The Naughty Pictures Committees



It's 100 years since the British Board of Film Censors was set up, yet few people know that it has always been local authorities that had - and still have - the final say over what films are shown in their areas. And from the late Forties through to the Seventies, many councils such as Manchester and London used these powers to push back the boundaries of what was considered acceptable to public 'taste and decency'. They passed many films the BBFC had banned, causing the Board to slowly relax its views on nudity and sex in particular. Other councils, like Sale in Cheshire, tried desperately to hold back the tide of X-rated films, insisting they could not be shown in their town without the express permission of the council - which was often denied.

Laurie Taylor explores this peculiarly British system of film censorship, where the local councils have the power - "people power" some say - while the national Board has most of the expertise but no legal powers and its certificates are only guidance.

He starts his journey in the "birthplace of British Cinema", the Regent Street cinema in London, now being refurbished, and along the way he looks at such classics as The Birth of A Baby, the naturist Garden of Eden, the gory Joker Is Wild, the notorious Ulysses, and more.

Finally Laurie looks at how the BBFC has, over recent decades, got much more involved with audiences and so almost eliminated the conflict with local councils that at one time threatened its very existence.

Producer: Mike Hally

A Square Dog Radio production for BBC Radio 4.