In the past, the BBFC did not have any written rules or code of practice like the Motion Picture Production Code, introduced in Hollywood by the Hays Office in 1930. Policy evolved along practical lines, whilst seeking to reflect public attitudes. Since 2000, the BBFC has operated under a series of published Guidelines, available on the BBFC's websites. These Guidelines are flexible and stress the importance of taking into consideration the context of each individual work. They are reviewed on a regular basis, which entails a period of extensive public consultation, the most recent of which took place in 2008.
Standards have evolved throughout the Board’s ninety seven year history, and current concerns and practices can be found in the sections on the classification process and classification issues.This section will focus on key moments in the evolution of current standards and the development of the category system.
It must be stressed that shifts in standards are linked to external changes - new legislation, developments in technology, the social and historical climate of the period, and the accompanying changes in social attitudes. This evolution must therefore be examined in the wider cultural and historical context. Here are some key stages in the Board’s early history.
1916 - T. P. O’CONNOR
When T. P. O’Connor was appointed President of the BBFC, one of his first tasks was to give evidence to the Cinema Commission of Inquiry, set up by the National Council of Public Morals in 1916. He summarised the Board's Policy by listing forty-three grounds for deletion laid down for the guidance of examiners. This list was drawn from the Board’s annual reports for 1913-1915. The list shows the strictness felt necessary if the Board was to earn the trust of the public and relevant bodies.
1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. 'First Night' scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to 'race suicide'
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialization of the conventional figure of Christ
THE YEARS BETWEEN THE WARS
During this period the kind of material that caused concern included horror and gangster films, as well as those that dealt with aspects of sexuality. Some councils were beginning to bar children from films classified 'A', even when they had been cut by the BBFC to achieve a certificate. For example, the London County Council (LCC) and Manchester City Council (MCC) banned children from Frankenstein (1931), although a sequence in which the monster drowns a small girl had already been cut. In response to such material, the advisory category 'H' (for horror) was agreed in 1932, to indicate the potential unsuitability for children of the horror theme.
1948 - ARTHUR WATKINS
Arthur Watkins was appointed Secretary to the Board in 1948, under the Presidency of Sir Sidney Harris. Both men had come from the Home Office, and Watkins was also a successful playwright. Many film-makers sought the Board's advice on scripts before films went into production. Watkins and Harris formulated new terms of reference for the Board based on three principles:
• was the story, incident or dialogue likely to impair the moral standards of the public by extenuating vice or crime or depreciating moral standards?
• Was it likely to give offence to reasonably minded cinema audiences?
• What effect would it have on children?
The effect on children was of major importance since, apart from the advisory 'H' category, from which some councils already chose to bar children, there was no category that excluded children. An 'adults only' category was increasingly seen as desirable, not only to protect children, but as an extension of the freedom of film-makers to treat adult subjects in an adult fashion.