I Quit, Says Censor Who Passed Crash and Lolita; DID JAMES FERMAN JUMP . . . OR WAS HE PUSHED?

Article excerpt

Byline: SEAN POULTER

THE chief film censor resigned yesterday amid claims that he was pushed out on the orders of Jack Straw.

James Ferman, director of the British Board of Film Classification, is to step down after a series of rows over the amount of sex, violence and bad language reaching the screen.

The announcement came days after the BBFC was attacked for granting the film Lolita a cinema release despite concerns it could encourage child abuse - and three months after the Home Secretary's appointment of a new president of the BBFC, Andreas Whittam Smith.

Mr Whittam Smith was specifically put in to make the censorship system more accountable than it has been under the Ferman regime.

But Mr Ferman was adamant that neither Lolita nor other controversies had any bearing on his decision to go. 'I have been trying to pick the right time for the last three years,' he said.

The American-born 67-year-old has in effect personally set film and video censorship standards for the 23 years he has been in charge. Yesterday, critics of decisions to allow films such as Lolita, Crash, Kissed and Natural Born Killers condemned his role in what they said was a decline in social and cultural standards.

The recent approval of Crash, in which perverts are shown getting sexual pleasure from car smashes, and Kissed, a story of a woman's obsession of having sex with the dead, for video release is understood to have alarmed Ministers.

At the same time there has been an outcry over the decision to allow Lolita, starring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain, to be released in Britain - even though American distributors considered it too dangerous to be shown.

Mr Ferman clashed with Mr Straw last year when he was forced to abandon his decision to relax the laws governing material in sex shop R18 classified videos. He accused the Home Secretary of 'pandering to the puritanical vote'.

Lord Alton, the former Liberal Democrat MP David Alton, said he hoped Mr Fer-man's departure was the start of a process to make the BBFC more accountable.

He has proposed an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, to be debated in the Lords on Tuesday, giving family groups the right to challenge BBFC decisions at a tribunal. …