the BBFC's Guidelines, in the form of lengthy questionnaires and focus groups.  


Despite the statutory regulation of video since 1984, public concern about the influence of videos has continued and there have been periodic calls for stricter standards, most notably following the Jamie Bulger case. The trial judge linked this murder of a two year-old by two ten year-old boys to the viewing of violent videos, with the media singling out the horror video Child's Play 3 (1991). 

Parliament supported an amendment to the Video Recordings Act, contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which requires the Board to consider specific issues, and the potential for harm, when making video classification decisions. 

The Board has always been stricter on video than on film. This is partly because younger people are more likely to gain access to videos with restrictive categories than such films at the cinema (where admissions can be screened).  But it is also because, on video, scenes can be taken out of context, and particular moments can be replayed.
In 1995 further controversy erupted about Larry Clark's film Kids, which some critics described as 'child pornography'.  The BBFC considered the film very carefully and, after seeking proof of age for all the actors concerned (all the main performers were in fact over 18), minor cuts were made to two scenes featuring younger performers in situtations that might be considered 'indecent' under the Protection of Children Act.  Not long after the release of Kids in 1996, there were calls for the banning of David Cronenberg's film, Crash. Once again, the BBFC considered the film very carefully - including screening the film for lawyers and for a group of disabled people - but found that there was no case to answer.  The film was passed '18' uncut.


'Video nasties'

  • Development of the video recorder created new anxieties about the home viewing of feature films. Legally, there was no requirement that videos should be classified, which meant that films that had not been approved by the BBFC or which were suitable for adults only, were falling into the hands of children. 
  • Led a campaign against so called 'video nasties'. 
  • 70 titles that had either been prosecuted by the DPP under the Obscene Publications Act, or were awaiting prosecution. Some of these were horror films that had never been submitted to the BBFC. Others had been cut for their cinema release, and the video versions sometimes included restored cuts.
  • The Video Recordings Act 1984, makes it an offence for a video work to be supplied if it has not been classified, or to supply a classified work to a person under the age specified in the certificate. 

1982 - Review of the category system

In 1982 'A' was changed to 'PG', 'AA' was changed to '15' and 'X' became '18'. A new category 'R18' was introduced which permitted more explicit sex films to be shown in members-only  clubs.  Previously, such clubs had shown material unclassified by the BBFC, but a change in the law closed this loophole.  Since the mid 1980s most 'R18' material is released on video, only available from a limited number of sex shops which must be specially licensed by local authorities.

Further changes to the category system in the 80s

In 1985, at the request of the industry, the 'Uc' was introduced for video only, to identify works specifically suitable for very young children to watch alone.

In 1989 the BBFC introduced the '12' certificate on film, to bridge the huge gap between 'PG' and '15'. This was extended to video in 1994. The first film to be given a '12' rating was Batman.



Teenagers had specific concerns of their own which ought to be reflected in the category system. 
The introduction of the 'AA' was finally approved.
The principal changes to the category system were the raising of the minimum age for 'X' certificate films from 16 to 18.  
The old 'A' (advisory) category was split to create a new advisory 'A' which permitted the admission of children of five years or over whether accompanied or not, but which warned parents that a film in this category would contain some material that parents might prefer their children under fourteen not to see, and a new 'AA' certificate which allowed the admission of those over 14, but not under 14, whether accompanied or not.

The idea was that this would protect adolescents from material of a specifically adult nature and would permit more adult films to be passed uncut for an older, more mature audience.  It recognised the earlier maturity of many teenagers by giving them access to certain films at the age of 14, without being accompanied by an adult.  It also indicated to parents the difference between films wholly suitable for children of all ages, which would continue to be classified 'U', and those which, while not generally unsuitable, might contain some material which some parents might prefer their children not to see.

Release of a number of provocative films, in particular those that linked sex and violence.
E.g. Straw Dogs (1971)and A Clockwork Orange (1971), both of which contained controversial rape scenes. 
Number of controversies The Devils(1971), which was accused of blasphemy, Last Tango in Paris (1972), which was accused of being 'obscene' and The Exorcist (1973), which was accused of having a psychologically damaging effect on young people. 
In the case of each of these films, the decision of the BBFC to award an 'X' was overturned by a number of local authorities. 

