First letter to BBFC: 8th
Re: the depiction of Crimimal
I am writing to express my concern and
puzzlement over a cut that was demanded for a video release (submitted by Contender Group
Ltd) of an episode from the 1970s television series
Professionals. The episode in question A Hiding to Nothing includes a scene
depicting a character forcing entry to a property by use of a credit-card sized piece of
plastic. My understanding is that the BBFC judged this scene as depicting the use of
so-called criminal technology and thus demanded its removal. However I would
have to question whether this really is the case the entry by credit
card routine was a staple of many TV shows of the era and is recognised as being a
television myth. Indeed another episode (When the Heat Cools Off) of the same
show included a very similar scene, yet was passed uncut for video release last year. Had
the assailant used, for example, a pick-axe to gain entry, then I could certainly
understand that being judged criminal technology as obviously such an
implement could be used in real life. Yet I have witnessed video works where just such a
technique is depicted yet such scenes remain intact.
To me, then, there seems to be an inconsistency,
so I would very much appreciate an insight into the line of reasoning used for A
Hiding to Nothing.
response from BBFC: 14th December 1999
Dear Mr Mathews
(sic look, they even cut bits out of people's
Query regarding definition of "Criminal
Thank you for your email of 8 November. As one of
the examiners who helped to classify The Professionals - A Hiding to Nothing, I have been
asked to respond to your email.
When we classify material, especially in the
junior categories, we are particularly careful not to let it demonstrate any imitable
criminal techniques. In the case of the video concerned, we are advised by the police that
the technique displayed could unlock a door. That is the reason the cut was made. If, as
you suggest, the character had used a common-or-garden pickaxe to break in, we would not
have cut the scene. Unlike the lock-picking technique, using a pickaxe in that way (which
incidentally would have attracted a great deal of attention to the would-be trespasser) is
not specifically instructional.
You suggest that our decision to cut in that case
is inconsistent with the decision not to cut a similar scene in The Professionals - When
the Heat Cools Off. I did not examine this video but I have read the examiner's report on
it and have also looked at the scene concerned. Advice from the police is that it would
not be possible to unlock a door in this way.
A Hiding to Nothing was passed '12' because some
of the violence scenes contained partial details and were personalised and
impressionistically intense. I have looked at the violence scenes in When the Heat Cools
Off. In contrast, these are brief and masked.
I hope that my explanation helps you to understand
the rationale of the Board's decision even if you may not agree with it. With so many
variables to consider before a classification decision is made, it is inevitable that many
people will disagree with some of our decisions. The best we can do is to be constantly
alert to public expectation and try and meet this as often as possible. The Board's new
draft guidelines, which you are free to comment on, can be seen at our website. I hope
they will give you more information on the various issues we have to consider in the
Wah-Yin Rixon (Mrs)
BBFCs first letter: 14th December 1999
Dear Wah-Yin Rixon,
Thank you very much for your reply to my query
over the "criminal technology" cuts to the video release of "The
Professionals A Hiding to Nothing" and for the time you put in to researching
I fully support the idea of a video ratings system
and I do appreciate that there are circumstances where criminal acts depicted on-screen
may encourage younger viewers to (attempt to) emulate them. On the surface, then, the
removal of the "credit card" scene may seem quite understandable.
However I have to point out that since early 1997,
The Professionals series has enjoyed regular re-runs by the British satellite broadcaster
Granada Sky Broadcasting usually in afternoon or early evening timeslots, when
juveniles in particular will be watching. Given that the Granada transmissions regularly
achieve 100,000 viewers far, far in excess of any video sales one should
surely expect the Police to order Granada to make the same cut from their broadcasts. Yet
no order has been made and GSB's screenings of this episode always retain this
"problematic" scene intact. And, as far as I'm aware, we have not witnessed a
huge increase in the number of "entry-by-credit-card" burglaries since 1997. Is
it your perception that criminals don't watch television transmissions but turn to videos
You say that decisions regarding the removal of
material are mindful of public expectation, yet in this case it is clear that neither GSB
or the ITC have received complaints about the inclusion of this particular scene in the
transmissions. Had they done so, it would have been removed.
I appreciate that the BBFC has no jurisdiction
over television transmissions but clearly there is something deeply inconsistent in the
way censorship is being applied in this case. Why should the video market be more bound to
censorship than the far more "accessible" medium of public broadcasting?
I would also point out that the original UK issue
of the episode on video in 1993 (by the Sound Image Group's "Video Gems" label
catalogue number VG5406) was uncut. Clearly the BBFC's guidelines on "criminal
technology" must have changed since then, thus Contender Video's requirement to
resubmit this episode for approval last year.
Whatever it appears to me that on this
occasion the BBFC knee-jerked at the Police's "advice" and made no attempt to
consider its "real-world" validity. For sure it's possible to use certain
methods to gain illegal access to properties but, as the regular television transmissions
have shown, use of a small piece of plastic is not considered to be a commonly-used one!
Your comments on my line of reasoning would be
from BBFC: 29th January 2000
Dear Mr Matthews
"The Professionals" and the definition
of "criminal technology".
