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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England • 3

The Guardiani
London, Greater London, England
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THE GUARDIAN Friday February 18 1S94 HOME NEWS 3 Why talk of penises, sado-masochism and erotic history of lingerie always ended in a row posed labia, or sado-masochism, followed by a row with Mr Fcrman. After lunch there would be more erect penises, and the sniping would begin again. At one point, Geoffrey Wood, a university anthropologist, said that the examiners' objective was "to move the board into the 20th At another meeting they struggled to make a distinction between soft porn and sex education tapes. This related to the examiners' persistent attempt, opposed THE minutes of the monthly BBFVC meetings in Soho Square between the examiners and the chief censor, James Fcrman, give a unique insight into the process by which cinema-goers and video watchers arc protected from "unacceptable" scenes. The debates on the length of a sliver of exposed flesh or the "strength" of a sequence arc meticulous and of gynaecological exactness.

The examiners shy away from moral judgment and discussion frequently takes a philosophical bent. Take the case of Satin and Lace an Erotic History of Lingerie, discussed at the meeting of May IS. 1992. This film was show by Mr Fcrman to the examiners. Erotic Lingerie, the examiners said, came under the rule of ILOOLI.

This declares that "inner labia is out. but outer labia can be in ILOOLI." It was decided that "glimpses of cleft and labia as mentioned in the green sheet are acceptable with an 18 certificate, but a clear distension of labia would still be cut for Policy, it was pointed out, was that "invasive, intrusive, internal labial vaginal shots" were unsuitable for 18 but acceptable for R18. But a view of the anus seen from the rear was acceptable for 18. Over three years, these meetings followed a familiar pattern; conscientious analysis of aroused penises, ex I I by Mr Fcrman, to get rid of K18, the most restricted category which they felt should be scrapped. Jeremy O'Grady, a sociological researcher, suggested commercial companies used sex education tapes "to get around the ludicrous standards we impose on At another meeting a woman examiner said the functions of perversions for their practitioners was "a way of staying alive, almost as essential as The minutes also show that the examiners were alert to unacceptable violence and sexual encounters which might give the impression that "no meant They also expressed doubt about the Home Office guidelines on sex and violence and their definition of what "reasonable people" might accept in soft porn.

"What about the Clapham Omnibus woman who likes chateau fuck films?" asked one examiner. I Restricted view While the average cinema-goer sits back and enjoys the movie, what they see may already have been the subject of a real-life, behind the scenes drama photograph frank martin FSDm iraftnongs FaDDoytt Dedl to slfaowdowm) No-confidence vote over suppressed fax in series of angry meetings "There is an area in which we have a duty to keep the human subconscious at bay," he said. "The issue for me is where you draw the line, not whether you draw the line. And wherever you draw it there will be artists, business interests and exploiters who will want to test these limits." Mr Ferman was succeeding Stephen Murray who had taken a battering for his liberal attitude. Mr Fcrman, on the other hand, had written a TV play about an elderly sex offender that was praised by TV campaigner Mary White-house.

After studying at Cor In the Realm of the Senses, and a consensus that sex standards in Britain were too strict compared with Europe. After the favourable reception of the film, he said, the view taken of sex education material had begun to shift. Three of the four videotapes in Loving Better, which had been expected to go in the R18 category, had been given an 18, much to the surprise of the video companies. But now, Mr Ferman argued, there was "a significant shift" by the examiners on "ordinary sex By the autumn of 1991, he claimed, the merits of their decisions, taken with very little discussion, were proving difficult for the APE's (Assistant Principal -Examiners, who review examiners' decisions) to judge. He wanted the division between 18 and R18 certificates to be made clearer, so that R18 would become a more valid category in which the "taboo around aroused male genitalia" would be removed.

The question now, he said, was where to draw the line "to end the anarchy that currently existed in standards" in the board. In the case of group sex and troilism, he thought, things were moving too fast. The examiners were unco-op-crativc. Some argued that the troilism rule was "an artificial barrier between 18 and R18" and "needlessly Another said: "If we as classifiers have difficulty operating James Ferman's contextual justification differentiating sex at 18 and R18, how can it possibly work for juries and compahies submitting material?" There was agreement on the "green list" of rules on masturbation! on the fact that sexual position is not the only indicator of whether a scene is judged too strong, and that sexual dialogue is important to a British audience and jury. But there was less agreement on nipple sucking.