Prior to 1977 the Obscene Publications Act did not apply to cinema films and films were judged on the basis of whether any individual scene might be considered 'indecent', regardless of context. Notably, this led to the seizure of Pasolini's Salo from a Soho cinema club in 1976 on the grounds that it was 'indecent' (the BBFC itself had refused to classify the film on exactly these grounds).  However, the extension of the OPA to films in 1977 gave the BBFC more latitude when considering depictions of sex in films since they now had to be considered 'as a whole'.  Therefore, the BBFC was able to waive, in 1978, a cut for sexual explicitness made in 1973 to Last Tango in Paris.  On the other hand, the OPA required that the Board consider whether a scene might deprave and corrupt its likely audience. 


  • Challenges to the Obscene Publications Act (1959).
  • John Trevelyan, as Secretary to the Board, responded to the new spirit of liberalism by stating: "The British Board of Film Censors cannot assume responsibility for the guardianship of public morality. It cannot refuse for exhibition to adults films that show behaviour that contravenes the accepted moral code, and it does not demand that ‘the wicked’ should also be punished. It cannot legitimately refuse to pass films which criticize ‘the Establishment’ and films which express minority opinions".
  • New submission of  'kitchen sink' dramas from the British New Wave directors - Karel Reisz's Saturday Night And Sunday Morning in 1960, Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962, both passed 'X', the latter with cuts.
  • Saturday Night... had been submitted to the Board at script stage. Concerns were expressed about the language, violence and the theme of abortion, and the script was modified to meet these concerns This might have been the 'swinging Sixties', but in spite of the film's BBFC uncut release at 'X', Warwickshire Council deemed it too strong and demanded that cuts be made for a local certificate. The film was passed 'PG' on video in 1990.
  • As public tolerance increased in the sweeping social change of the sixties, films became more explicit, but in practice the Board still requested cuts, usually to verbal and visual 'indecency'. 
  • Violence in Walter Grauman's Lady In A Cage proved too strong for the Board in 1964 and the film was rejected on the grounds that it could 'invite and stimulate juvenile violence and anti-social behaviour by young people'.
  • It was for years the Board's stance that the film presented LSD use as normal and legitimate, rather than as a dangerous and criminal, practice. It was finally passed '18' on video in 2002 under Guidelines that allowed for a balanced and realistic depiction of class A drugs use at the adult category,


  • End of rationing.
  • Emergence of 'youth' as a group with a defined identity and as a target for consumer goods.
  • New 'X' category, introduced in 1951.
  • Incorporated the former advisory 'H' category given to horror films. 
  • As the growth of television ownership eroded the adult/family cinema audience, films like Rock Around The Clock (1956) drew teenage audiences. 
  • Cut for U, this film caused rioting in cinemas and fueled increasing concern about teenage criminality, although there was in fact no evidence of a teenage crime wave as suggested by the popular Press.
  • New 'X' category, which excluded children under 16.
  • Concerns about 'juvenile delinquents' - delayed classification of The Wild One (1954) for 13 years due to unbridled hooliganism. 
  • Rebel Without a Clause (1955) caused problems due to content including anti-social behaviour and teen violence. Film finally got an 'X' rating due to substantial cuts. 
  • The Blackboard Jungle (1955) - first reaction was to reject it. "if shown in this country, provoke the strongest criticism from parents...and would have the most damaging and harmful effect on...young people" - BBFC's secretary: Arthur Watkins. Cuts were made. Given an 'X' rating finally. 
  • The Garden of Eden (1955) - film about a mother and daughter who become nudists. BBFC had a long-standing policy against screen nudity, due to the fact that it encouraged nudity on screen, it would be inviting sexual exploitation. Large number of local authorities overturned the BBFC's decision. Resulted in the film being given an 'A' rating in 1958. 
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) - story about a recovering drug addict who has a relapse. Home Office had no objection to the issue of the subject, which was dealing with addiction as long as drug-taking was not glamorized and that the profits from dealing were not emphasized. Was given an 'X' rating in 1956 with cuts to details of drug-preparation. Code was amended in 1956 to allow for the treatment of narcotics as a theme. Film later classified as a '15'.