Strictly Censorship: The BBFC Gets A New President

Newsreader and Strictly Come Dancing winner Natasha Kaplinsky is now in charge of the organisation that decides which films you are allowed to see.

The British Board of Film Censorship Classification has a new President, in the form of former newsreader and dance show contestant Natasha Kaplinsky. She replaces Patrick Swaffer, who has held the role since 2012 and who you have probably never heard of – the ideal anonymous quality required of a BBFC President (who is not in charge of day-to-day classification), you might think. Quite what her qualifications for the role are remain something of a mystery – we are told in the BBFC press release that she “is passionate about issues affecting children’s rights and welfare” but what is not given is any indication of her love of – or even interest in – movies or understanding of what the more outré levels of modern cinema are like – a vital requirement for someone who might have to sit in final judgement on problematic films you might think.

We might recall that when Andreas Whittam Smith first became President of the Board in the 1990s, he was so out of touch with current mores that – in a state of shock – he slapped an R18 on Pregnant and Milking 5, putting the exposure of bare breasts and lactation into the ‘hardcore porn’ category (actually, the R18 was yet to feature hardcore imagery at that point, but was still restricted to sale in licensed sex shops only) and banned Deadbeat at Dawn because he had never seen that level of violence before. In the end, Whittam Smith oversaw a period of considerable liberalisation at the Board – I would be surprised if we find ourselves saying the same about Kaplinsky in years to come, but you never know.

Outside of news reading, Kaplinsky is best known as a Strictly Come Dancing contestant and the first to be involved in some scandal when rumours of an affair with her dance partner Brendan Cole spread – both still deny the claims, though Cole soon split with his then-fiancée. Such is the nature of gossip. Kaplinsky also already has several titular roles with this or that charity – but the BBFC role is a little different, given that she can actually overrule or make a final decision over difficult and controversial cases. It is, after all, her signature that will be on the BBFC black rating card.

We might think that the BBFC is increasingly an irrelevant body, but the Board has been consolidating its role as the go-to censor – the defunct Age Verification laws for porn sites designated the BBFC as the organisation that would enforce the rules, a move that would’ve massively expanded its legal remit – and still might as those rules are encompassed in the Online Safety Bill. Kaplinsky has been quoted as saying “it’s crucial that children’s welfare is at the forefront of policy decision-making and this is central to the BBFC’s efforts in the Online Safety space. The challenges that young people face now in the UK are greater than ever before – and I am committed to giving voice to their needs”, but there is no comment about any commitment to the idea that adults should be free to make their own choices. Given that BBFC Chief Executive – that’s the former James Ferman role, re-badged for the modern era – commented “we are so pleased that Natasha has been appointed as our next president. She brings a wealth of expertise and a profound understanding of our core audience of parents, carers and families”, perhaps adult viewers who are outside that grouping don’t count any more (that would certainly explain the dismal state of the BBFC website these days).

Ideally, Kaplinsky will be little more than a figurehead – a headline-grabbing celebrity name to make the BBFC seem relevant and important who will not be able to make any significant changes. We shall see. But the BBFC is, surely, an organisation long overdue being put out to grass along with the theatre and book censors of old. Her most notable contribution to the position of President would be as the last one the Board has.


Photo: Ian Derry/Courtesy BBFC

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One comment

  1. My mate Mad John said he was pretty sure she was spotted regularly at the Scala back in the day, cramming as much sleazy filth and weirdo kinema as she could handle before passing out.
    Don’t worry, everything is going to be just fine.

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