The meeting ended without agreement on Mr Ferman's proposals to slow down liberalisation. meeting characterised by evasive politeness and passionate outbursts, one of the examiners. Jeremy O'Grady, said he felt the vice-presidents were saying of them: "Well, they are awfully nice blokes, but we will shove the knife in them anyway." Mr Ferman appeared determined to push through the restructuring, emphasising that departing part-timers were free to apply for the new full-time posts. But there was a strong feeling among the examiners that there would be little point in trying. One of the women examiners addressed the vice-presidents: "Given that censorship here is not a democratic process, we all feel that some checks and balances in ensuring the representation of people's freedom are required, not just in the public domain, but here in the privacy of the board and its internal workings what is it that you think you do that produces checks and balances on what many of us here would see as James Ferman calling the shots in reality?" The meeting took place without any publicity or public debate until copies of minutes of board meetings reached the Guardian.

All the examiners are strictly prohibited by their contracts of employment from talking in public about their work. A crucial stage in the buildup to the sackings had come about 18 months earlier, when the examiners had passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Fcr- THE part-time examiners: David Blewitt, opera critic and lecturer in drama; Carolyn Choa, choreographer and dancer; Sylvia Denham, trans-later; Richard Falcon, film studies teacher: Behroze Gandhy, independent' TV documentary producer; Paul Hoffman, former teacher; Greg Lyons, author of children's books; Maggie Mills, psychotherapist; Maria Moustaka, theatre director; Jeremy O'Grady, sociological researcher; Victoria Tawa-dros, freelance fund raiser; Carol Topolski, psychotherapist; Geoffrey Wood, anthropology lecturer at Birkbeck College, London. NNER labia is out. but 1 outer labia can be in" "Therapists must understand the function perversions have for their practitioners it is a way of staying alive, almost as essential as breathing" "To let it appear that the film industry has withheld the video version of The Exorcist is to collude in a lie" "Why was there a taboo on chainsticks in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" One examiner's daughter had watched the uncut US version at school "without being turned on to chainsticks" "Commercial companies make use of sex education tapes as a device to get round the ludicrous standards we impose on sex" "They are awfully nice blokes, but we will stick the knife in them anyway" "Censorship here is not a democratic process in reality, James Ferman calls the shots" THE British Board of Film Censors was given the job of licensing videos as well as films in 1985 and was renamed the British Board of Film and Video Classification. The industry submits films and videos to the BBFC, which is mainly financed by the fees it charges.

Certificates are granted in the following categories: Suitable for all. UC: Particularily suitable for children (video only). PG: Parental guidance. 12: Suitable only for 12 years and over. 15: 15 years and over.

18: 18 and over. R18: Restricted. To be exhibited only in licensed cinema clubs (films) or supplied in licensed sex shops (video) to persons of not less than 18. THE long-running dispute within the British Board of Film and Video Classification came to a climax on January 19 this year, when nine of the board's 13 part-time examiners met the three vice-presidents of the board to make a final appeal against the board's failure to renew their contracts. There was an atmosphere of high tension after years of conflict, and the examiners argued that more was at stake than their own careers.

The proposal to appoint a smaller number of full-time professional examiners, they believed, would lead to a closed system, less responsive to society's changing standards on sex and violence. The proposal had come from the board's director, James Fer-man, who had complained in the past that the examiners were liberalising standards too rapidly. He was present at the meeting with his board of management. The examiners said they found it odd that Mr Fer-man should bo restructuring so soon before he was expected to retire. "The new person coming in may well want to use the wealth of experience which is going to be dismissed," said one.

But the vice-presidents known informally as the Three Blind Mice were not encouraging. It became clear that they supported the restructuring, were sceptical about the examiners' fears, and felt it was not their role to interfere in matters of employment. During a The case of The Exorcist FILMMAKERS Warner Brothers wrote to James Ferman in 1990, pointing out that after voluntarily withdrawing the video of The Exorcist because of a passing public controversy, they would now like a certificate. One examiner declared at a meeting that "to let it appear that it was the industry that was withholding the work was to collude in a Minutes show that Mr Ferman persistently avoided reviewing the position, until in December 1991 the examiners forced a vote. Fifteen said they would allow it a certificate, one wanted to maintain the ban and three abstained.

Mr Ferman told the examin- bridge. President, School for Performing Arts and Technology. Chairman of Children's Film and TV Foundation, and formerly associated with the National Theatre and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Monica Sims, fourth from left: Age: not listed in Who's Who. Educated at Gloucester Girl's High School and St Hugh's College, Oxford.