Thank you for your email of 13 December. I am
sorry for the late response and will not begin to give reasons as they will only seem
trite. But my apology is genuine.
I fully appreciate your point about "The
Professionals" being regularly broadcast on satellite without the police apparently
ordering cuts to demonstration of criminal technology in the series and apparently without
a huge surge in burglaries employing techniques seen in the series. I agree that there is
an inconsistency in the application of censorship as between videos and say, satellite
broadcasts. But as you know, the BBFC has a legal obligation to classify videos under the
Video Recordings Act 1984. Television / cable / satellite companies, on the other hand,
are regulated differently and are not obliged to broadcast only classified material and
they often don't. If the police's attention has been drawn to the portrayal of imitative
criminal technique in the series broadcast by the satellite companies and if they
apparently choose to do nothing about it, that must be a matter for the police. Just
because complaints have not been received by ITC or the TV companies - and do we know this
as fact?- it does not follow that people are unconcerned about these and other issues. If
an individual is concerned about an issue but for whatever reason does not raise the
matter with the authorities, that is clearly their decision and the authorities will have
no knowledge of their concerns. As the classifying authority, however, the Board is unable
to indulge in that luxury of being unconcerned, however misplaced at times, or of doing
nothing once a concern has been identified. In this example, a concern was raised so we
took advice from an appropriate source, the police. They did not tell us to cut the scene.
We chose to do it after having taken expert advice and considering a range of factors,
including public expectation.
You and many members of the public may not agree
with the Board's decision to cut but you should appreciate that we make the decision on
behalf of many other members of public, who may agree with our decision. As to the surge
or not of burglaries using techniques learnt on the series, we have no knowledge of either
so any statement about either position is only assertion and does not advance the debate.
Perhaps it may be a source of (a little) comfort to you to know that no decision to cut is
ever taken lightly.
I hope that my response answers your queries even
though you may not agree with them.
Wah-Yin Rixon (Mrs)
Reply to BBFC:
Dear Mrs Rixon,
Thank you very much for your reply. I must confess
I was under the impression that the decision to cut the episode was as a *direct* result
of the advice from the police. As you say, this was merely one of the factors involved. I
take it, then, the ultimate decision to demand the cut was solely that of the BBFC.
Unfortunately, from my point of view, this only serves to make the cut seem even more
bizarre: as I mentioned in my previous e-mail, this particular episode had been widely
available in the UK (with a "12" rating) on video UNCUT between 1993 and 1996
(issued by the now-defunct Sound Image Group).
The upshot is that the scene in question was
deemed unsuitable in 1998 against the fact that it had been approved by yourselves in 1993
and had not, by your own admission, been proved to have caused a surge in house break-ins.
As far as I can see, then, the scene was cut for no valid reason! Or do the BBFC have
documented evidence that 1998's criminal fraternity are far more likely to be influenced
by what they see on video than they were in 1993.... or that public fear of break-ins
increased substantially over that five-year period and it was, therefore, the public who
expressed a wish that such scenes should be cut?
You rightly say that we have no evidence that the
satellite broadcasters have received no complaints about the scene in question. Yet I am
sure that had they done so and felt that the complaints were justified, then they would
indeed have excised the scene. This would certainly have happened if the ITC had received
complaints and upheld them. I think, then, we can safely assume that no such complaints
have been received and supported. After all "The Professionals" was far more
noted (indeed controversial!) for its portayal of violence than anything else: *this*
element could indeed attract complaints and, aware of this, Granada Sky Broadcasting
trimmed certain violent scenes in most episodes from the outset.
You say decisions to cut are based on "public
expectation". Does this mean that after the initial concern was raised over the
scene, you surveyed several members of the public to assess their views and found that the
majority of them agreed it should be removed? I suspect not! You say that:
"We make the decision on behalf of many other
members of public, who may agree with our decision."
"Who MAY agree"?! This seems to imply
that if they don't agree, you demand the cut anyway! That's hardly what I'd called
representing "public expectations" (more on this later). I've spoken to about 25
members of the public concerning the break-in scene and not one of them supported the idea
of it being cut. Admittedly most of those I spoke to were fans of "The
Professionals" so they were naturally a tad biased! But these people are a
cross-section of the vast majority of those who would actually buy this video! And that's
really another point the BBFC should consider - instead of just taking the "easy
option" of applying a "generic" cut, why not consider the video's target
audience - in this case most purchasers will be aged between 30 and 50 - irrespective of
the "12" rating.
On a more general note, having recently followed
various debates on the Internet with regard to BBFC censorship, the overriding public
impression is that rather than fulfilling "public expectation", the organisation
displays a "nanny knows best" attitude which ultimately overrules the wishes of
the public. I think you have demonstrated this with your own comments. This problem is
compounded by your own admission that UK censorship is being applied inconsistently - and,
This is a shame as I feel that the classification
of films and videos is highly desirable and so the BBFC fulfills a worthy role in this
respect. In terms of censorship, I can appreciate concerns over the violent nature of
material depicted in some film and video works and the requirement to tailor this for
younger audiences. I still maintain, however, that it in some cases, the BBFC displays no
"real world" sensibility and would sooner listen to the "advice" of a
few Mary Whitehouse types, despite a complete lack of actual evidence of the alleged
harmful effects caused by viewing acts depicted in some works. The uncut 1993 issue of
"The Professionals - A Hiding to Nothing" essentially proves that no harmful
effects arose from the inclusion of the scene under discussion.
