The Film Censor Hangs Up His Scissors

28/02/2016 20:45 GMT | Updated 26/02/2017 10:12 GMT

I'm due to retire from my position as director of the BBFC on 10 March, following almost 12 years in the post. I've been reflecting on that time and have spoken to a number of colleagues, BBFC stakeholders and media about my time at the BBFC. During one of these conversations I was asked how I felt about being known as 'Chief Censor'. The BBFC changed its name from British Board of Film Censors, to the The British Board of Film Classification in 1984, with the aim of demonstrating the shift from censorship to classification by way of a tiered age category system. I did admit though, that certain aspects of the work of the BBFC could be perceived as censorious. The BBFC still has the power to refuse a classification to a film or DVD if it is deemed to be unlawful or a harm risk. This is very rare. In my career I have in fact refused a classification to 20 works, but many more previously "banned" works have been classified for the first time during my tenure.

Some of my most memorable films from my tenure are actually not those which involved higher-end 18 level content. For example, the first Hunger Games film, which we classified 12A in 2012 and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the first Harry Potter film to be classified 12A rather than PG, in 2005, are both interesting and significant moments in the BBFC's recent history. You can hear more about these in our series of podcasts where I talk in-depth about the process we went through to reach both decisions.

A film that will stay with me that was at the higher-end of the classification spectrum is A Serbian Film, for which we asked for 49 separate cuts, amounting to around three minutes 48 seconds of content, before classifying it 18.

At the lower categories some material is still cut to achieve the classification a film distributor wants, though with modern digital technology film makers have the power to use a number of techniques to alter the impact of their works, from visual darkening, to sound reduction, or sometimes even adding in more action to make an upsetting or gory scene less detailed.

Sometimes we receive complaints from the public about a film being altered to achieve a particular category. I understand their position, but the film belongs to its maker and only they can decide if they want to alter it. A higher classification is normally available to them if they prefer not to make changes. In fact requests for a specific age rating are not always met. Of all the films submitted with a classification request in 2015, 34.5% ultimately received a different classification.

Other technological advances I've seen during my tenure of course relate to the internet. I've worked with the home entertainment industry to establish the same age ratings for the content they make available online as the DVD and Blu-ray versions available in the shops. The growth of original online content from providers such as Netflix is also an area I've seen flourish and it is reassuring that video-on-demand platforms want to give the public the same guidance for online content as they have at the cinema or when they buy a new Blu-ray or DVD. I am similarly reassured by our work to age rate music videos online and I hope to see this grow to cover a great many more studios in the UK and internationally. Our classification framework for mobile operators is yet another demonstration of how the BBFC's regular consultation exercises with the public can be put to use to ensure content the public consider to be suitable only for those over 18, is put behind filters. I think this is reassuring to parents who know that their child uses the internet in their phone yet it is very hard to monitor what kind of content they are accessing.

A common factor to all these elements of the BBFC's work is the concept of providing guidance. Introducing BBFCinsight and long BBFCinsight, is something I'm very proud to have been part of. It makes the best possible use of the reports Examiners write when they make an age classification recommendation and gives the public, parents in particular the information they need when deciding if a film will be suitable for their child or family as a whole.

Will I miss being 'Chief Censor'? I have managed to retain my love of film, going on the weekends throughout my time at the BBFC, so this I'm sure will continue. But film classification aside, one major thing I've come to conclude during my time at the BBFC is that film is a very special art form. It is all of the arts together at once - painting, music, opera, dance, yet it is none of them exactly. It is also one of the most popular art forms and people identify with it. I have been privileged to work so closely with so many films, their makers, distributors, exhibitors and of course the BBFC employees who work to classify these compelling artworks.