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by dr andrew cousins

Roger Bland @ the BBFC

Ever since it was created the British Board of Film Classification has been highly controversial. In the past it has imposed some quite serious changes on certain films and banned others outright. The debate about censorship has been raging for quite some time and the BBFC is currently in the middle of radical reforms. I went to talk to it’s recently appointed Chief Executive, Roger Bland.
Roger, take us through a typical day at the BBFC.
Normally we start viewing at 9.30am. We usually like to kick off with something light, a children’s film or something similar. Yesterday it was The Tweenies. Do you have a favourite? We like Milo best in the office. Then after the children’s film we watch some pornography. A lot of people think that all we do here is watch tons of porn. By and large, they’re right. But of course we don’t do it because we enjoy it. We do it to protect the public from something that might corrupt them. Plus we have to write extensive reports about everything we watch. The novelty of being paid to watch films soon wears off, I can assure you. Then after the porn we’ll watch something more mainstream. For example the DVD release of Kramer verses Kramer. That was a real three-hankie job I can tell you! Then we watch some more pornography — which was also a three-hankie job, albeit for a completely different reason.
Then at 2.30 we all meet to discuss last nights television, which member of Hear’say is our favourite and so on. Oh and we also discuss our reports too. Our favourite member of Hear’say is Kym, by the way.

Er, right. You mentioned the concept of films ‘corrupting’ people. I suppose that is the most controversial aspect of your work isn’t it? Because a lot of people would argue that there is no actual scientific evidence that films are capable of corrupting anyone.
A lot of people would argue the merits of Tinky-Winky over La-La but those people would rightly be dismissed as cranks.

With respect, that isn’t answering the question.
We commissioned an extensive study of the effects of film violence on audiences. For example, we took a representative sample of the British public. We monitored their brainwave patterns, heart rate, blood pressure and so on, as they watched Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

And what did those tests show you?
That most people couldn’t understand how Oliver Stone had managed to get any more work. Have you seen it? It’s not very good is it?

No, I mean what did they show you about films corrupting audiences?
The results were inconclusive. However there was a parallel study going on at the same time which came to some extremely interesting conclusions.

What study was that?
We undertook a psychological analysis of members of the BBFC viewing panel. After all we see many more films a year then most people see in a lifetime. We discovered that repeated exposure to extreme violence and bad language were having serious effects on us. People were starting to bollocking bloody swear without even shitting well being aware of it. We were becoming de-sensitised to it. In fact we were so concerned by our findings that we had to radically change our viewing procedures.

Change them in what way?
When we make our reports we have to note down bad language or concerns about nudity etc. We now use a system of codes to refer to different swear words, parts of the body and so on. We’ve replaced them with harmless words instead. We know what they mean but it minimises our exposure to anything that might be psychologically damaging. I have an example report here. I won’t name the film in question but the report states;
Bad language: Repeated use of the words, ‘hatstand’, ‘floppy’, ‘widdecombe’ and ‘flange’. Some mild use of the word, ‘belgium’.
Sex/Nudity: Close up shots of ‘flange’, ‘pelmet’ ‘dado rail’ and ‘wigwam’. Extremely explicit shots of ‘hesiltine’. ‘paxman’ clearly visible in a lot of cases.
Violence: Some use of ‘pogostick’, ‘cushion’ and ‘garage’. Some ‘fieldmouse’. Recommend cuts for ‘badfinger’.
Drug abuse: Graphic depictions of ‘osbourne’, ‘hawkwind’ and ‘quo’. Some use of ‘steps’ may also cause concern.
As you can see there’s no way anybody could be corrupted by that.

You’ve talked about violence and swearing corrupting audiences but what about sex?
Well it’s a tremendously kind offer. Wouldn’t you prefer to finish the interview first?

No, what I mean is are you suggesting that seeing graphic depictions of sex on screen also corrupts people?
Well we’ve looked at this question a lot recently. We’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is probably no. However we can’t just go and allow hardcore pornography loose on the high street. After all it may fall into the hands of children. That’s why we have instituted our new certificate, ‘Restricted 18’.

What difference does that make?
Restricted 18 allows more explict films to be sold in licenced sex shops. They must also be transported from the shop to the home under armed police escort and stored in a locked bomb-proof cabinet. These measures will ensure that we protect children from harm while still allowing adults to have the freedom to choose. Oh and the films can only be viewed between 12 midnight and 6am, otherwise they self-destruct.

This re-structuring of the BBFC, is it something that was long overdue?
I think it was. Times have changed and audiences are much more sophisticated then ever before. It’s only right and proper that we change our policies to reflect those changes in society. Contrary to popular opinion we don’t actually like having to impose restrictions on films. But we have a duty to protect audiences and that’s what we try our best to do.

Roger Bland, thank you.

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