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UK CENSORSHIP - QUASHING THOSE RUMOURS TO WHAT WAS AND WASN'T BANNED

Image copyright: Warner Bros.

FEATURED ARTICLE

Censorship in the United Kingdom has always taken the limelight when its come to blockbuster films and television programming. With OFCOM now given the power to oversee streaming services in the UK, we take a look at those rumours about banned films and badly censored television programmes. 

In 1984, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and the UK Government, decided to call time on home videos being allowed to hit the shelves without passing through the censor boards for classification. Horror film-makers took advantage of this loophole and released movies that were, at the time, seen as grotesque, violent movies that were available in video stores and could be actually be rented by children without question.

However, it wasn't just videos that were hit by the censors. Cinema was tightly run in the UK, with councils overturning the censors and banning films in their towns.

So what did go under the guillotine of the censors and what was just rumour? Lets take a look...

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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Banned: CINEMA - NO | VIDEO - NO

Stanley Kubrick's classic sci-fi hadn't been available in the UK since 1973, right up until the directors death in 1999. It wasn't until 2000, when the film was resubmitted by Warner Brothers to the UK censors, when it received a '18' rating and was re-released on cinemas and later, for the first time on home video.

The BBFC actually passed the film uncut and gave it a 'X' rating in 1971. It was Stanley Kubrick himself, who stopped the film from being seen in the UK, after withdrawing it in 1973, as a result of UK tabloids blaming the film for copycat crimes. This was strongly denied by Kubrick, but to this day, the true reason for its removal from the UK market was never revealed.

TRIVIA:
The original cut produced by Kubrick was almost four hours. He brought in a team of assistant editors who edited the film down to its current runtime. Kubrick then requested that the cut film stock was destroyed, meaning we will never see the full uncut film.

Image copyright: Warner Bros.

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Image copyright: Sony Pictures

STRAW DOGS (1971)

Banned: CINEMA - NO | VIDEO - YES

Sam Peckinpah's controversial movie starring Dustin Hoffman, was subject to heavy censorship on its cinema release in many countries including Ireland, but oddly not the UK. The film was presented to the BBFC before completion and suggested cuts were put forward to the film-makers who took on-board the advice and made the changes. The film was released uncut in the UK with an 'X' rating. Many councils in the UK weren't happy with the BBFC decision and banned the film from being shown in their towns. 
 

The film later enjoyed home video success before it was banned in 1984, when changes to the UK video market came into force. The film's video release was refused because of the rape scenes and its violence. These were now deemed unsuitable when the BBFC tightened its rules on home video releases.

The movie was re-released on cinemas on a limited license before it was finally released in 2002, on home video uncut after a previous attempt in 1999 by Anchor Bay failed, after they refused to cut the film.

THE EXORCIST (1973)

Banned: CINEMA - NO | VIDEO - YES

Oscar winning classic was actually not banned by the BBFC when it was first released in the UK. William Friedkin's Horror did upset the religious types and local councils who overturned the BBFC decision and banned the film, resulting in 'Exorcist Bus Trips' to town and cities that continued to show the film. 

With the typical press hysteria surrounding the film. The film was released on video uncut in the UK, carrying its original 'X' rating. It continued to be freely available until 1988, it came to the top of the BBFC queue for an official video rating after the 'Video Nasty' controversy introduced the Video Recordings Act in 1984. The BBFC were now undecided to whether or not the movie was actually suitable for home release, as persons under the age of 18, could still gain access to the film. After a lengthy debate, the BBFC decided it couldn't grant the film a home video rating and it was banned. However, the film was granted an '18' rating for cinema release. It did enjoy several runs at cinemas, but it wasn't until 1998, when Warner Brothers resubmitted the film for video and now DVD release to celebrate its 25th Anniversary, after successful cinema release. The BBFC finally granted it an '18' rating for home release uncut.

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Image copyright: Warner Bros.

THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

Banned: CINEMA - NO | VIDEO - YES

Sam Raimi's classic had its fair share of controversy on its release in the UK. The film was submitted to the BBFC in the summer of '82. Its review actually divided the opinion of the censors with one half saying it was over-the-top and won't be taken seriously, while the other half founding it 'nauseating'. The BBFC's Director at the time compromised with cuts being made to the most excessive and brutal moments of the film. To obtain an 'X' rating, 49 seconds of cuts were required. The requested edits were made and the film was released in cinemas across the UK.

When it came to its video release, the film unfortunately was released during the 'Video Nasty' saga, which by now was in full flow. Although it was given a cinema release, trying to secure a video re-release with a new rating was proving very difficult. It didn't take long for the film to be added to the 'Video Nasty' list and copies of the film that was already available on video, were seized and video shop owners prosecuted. Even the distributors were taken to court in the UK, who defended the film and won, resulting in 'The Evil Dead' being removed from the 'Video Nasty' list. 

