Just what the censor ordered: Elastoplast
Monday 29 May 1995
The film began with Roman Polanski - a man whose face would blend easily into the back row of a Soho cinema club - suggesting what we have all long suspected: "Censors always looked kinky to me, I always imagined them gathering the bits they had cut from films and running them together for their own pleasure at home." These censors, they certainly have a bit of front, telling us what we can or can't watch but only after they have watched it themselves.
The first British film to fall under the snippers did so for commercial reasons. A scientific piece called Cheese Mites, showing microscopic creepies blown up to the size of labradors crawling all over the cheddar, was leant on by the British cheese-making lobby as early as 1911. But after the British Board of Film Censorship was created in 1913, the censorship became more pervasive: according to the critic Philip French, censoring was done by the middle class on behalf of the working class and reflected fears of working class sexuality and violence. Indeed the consensus among the glittering array of directors interviewed was that what the censors were really protecting the public from was art.
Not that all of them were philistines. John Trevelyan, the most high- profile censor of the Sixties - physiologically equipped for the role, with his penile nose and anarchistic eyebrows - emerged almost as the programme's hero: a watch-dog who defended film-making against a more general, Whitehousian, prurience. He made it his business to befriend directors, to discover their motives. "You got the feeling that if Trevelyan appreciated you as an artist," said Roman Polanski, "he would be more lenient." Which didn't explain why he was so kind to Ken Russell.
We should be careful, as the programme admirably pointed out, however, not to laugh too loud at the censors making Lesley Caron put Elastoplast on her nipples during Room at the Top or Trevelyan, in a nice piece of double-edged syntax, telling Donald Cammell, apropos of the sex scene in Performance, that "you can cut that out". The point about censorship is that it always looks ridiculous in retrospect. What appears now to be little more than silly snobbery delivered in cut-glass Pathe news accents was, in the Fifties and Sixties, in a different moral climate, defining that moral climate as it went along. As Richard E Grant, the narrator, hinted at the end of this first part - when he trailed tonight's second part as taking up the story in 1974, the year of The Exorcist, A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs - the world of the censor begins to look somewhat more complex the closer it gets to your own time and sensibilities. For the fear that "Rock Around the Clock" might inflame Teddy boys read terror that gangsta rappers might turn young black boys into police killers; for worries that the working classes couldn't cope with visions of the nether regions of British society in Performance, read widespread belief that horror videos are turning our children into monsters. And then try suggesting that censorship is merely anti-art.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 2 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 3 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 4 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
First Look at Bryan Cranston transformed into LBJ for HBO’s ‘All the Way’ film
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
This little boy loves books so much that he cries when his mother stops reading to him
Does this Game of Thrones season 6 filming location give away an important character death?
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 100,000 back our campaign
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up