Jeffrey Richards / “5. The Aims and Principles of Censorship” / The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930-1939 / 1984

Topic is British film censorship, 1930-9.

POLITICAL CENSORSHIP and the WORKING CLASS. 1937, Graham Greene: “You may say with some confidence that at the present stage of English culture, a great many serious subjects cannot be treated at all. We cannot treat Human Justice truthfully as America treated it in I am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang. No film which held the aged provincial J.P.’s up to criticism or which described the conditions in the punishment cells at Maidstone would be allowed. Nor is it possible to treat seriously a religious subject or a political subject.” British Board of Films Censors (BBFC) pamphlet Censorship in Britain, re influencing the working class: it said it was guided by “the broad general principle that nothing will be passed which is calculated to demoralize the public… Consideration has to be given to the impression made on an average audience which includes a not inconsiderable proportion of people of immature judgment.” Ivor Montagu, leading light on intellectual Left, and prominent film critic of 1930s, wrote paternalistically in The Political Censorship of Films. Theatre vs. film, with theatre doing things that would be censored in film. [See Newton’s overtly theatrical => film]

STRUCTURE of BRITISH FILM CENSORSHIP. Unlike that of other countries, Britain’s censorship was not State controlled. BBFC, set 1912, set up by industry as act of self-preservation. 1909, Cinematographic Act gave local authorities right to license buildings used as cinemas. Board classified U- universal, A- adults only. Some local authorities cut and banned films, but most accepted Board guidelines. Small but culturally powerful group of intellectuals kept pressure on authorities, founded Film Society 1925, to cultivate serious interest in the art of film, showed German, Russian, French films. Among founding members: Lord David Cecil, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, JBS Haldane, Julian Huxley, George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells. Class bias: some film screenings permitted at middle class film societies, but banned at working class film societies. Political censorship of Communistic Russian films. Russian director Sergei Eisenstein on censors: “One of them is blind and probably deals with the silent films; another is deaf and so gets the sound films; the third one chose to die during the period that I was in London.” Value of BBFC to government lay in its informality. Censorship without government role helps generate consent. Reasons for bans of films named by BBFC’s critics as politically censored? Not immoral but controversial. Ban on The Relief of Lucknow [see Blight, Race and Reunion]. 1936, Lord Tyrell of BBFC to annual conference of exhibitors: “so far we have had no film dealing with current burning political questions.”

WAR, DRUNKENNESS, CLEAN LIVING. Films not deemed controversial? Propaganda war films, Our Fighting Navy 1933, 3 young anti-war men began shouting “Take it off. We won’t fight for king and country.” Members of Swindon branch antiwar movement similar reaction from Manchester Youth Anti-War Committee, “This is war propaganda,” “we want scholarships, not battleships.” Home Secretary Sir Herbert Samuel, speaking to Film Censorship Consultative Committee: “We are all aware that there are in our midst certain tendencies towards indecent and degradation. We have got rid to a great extent of drunkenness as a national vice but there are still dangers in other directions… It is easy to scoff in these days at the bourgeois respectability of the Victorians but there was a good deal of health instinct in their conventions. There is, I am convinced, in the British people now, as there has always been a very earnest desire for clean living, for decent, ordered family life, which is a deep-rooted instinct among our people.” [DRINK and CENSORSHIP] In sum, middle class moral standards were pushed on working middle class audiences. 1913, first annual report of Board: “The existence of the Board has had a salutary effect in gradually raising the standard of subject and eliminating anything repulsive and objectionable to the good taste and better feelings of the English audiences.

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