Despite the win, the film still wasn't allowed a video release. It wasn't until 1990, when the film was again submitted to the BBFC for a video release. After serious consideration and advice from their legal team, it was decided that film was to be censored further, despite its previous cuts in 1982, totaling one minute and 55 seconds. The BBFC legal team agreed to the edited version of the film and it was finally released on home video with an '18' rating.

Ten years later, the film was submitted again, uncut to the BBFC. By this time attitudes towards film and a change in the BBFC regulations, therefore the UK censors agreed that 'The Evil Dead' could be released uncut in 2000, with it previous '18' rating, followed by its DVD release in 2001.

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Image copyright: Sony Pictures

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

Banned: CINEMA - YES | VIDEO - YES

The master of horror, Wes Craven directed this very controversial film that gave both the BBFC and the film's maker a headache. It was the first film Craven had directed, which would take him to dizzying heights of the horror genre in Hollywood. 

When this film was submitted to the BBFC in 1974, the distributors were fully aware of the UK censor's strictness with films like this one. So, they wrote a letter explaining why the film should be considered and also stated cuts to the film had already been made in anticipation of UK release. Unfortunately, the BBFC wrote back pretty much slating the film for its content and refusing it a rating. 

After several attempts including a submission to the Greater London Council, who sided with the BBFC and upheld the ban. The film wasn't allowed to be shown in its current form. That was until its video release in 1982, taking advantage of the loophole which allowed films to be released without certification. Like many films before this, when the Video Recordings Act came into play, copies of the film, along with The Evil Dead were seized, removed from the video shop shelves and added to the 'Video Nasty' list.

In 1988, the film was shown uncertified at The National Film Theatre as part of a retrospective of films by Wes Craven. No legal action was taken for the screening and the BBFC Director James Ferman was invited to the screening, who still made it clear the film wasn't acceptable for an official UK release.

In 1999, after the release of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'The Exorcist'. The Last House was submitted to the BBFC by another distributor, now hoping for a UK release. As changes were made in film classification, the BBFC took a different view on the film, especially as Wes Craven was a well-established film director. After careful consideration, the BBFC asked for 90 seconds of the film to be cut to be granted an '18' rating. This time, the distributor was the one to refuse the rating, after stating the cuts would have a serious impact on its commercial value. Therefore, they withdrew the submission and the film continued to be unavailable in the UK. 

It wasn't until nine years later, the film was once again submitted to the BBFC for an uncut Blu-ray/DVD three disc release. By this time, the BBFC had already passed several films that had worse violence and graphic content such as 'Hostel' and 'Wolf Creek'. Finally, The Last House was granted an '18' rating uncut and was made available in the UK. 

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Image copyright: The Night Co./Arrow Films

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

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Image copyright: Vortex/Second Sight Films

Banned: CINEMA - NO | VIDEO - NO

Tobe Hooper's successful horror fell foul of the BBFC when it was informally screened by BBFC's Secretary Stephen Murphy in 1975. He actually enjoyed the film, but felt the focus on 'abnormal psychology' would be unsuitable for an official rating. This was agreed a month later when the BBFC refused the film an 'X' rating partly on the basis that local councils would refuse to show the film. In addition to the film's context, it would also prove difficult to suggest cuts to the film.

However, hope was not lost as a copy of the film, which included 28 seconds of cuts was submitted to the Greater London Council, who overturned the BBFC decision, giving it an 'X' rating to be shown in cinemas across London. Other local councils also rated the film an 'X' and released it in their towns, while some other councils upheld the BBFC ban. 

In the summer of '75, the film was resubmitted to the BBFC, who now had a new Director - James Ferman. He stated the film was 'the pornography of terror' and upheld the ban, despite it having a limited release across the UK.

When the video market boomed, it was in 1981 when the film found its way onto video stores shelves, again, taking advantage of the current loophole where videos didn't need a rating to be released. In 1985, the film was submitted for a rating seeking a legitimate release. Again, the BBFC couldn't agree on cuts that would deem the film suitable for release. They even considered rating it 'R18', but in doing so would restrict the video to licensed sex shops, where the film didn't belong. The film fell between the gaps and was shelved following the introduction of the Video Recordings Act in 1984.

In 1998, the film was submitted to Camden Council, London. It was granted an '18' rating resulting in a successful run at cinemas in Camden and the London Film Festival in 1999.

Yet again, on the back of this success, it was resubmitted to the BBFC, who this time took a different view on the film and finally awarded it an '18' rating uncut.

Article source: BBFC/IMDB

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