To sum up, then: the BBFC claims to make decisions
based on "public expectation" yet when consulting members of the public, MAY OR
MAY NOT listen to those views! With specific regard to "The Professionals - A Hiding
to Nothing", the BBFC decided to demand a cut version in 1998, despite previously
approving an uncut version and having no evidence to support a requirement for a
subsequent cut. Furthermore decisions to cut are also based purely on the rating of the
work, rather than any consideration for its target audience.
You are quite right that there are always going to
be instances where one sector of the public disagrees with a decision to cut - this is
unavoidable. However the crux of the problem in this case is not the decision itself but
the methods employed by the BBFC to reach that decision, particularly given the factors I
have outlined. Unfortunately I'm afraid your kind reply has raised more questions than
answers, so I would appreciate some clarification.
I would like to think that partly in the light of
my comments (after all, I'm a member of the public expressing my expectations!), should
the episode ever be resubmitted, the BBFC would at least reconsider its decision.
from BBFC: 23rd April 2000
Dear Mr Matthews
The Professionals: A Hiding to Nothing and the
definition of "criminal technology"
Many thanks for your email of 29 January. I
apologise for this late response. Apart from the usual but valid reasons of work backlog,
I was delayed by indecision: whether to launch into a debate with you or to respond
briefly, given that you had raised further interesting points about censorship while
extrapolating impossible-to-verify conclusions from some of my statements of 28 January.
Time, meanwhile, has passed.
One reason for the apparent inconsistency of the
decisions is probably that the edition you refer to and according to you - passed '12'
uncut, widely available between 1993 and 1996 and issued by the now defunct Sound Image
Group - is not one that we are aware of. I have made inquiries and our records show that a
different company failed to pay the fee for the title's submission in 1992 and again in
1994. The conclusion is that this particular title was never classified by the BBFC until
it was submitted by a completely different company in 1998 and subsequently classified
'12' with one cut to the lock-picking. This suggests that the edition you mention may have
been illegally issued, a not uncommon practice and one which continues.
Although we both agree that there is inconsistency
in the way classification / censorship is applied by various authorities including the
BBFC - whether because of legislation or the different practices of private and public
organisations - we have to accept (for the purpose of practical application anyway) that
it is the current position. It is a deeply unsatisfying and confusing situation but one on
which I have nothing useful to say with reference to the particular title without
repeating myself. We work constantly and swiftly, whenever possible, to evolve good
classification practice which takes into consideration all factors. Currently, the Board's
research programme includes Citizens' Juries (probing public attitude to the guidelines),
BBFC Roadshow questionnaire feedback, a broader public survey based on the same
questionnaire and a survey of child psychologists / psychiatrists and social workers. Last
year, we were also involved in the British Attitudes Survey and The Depiction of Illegal
Drugs in Broadcasting, Film and Video.
I appreciate your frustration and perhaps fury
with any Board decision that seems perverse. I hope however that you understand that we
try to do our best in sometimes difficult situations and we always hope that our decisions
are more acceptable than not to the public.
Wah-Yin Rixon (Mrs)
BBFC: 23rd April 2000
Dear Mrs Rixon,
Once again thank you very much for your response.
The issue of the "illegal" Sound Image Group tape is very interesting indeed! I
must admit I couldn't see it in your
on-line database but I
assumed this was some kind of omission as a lot of other SIG releases are missing from the
list, too! I stated that episode was passed by the BBFC as a "12" in 1992 simply
because the video's cover carries the appropriate BBFC logo that was in use at the time.
Therefore I had no reason to suspect this was anything but a legitimate release.
When you say a "different company failed to
pay the fee" I would guess this is Video Gems (or "TV Gems" as they later
became) - although I had thought this was merely a "label" used by SIG rather
than a subsidiary company in its own right.
hether the SIG/Video Gems release was illegally
issued or not, however, it's mass availability for several years still strengthens the
case that the inclusion of the lock-picking scene in a commercially-available video did
not prove to cause any "harm". As you have hinted, the BBFC sometimes seems to
play by a perverse set of rules when it comes to censorship - instead of "innocent
until proven guilty" it's more like simple "assumed guilt without a trial".
Well the lock-picking scene certainly had been "on trial" during the three years
that the SIG tape was available (irrespective of the fact that the BBFC were apparently
unaware of it!) and, I say again, there is no evidence that its inclusion has led to any
"harm". I appreciate this is rather an over-simplification but I believe the
essential principle remains upheld, particularly when also considering the other factors I
have outlined in previous correspondence.
The episode will likely be issued on DVD sometime
in the next year or so. I wonder if this might be an opportunity for the BBFC to
reconsider its decision - even if that meant having to demand a higher classification (eg