Formerly Controller of BBC Radio 4. Full-time management Margaret Ford, Guy Phelps, Mike Bor all appointed by the director. mount a rearguard action against the examiners. He reviewed 43 films and concluded that "current standards were being liberalised too Mr Fcrman appears to have been worried for two reasons: the law on video classification made the board vulnerable to legal action over excessive sex, and the Government was believed to be putting pressure on him to tighten controls on violence. He began the meeting with the examiners by pointing out that he had floated the idea of easing sex standards in June 1991, following favourable press response to the Japanese film, Movie mutation the Turtles' weapons such as knives or hammers? One examiner told how her daughter's class at primary school in Devon had watched the uncut American version "without being turned on to Another felt that the majority of the examiners believed that nell University, he read English at Cambridge.

He has been an actor, writer, director of TV documentaries, and director of a community mental health programme. Mr Ferman is married and has a son and daughter. His salary is 78,000. The vice-presidents Lord Harewood, second from left: Age 71. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, former governor of the BBC and former member of the Arts Council.

Lord Birkett, third from left: Age 63. Educated at Stowe and Trinity, Cam standards committee was stopping work because the "function and purpose of the committee had not be properly established by management." The issue of the suppressed fax was again raised. Richard Falcon declined to withdraw the statement that he could not "trust a chief executive who does this with Mr Lyons then revealed the no confidence vote, and Mr Ferman and the management were "invited to leave" while the meeting discussed its "ramifications and The April 1992 meeting when the fax affair first erupted had also seen a determined attempt by Mr Ferman to The case of the Teenage Ninja Turtles ONE of the board's examiners tried in 1991 to come to the rescue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which had been substantially cut at James Ferman's insistence. Richard Falcon cited as complainants his nephews, aged nine and 12, who thought the film had been ruined and no longer matched their collecting cards showing scenes from the film. Mr Ferman's objections had been to the use of chainsticks in the film.

The minutes record that "a lively, sometimes heated debate Why this taboo on chainsticks, the examiners asked? Why were they regarded as more dangerous than other offensive THE British Board of Film and Video Classification has a director and three vice-presidents, who act as a final appeal body. All arc appointed by the Home Secretary. Director James Ferman, above, aged 63, and born in New York, was appointed in 197S as director of the then British Board of Film Censors. He told the Guardian then that the film industry was out of touch with the central strand of society which places a strong value on family life and traditional morality. man over the Case of the Suppressed Fax.

One of the board's examiners, Richard Falcon, had been verbally invited, all expenses paid, to an international conference, but when confirmation arrived by fax Mr Ferman kept it from Mr Falcon. Mr Ferman said at a meeting in April 1992 that the fax had arrived soon after a row with Mr Falcon about the cancellation of plans for a new in-house journal, and he had not thought that Mr Falcon "was the person to represent the Mr Ferman's action was attacked "in no uncertain terms" by a number of examiners, according to the minutes. There had been earUer com success in the cinemas. At one meeting Mr Ferman said The Exorcist raised the whole problem of the power of the supernatural. In 1992 a letter from the board to a correspondent, signed by the principal examiner, Guy Phelps, revealed that one of the board's fears was plaints about Mr Falcon allegedly "changing the minutes on the computer disc containing the first typed version of a discussion to produce a better The denouement came at a meeting a month later on May 15, 1992, when it was revealed to Mr Ferman that the examiners had met privately and voted unanimously that they considered their director's action in suppressing the fax had been The meeting began with a discussion on troilism and the moral distinction between "bonking and caring Then Greg Lyons, a children's books author, announced that the sex "the potential use of the film in terrifying children as a part of 'Satanic' abuse.

We know that videos are used in this way The attitude of the previous censor, Stephen Murphy, who was criticised for his liberal attitude to films such as Straw Dogs, Last Tango in Paris, and The Devils, was markedly different. Replying in 1974 to a correspondent on the debate over The Exorcist, he referred to "the atmosphere of hysteria engendered was such just before the film was first shown in London that one young lady reportedly fainted before seeing the film it seems now to be accepted for what it is a very good horror Mr Murphy said that some clergymen, although feeling that "the view of good and evil is very much over-simplified" believed it to be "of The Exorcist still does not have a video certificate. Video nasty Exorcist still does not have a certificate chainsticks split the board this policy on chainsticks should be changed. It was time to "stop he said. The meeting ended without a vote, and Mr Ferman promised to look into the matter.

But the cut version of the film was already licensed and in circulation, and no changes were made. ers that ho had consulted psychiatrists. Greg Lyons remarked that taking advice from some specialists was "like asking vegans to comment on Babette's Feast!" Richard Falcon wondered why Mr Fcrman was refusing to pass a film for video which had been revived with great.

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