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This article chronicles the history of British film certificates.[1]

Overview

The UK's film ratings are decided by the British Board of Film Classification and have been since 1912.[2] Previously, there were no agreed rating standards, and local councils imposed their own – often differing – conditions or restrictions. For cinema releases, the BBFC has no legal power (technically, films do not even have to be submitted for classification), as it falls to councils to decide who should be admitted to a certain film, but they generally apply the BBFC's certificates, effectively making them legally binding. In exceptional cases, councils may impose their own conditions, either raising or lowering the minimum entry age from the certificate, banning a certified film outright, or setting their own minimum entry age for films that have never been submitted for BBFC certification, or which have been refused a certificate by the Board.

Prior to 1985, there were no legally binding ratings on video releases. The Video Recordings Act 1984 introduced new legal powers to certify video releases independently from any existing cinema certificate, with the BBFC being required to rate every new video release (except those exempted from classification) to determine the minimum age of people to whom the recording can be supplied, whether by sale or rental.[3] In August 2009 it was discovered that the Video Recordings Act 1984 never had legal effect, due to a technical error when the terms of the act were not communicated to the European Commission.[4] The relevant provisions were re-enacted by Parliament as the Video Recordings Act 2010.

The following list chronicles the BBFC's ratings system from its inception to the present.[5][6]

In each section, italics indicates when a certificate has changed since the previous system.

History

1912–1932

At first, there were just two advisory certificates.[7][8]

Symbol Name Definition/Notes
U For Universal Exhibition Persons of all ages will be admitted.
A For Public Exhibition to Adult Audiences Persons under 16 will not be admitted.

In Ireland, following the independence of the Irish Free State in 1922 (now the Republic of Ireland), the Irish Film Censor's Office was created in 1923 in place of the BBFC. This was renamed the Irish Film Classification Office in 2008.

1932–1951

An H (Horrific) certificate was added in 1932 to alert parents to horror-themed material.[7][9][8]

Symbol Name Definition/Notes
U For Universal Exhibition Persons of all ages will be admitted.
A For Public Exhibition to Adult Audiences Persons under 16 will not be admitted, unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.
H Horrific Only persons of 16 years and over will be admitted.

1951–1970

Following a recommendation by the County Councils Association to replace the BBFC, the government established a committee chaired by Professor Kenneth Wheare to examine film censorship. The committee's findings were published in 1950 and proposed creation of four new certificates (X - films aimed at adults only, from which children should be absolutely excluded; C - films aimed specifically at children; Category U - films suitable for all; Category A - films suitable for all, but dealing with mild adult subject matter). Only one of these proposals were adopted and saw for the first time, a compulsory certificate, X, introduced allowing only those aged 16 and older to enter. This replaced the H certificate.[10][11][8]

Symbol Name Definition/Notes
U For Universal Exhibition Persons of all ages will be admitted.
A For Public Exhibition to Adult Audiences Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
X For Public Exhibition when No Children under 16 are Present Only persons of 16 years and over will be admitted.

1970–1982

On 1 July 1970 the A certificate was split into two: The old 'A' (advisory) category was split to create a new advisory 'A' which permitted the admission of children of 5 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 14 not to see while the new AA allowed only those aged 14 or over to be admitted.[12] As there was now a mandatory certificate at 14, the X certificate was modified to raise its age from 16 to 18.[8]

Symbol Name Title Card Colour Definition/Notes
U For Universal Exhibition Yellow Suitable for all ages.
A More Suitable for Adolescents Green Parental guidance is suggested for children under 14.
AA

Restricted to Adolescents and Adults

Blue Not available for anyone under 14.
X Suitable Only for Adults Red Not available for anyone under 18.

1982–1985

On 1 November 1982 the ratings system was completely overhauled with only the U certificate remaining unchanged (though its description was slightly modified). The A certificate was replaced by PG, which was now completely advisory. The age of AA was raised a year and the certificate was renamed 15. The X certificate was unchanged but renamed 18 due to the lewd reputation that the letter X had acquired. A new R18 certificate was introduced for sexually explicit films. In order to show R18 films, cinemas must be licensed members-only clubs (previously, a loophole allowed these clubs to show such films unrated).[13][8] The current and new certificates introduced different shapes for each rating.

