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The X Certificate

The first age-restrictive BBFC certificate, denoting adults-only films

Main image of The X Certificate

The X certificate was introduced by the British Board of Film Censors in 1951, following the recommendations of the Wheare Committee report. It replaced and extended the remit of the H certificate, which largely covered horror films.

The wording on the actual certificate was as follows:

This film has been passed for exhibition to persons over the age of sixteen.

It was widely seen as a necessary development to reflect the fact that many film-makers were tackling more adult-oriented themes in ways that made it difficult or impossible to cut their work to make it suitable for the A certificate.

BBFC Secretary John Trevelyan later admitted that two mistakes had been made in defining the X certificate - the minimum age for admission should have been eighteen, and it should have had a different name, as the 'X' tag was too suggestive, not least because it rhymed with "sex".

The first of these perceived errors was corrected on 1 July 1970, when the old X certificate was effectively split into two: the X certificate age limit was raised to eighteen, and a new AA certificate was created, aimed specifically at teenagers of fourteen and upwards.

Trevelyan believed that raising the X certificate age limit would give him much more freedom to pass the vast majority of films without requesting cuts - indeed, he said that he would personally prefer not to cut X certificate films at all, unless they specifically contravened the criminal law. However, this coincided with a widespread increase in the number of films featuring strong sexual and violent material that the BBFC considered unsuitable even for adults, so although fewer films were banned outright, a significant number were still cut.

The X certificate was abolished on 1 November 1982, the BBFC finally answering Trevelyan's second criticism by replacing it with the much more neutrally-named 18 certificate.

Michael Brooke

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Thumbnail image of BBFC ClassificationsBBFC Classifications

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Thumbnail image of The 18 CertificateThe 18 Certificate

BBFC classification covering films and videos for adults only

Thumbnail image of The AA CertificateThe AA Certificate

The first BBFC certificate specifically aimed at teenagers

Thumbnail image of The H CertificateThe H Certificate

Short-lived classification designed to deal with horror films

Thumbnail image of Wheare Report, The (1950)Wheare Report, The (1950)

1950 government report that introduced the X certificate

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Trevelyan, John (1903-1986)Trevelyan, John (1903-1986)