Jeffrey Richards / “6. Censorship in Operation: Domestic Policy” / The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930-1939 / 1984

Colonel Hanna, British film censor, regarding To Brighton With Gladys, 1933: “The scene of the penguin getting drunk must be carefully handled.”

1930s, censorship tightened, Board began script vetting. ~1/3 British produced films during 1930s were seen and approved at script stage. 1930s, two major censors, one an ex-army officer. Objected to 1932 motor cycle rivalry movie: “There is grave objection in this country to showing foul play taking place in English athletic and sporting events.” Concern with propriety and decorum: unvarying deletion of the following words: nuts, bum, lousy, gigolo, belly, bawdy, strumpet, lewd, anti-Christ, bastard, old cock, bloody, harlot, bitch, sex appeal, privy, blasted, prostitute, napes, sexual degenerates, masochist, nymphomaniac. Colonel Hanna discouraged excessive drunkenness. Said, re To Brighton with a Bird, whose ambiguous title was later retitled To Brighton with Gladys. “The scene of the penguin getting drunk must be carefully handled.” Drunkenness particularly frowned on when it discredits authority. Wedding Group comment: “Care should be taken not to show the young officers unpleasantly or discreditably drunk in the first sequence” (BBFC Scenario Reports 1934/422). Noel Coward’s The Vortex, stage success, denied screen: censored heavily and abandoned. Tiger Bay comment: “The whole story is an exact replica of the worst type of American gangster film with the scene laid in London amidst low and sordid surroundings. The minor characters are drunken sailors and prostitutes of every race and colour. The dialogue savours strongly of American phrases and is frequently course. I do not consider that a film on these lines would be suitable for exhibition in this country nor can I suggest any modification which would make it acceptable.” Minor characters removed, approved and exhibited. No Funny Business 1933 comedy about agency that specializes in procuring divorce, re-written to specialize in preventing divorce. Starring Laurence Olivier. Pamphlet, Censorship in Great Britain, prohibited “stories of which the sole or main interest is that of crime and of the criminal life, without any counterbalancing element of love or adventure. Themes calculated to give an air of romance and heroism to criminal characters, the story being told in such a way as to enlist the sympathies of the audience with the criminals, while the constituted Authorities and Administrators of the Law are held up to contempt as being either unjust or harsh, incompetent or ridiculous.” Edgar Wallace proposed crime film rejected by censors, 1931: “Crime, and not the detection of crime, would be the keynote of a film based on this story.” [crime can only be represented in so far as it is opposed]. Banned, 1935: The Misdoings of Charley Peace. Retitled, later produced as The Chase of Charley Peace, 1945. Films critical of police, prisons, capital punishment, involving drugs, banned outright. 1939, Each Dawn I Die, foreword: “Prison conditions revealed here could never exist in Great Britain but they are tragically true of many penal establishments where corruption defeats justice and the voices of men who fight for justice are lost in the solitary cells.” Confirms censorship as political rather than simply morally corrupting. O’Conner’s 43 (O’Conner was chief censor) banned: “Stories and scenes which are calculated and possibly intended to ferment social unrest and discontent.”

WHAT a DIFFERENCE a WAR MAKES. Walter Greenwood’s play re life in the Depression, Love on the Dole, rejected by Board in 1936, for reasons moral (language, sexual immorality), political (marchers vs. police, showing the “tragic side of poverty,” as censor N. Shortt put it. However, in 1940, filmed, with controversial scenes. Film review in Sunday Pictorial: “What a difference a war makes! Time after time our Censors have waxed apoplectic at the suggestion that Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole was fit subject for a film. […] Now with unemployment a minor headache, the moralists have relaxed and the film has at last been made without a single change.” The film now lined up with Minister of Information guidelines for propaganda, purpose to explain “why we fight.” Movie now argued for a “brave new postwar world” in which 1930s Depression conditions “must never happen again.” If the love story is the main feature with a very shadowy reference to the strike in the background, it is possible that the story would be acceptable.” [What is not said.]

PROJECTING CLASS HARMONY. Board welcomed films that pictured class harmony and status quo. A Real Bloke 1935, re unemployed hero who keeps his chin up and finds work. Red Ensign 1934 when workers go on strike, shipbuilder perseveres, persuades workers to work for free. On Top of the World, mill girl who trains greyhounds negotiates peaceful end of strike. Censors: “the dog racing part seems very improbable but no doubt Miss Gracie Fields will get away with it” (though Fields’ sister eventually cast”).


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