Symbol[1] Name Definition/Notes
U
U
For Universal Exhibition Suitable for all ages.
PG
PG
Parental Guidance Suggested Suitable for all ages, but some scenes may be unsuitable for children under 12.
15
15
Restricted to Older Adolescents and Adults Not available for anyone under 15.
18
18
Suitable Only for Adults Not available for anyone under 18.
R18
R18
Restricted 18 To be shown only in licensed cinemas to persons of more than 18 years.

1985–1989

The Video Recordings Act 1984 gave the BBFC the legal responsibility to rate all videos. The current certificates were all used and were also modified and coloured. A new Uc certificate was introduced for videos only to indicate a recording that is especially suitable for young children to watch on their own.[13] Those under the age of a certificate could not buy or rent a video with that certificate. Shops wishing to sell or rent R18 videos had to apply for a licence. Video releases in this period often featured unofficial logos with a plain background.[8]

Symbol Name Definition/notes
Cinema Video
N/A Uc
Uc
Universal Children Particularly suitable for children. (Home video only.)
U U
U
Universal Suitable for all.
PG PG
PG
Parental Guidance General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.
15 15
15
15 Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
18 18
18
18 Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
R18 R18
R18
Restricted 18 To be supplied only in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years.[14]

1989–2002

Due to the large gap between PG and 15 and industry pressure regarding Batman, a 12 certificate was introduced on 1 August 1989. However, it was for cinema use only and did not cover videos. From this point on video releases featured the official BBFC logos. The 12 certificate was eventually introduced for videos on 1 July 1994.[13] As the 12 certificate did not apply to video releases before July 1994, several films which had been issued a 12 classification for cinema release had to have a decision made about them regarding which rating was suitable for a video release and if a 15 certificate was deemed too high a rating for a particular film, a PG certificate was given with possible cuts to fit the rating. Films which received the 12 classification for cinema and 15 classification for video include Uncle Buck,[15] which later passed with 12 for video on re-submission, and Nuns on the Run,[16] which currently remains 15, with re-submission. All of the symbols were also graphically edited with lighter text in 1999 from the bolder text used since 1985 although many home video releases continued to use the previous symbols.

In 2002, the cinema 12 certificate was modified and renamed 12A. Those under 12 could now be admitted to 12A films, provided that they were accompanied by an adult aged at least 18 years old, although the BBFC recommends that 12A films are generally unsuitable for children under 12 years old. Contrary to popular belief, the certificate was not introduced for the film Spider-Man; the first film to receive it was actually The Bourne Identity. However, Spider-Man and other films still on general release at the time were reclassified as 12A. Introduction of the 12A followed two years of consultation and a trial period in Norwich, during which time the certificate was known as PG-12 (see below).[17] The video 12 certificate remained unchanged.[8]

Symbol Name Definition/notes
Cinema Video & DVD
N/A Uc
Uc
Universal Children Particularly suitable for children. (Home video only)
U
U
U
U
Universal Suitable for all.
PG
PG
PG
PG
Parental Guidance General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.
12A N/A 12A Generally suitable for those aged 12 and over (cinema only); those under 12 admitted, but only if accompanied by an adult
12
12
12
12
12 Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
15
15
15
15
15 Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
18
18
18
18
18 Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
R18
R18
R18
R18
Restricted 18 To be supplied only in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years.[14]

2002–2020

In September 2002, all of the symbols were graphically modernised but retained all their main features (colour, shape, etc.). The Uc certificate was retired in 2009, and replaced with BBFCInsight[definition needed][18] which states where works are 'particularly suitable for pre-school children';[5] however, older DVDs may still carry the Uc certificate.[19] The consumer advice for the U certificate was updated to advise parents to check the film in case of children under the age of 4 and PG in case of children under 8.[8]

Symbol Name Definition/Notes
Uc Universal Children Particularly suitable for children. (Home video only; ceased to be used in 2009)
U Universal Suitable for all.
PG Parental Guidance General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.
12A 12A Generally suitable for those aged 12 and over (cinema only); those under 12 admitted, but only if accompanied by an adult.
12 12 Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
15 15 Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
18 18 Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
R18 Restricted 18 To be supplied only in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years.[14]

2019–present

The 12 symbol was made the same colour as the 12A symbol, whilst the 15 symbol changed from the white background with red writing to the pink background with white writing. In October 2019, for the first time, all of the symbols were redesigned for digital streaming services and theatrical releases. However, the packaged media continued to only use the previous symbols until late April 2020, although a transition period was allowed for video releases to use either the old or new symbols until 5 October 2020, after which all packaged media must by law use the new symbols.[20] The BBFCInsight was replaced with ratings info.[21]

