British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview
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From script to screen:
Serious Charge and film


IN M AY 1950 the Wheare Committee recommended that a new `X' category be introduced and applied to films intended for exhibition to `adults only'. By January 1951, the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) agreed to the implementation of an `X' certificate which limited the cinema- going audience to those over 16 years of age. `It is our desire', said the BBFC secretary, Arthur Watkins, `that “X” films should not be merely sordid films dealing with unpleasant subjects, but films which, while not being suitable for children, are good adult entertainment and films which appeal to an intelligent public.'

The difficulties in defining `good adult entertainment' soon became apparent when, on 5 January 1955, director Ronald Neame informed the British Film Producers Association that he felt `the “X” certificate was no longer serving the purpose for which it was intended'. `The British Board of Film Censors had stated at the outset that it was intended to encourage the production of films for adult audiences,' he argued; `in fact, however, the “X” certificate was being wrongly exploited and was assisting considerably wider distribution of Continental films in this country than might otherwise be possible whilst, at the same time, attempts by British producers to make films suitable for adult audiences had, more often than not, failed.' 1

The problems encountered by the BBFC and the film-makers in this instance are indicative of the problems that obtained throughout the 1950s with the `X' certificate and British cinema at large. But the story of British film censorship during the period is also inextricably linked with the system of censorship operated by the Lord Chamberlain over stage productions and

I am Reader in Film and History at The Open University. My numerous publications on British cinema history include Cinema and History (Scolar Press, 1979) and Censorship and the Permissive Society: British Cinema and Theatre: 1955—1965 (Clarendon Press, 1995). I have also written, with Jeffrey Richards, Best of British: Cinema and Society from 1930 to the Present (I.B. Tauris, 2nd edn, 1999) and Britain Can Take It: The British Cinema in the Second World War (Edinburgh University Press, 2nd edn, 1995). Tony Aldgate

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