The BBFC Returns To A World Of Secrecy

The British censorship board’s website has gone from being a valuable resource to an empty vanity project that covers up their history.

The one positive that we could ascribe to Britain’s notorious film and video censorship body – at least for the last twenty years – has been an impressive openness about their history. It’s often been a revisionist openness that would find excuse after excuse for weird and contradictory decisions, most notably their catch-all excuse of films dating and so no longer being dangerous when once-banned titles are passed, even when the time between the banning and the passing uncut has been six years… but at least we could look at the history of a film at the Board via their website. Details of cuts might be vague, but at least we can see that they were made (and through a process of elimination via varying running times, make an estimate of just how extensive they were). We could look up just how many films had been rejected – which means banned in case you had any doubts, even if the last BBFC website redesign made that a lot harder to do. The history of the Board was there to be examined by anyone who wanted to do so.

Well, that’s now over. The new redesign of the BBFC website seemingly sets out to make it as simplistic and juvenile as their new rating designs, and any attempt to research films is now severely hampered. For instance, you can no longer use an ‘advanced search’ to look for films by director, year, or see everything passed with a certain rating over a certain time period. You can’t search for alternative titles. Cuts are no longer revealed upfront – different running times for different versions are still listed, but we have dig into each individual file to see if this is down to alternative versions, distributor edits or censor cuts.

And banned films are no longer listed at all. To test this out, we looked up The Last House on the Left, a film that the BBFC banned several times between the mid-1970s and 2002, both theatrically and on video. If you were to believe the BBFC website now, the film was never submitted for theatrical release and has always been passed 18 on video since 2002. To say that this is misleading is a considerable understatement. Worse still, looking up the recently banned Love Camp 7 brings up no results at all – it is as if the film doesn’t even exist.

The BBFC search does now also bring up case studies, which are examinations of the history of a film at the BBFC. But there are a mere handful of case studies, mostly for well-known titles. More obscure films have now effectively had their histories wiped from the public record. The entire site now feels as though the Board forgot to tell their web designers that they only needed to redo the children’s BBFC site, and instead ended up with something that is now useless to researchers. A valuable industry resource has beenbutchered in one fell swoop and the slogan ‘view what’s right for you’ must feel very bitter to anyone looking for worthwhile information on this blandly glossy and empty site. But hey, it has a lot more pictures now, so that’s OK.

While the BBFC are a private organisation, they are also the state-mandated censor for home entertainment, and so they have a duty to be as transparent and open as possible. This website redesign is an unwelcome step back into secrecy and misinformation, and should be reconsidered immediately.

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  1. I’m sure they’ll justify it by saying only a small amount of (obsessive) people used the advanced search tool, and that most people who access the site only do so to find out how much ‘mild peril’ is in the latest Scooby Doo movie.
    That’s possibly a bit unfair but, as you say, the site used to be a good resource for research. Instead, if you now want to access their archive files you have to contact them giving them a reason why (I wonder if simple curiosity would be enough).
    In this fabulous digital era, is it really so difficult to upload the archive, much like many newspapers do, or are they worried about giving people the opportunity to see how odd their working practices have been and scrutinize their decisions?
    Also, am I right in thinking that the examiners have now been rebranded as Compliance Officers? Hmm….
    I wondered at first if this site redesign was yet another example of infantilizing culture (because although the site acknowledges the R18 certificate, it doesn’t display it on its masthead, almost as if they wish it didn’t exist). But I don’t know, it’s beginning to feel like a purge.

    1. It does seem as though the entire site is now designed to be as family friendly and bland as possible. As if they got the kids version and the regular one confused.

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