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UK film censor relaxes sex guidelines

The film going public is no longer shouting, "no sex please, we're British," but solvent abuse remains a definite no-no, according to the British Board of Film Classification.

The censor yesterday issued its quadrennial set of classification guidelines following consultation with about 9,000 people aged 16 and older.

Since the last guidelines in 2005, the BBFC noted a slight softening in attitude towards the depiction of sex onscreen but increasing major concerns over solvent abuse onscreen.

As part of the research, respondents were specifically asked about explicit images of real sex in mainstream films such as Michael Winterbottom's "9 Songs," which secured an "18" certificate at time of release despite containing explicit sex scenes. The BBFC said the clear message was that these images were acceptable at 18 "because of the context in which they appeared." (Films with an "18" tag are restricted to patrons aged 18 and older.)

But the survey also threw up concerns on the depiction of activities such as glue-sniffing onscreen.

The BBFC has stiffened rules for such activities when movies are granted a "15" certificate. Solvent abuse will now be a specific classification issue and depictions are unlikely to be passed with that certificate now. The BBFC said the change came not only on the back of public concern, but also because of "expert opinion" on the matter.

BBFC director David Cooke said: "The BBFC is committed to consulting the public every four years to ensure that the guidelines we use to classify all works which are submitted to us not only take account of relevant UK legislation, but accurately reflect public attitudes and concerns."

Cooke said there is sometimes an assumption that "public attitudes are becoming more relaxed as time goes on," but he pointed out that that "is not always the case."

"A number of specific concerns which emerged from the extensive consultation exercise, involving over 8,700 people, as well as the members of our Advisory Panel on Children's Viewing and other experts, have been incorporated in the guidelines," Cooke said.

Cooke and company will be pleased with the BBFC's visibility and impact. According to the report, 82 per cent of those surveyed thought that the BBFC was "an effective regulator."

The same people agreed with the ratings given to the films they had watched "in 99 per cent of all cases."

Said Cooke: "There will always be people who think that we are either too restrictive or too liberal, but it is clear that as far as the vast majority of the UK public is concerned the BBFC is getting it right."