Symbol Name Definition/Notes
Green triangle with U in centre Universal Suitable for all.[22]
Yellow triangle with PG in centre Parental Guidance General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.[23]
Orange circle with 12A in centre 12A Generally suitable for those aged 12 and over; those under 12 admitted, but only if accompanied by an adult (cinema only).[24]
Orange circle with 12 in centre 12 Suitable for persons of 12 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)
Pink circle with 15 in centre 15 Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)[25]
Red circle with 18 in centre 18 Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over. (Not to be supplied to any person below that age)[26]
Blue rectangle with R18 in centre Restricted 18 To be supplied only in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years.[27]

Non-standard certificates and ratings

Symbol Name Definition/Notes
PG-12 PG-12 Suitable for those aged 12 and older (cinema only); under 12s admitted, but only if accompanied by an adult.

This experimental certificate was used during a short BBFC trial in Norwich from October 2001 to January 2002, in which all 12 certificate films on release were classed as PG-12. Norwich was chosen due to its relative isolation from other large towns, in order to avoid significant numbers of children travelling there to specifically take advantage of the relaxed controls. The results of the trial led to the adoption of the 12A later in 2002.[28][29]

Between the end of the Norwich trial and the actual introduction of the 12A, a PG-12 rating was used by Tameside Council in June 2002 for Spider-Man, over-ruling the BBFC's 12 certification of the film. In addition, some other councils awarded the film a PG certificate.[30]

Pink circle with 15 in centre 15A Generally suitable for those aged 15 and over (cinema only); those under 15 admitted, but only if accompanied by an adult.

Belfast City Council used this non-standard certificate for The Batman (2022). This allowed children under the age of 15 to watch the film if accompanied by an adult at a cinema in Belfast, despite the 15 classification of the BBFC.[31]

Exempt Exempt or 'E certificate' The 'E' in a square, triangle, circle, or similar, is not a BBFC rating certificate, but rather a statement from the distributor certifying that they believe a video recording is exempt from classification under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (e.g. educational material, music and sport).

See also

References

  1. ^ a b BBFC (2020-07-29). "BBFC age rating symbol history". www.bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-04-12.
  2. ^ "About the BBFC". BBFC. Retrieved 2008-01-29.
  3. ^ "Video Recordings Act 1984 (c. 39)". Retrieved 2008-01-29.
  4. ^ Petley, Julian (2009-08-26). "Video Recordings Act was a blank tape". The Guardian. London. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
  5. ^ a b "Education Resources: Student Guide – BBFC History (History of the age ratings symbols)". BBFC. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  6. ^ "BBFC Classifications". Screenonline. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Education Resources: Student Guide – BBFC History (1912–1949)". BBFC. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "History of the age ratings symbols". BBFC. Archived from the original on 24 September 2016.
  9. ^ "The H Certificate". Screenonline. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  10. ^ "SBBFC: History - 1950s". BBFC. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  11. ^ "Wheare Report, The (1950)". Screenonline. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  12. ^ "SBBFC: History - 1970s". BBFC. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  13. ^ a b c "SBBFC: History - 1980s". BBFC. Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  14. ^ a b c "R18 - British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk.
  15. ^ "Uncle Buck (1989)". BBFC. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Nuns on the Run (1990)". BBFC. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  17. ^ "SBBFC: Spider-Man Case Study". BBFC. Archived from the original on December 22, 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  18. ^ "Film Classification". prezi.com. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  19. ^ "About the BBFC: FAQ". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  20. ^ "BBFC age ratings symbols user guide".
  21. ^ "Ratings info | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  22. ^ "U | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  23. ^ "PG | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  24. ^ "12A and 12 | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  25. ^ "15 | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  26. ^ "18 | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  27. ^ "R18 | British Board of Film Classification". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  28. ^ "Film censor relaxes rules for children". BBC News. 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  29. ^ BBFC report on Norwich trial (archived page)
  30. ^ "Parents warned of Spider-Man violence". BBC News. 2002-06-13. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  31. ^ "City Council overrules new Batman film's 15 age-rating for Belfast". ITV News. 2022-03-02. Retrieved 2022-11-03.