Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
1984 Video Recordings Act

Legislation that introduced compulsory video censorship

Main image of 1984 Video Recordings Act

Following the "video nasties" scare of 1982-83, Margaret Thatcher's newly re-elected Conservative government introduced the 1984 Video Recordings Act, which was phased in over the next three years. This was the first legislation aimed specifically at regulating the video industry, and it dramatically changed the British video landscape.

The key aim of the VRA was to ensure that all video recordings available in the UK were approved by a recognised authority. The British Board of Film Censors was designated the official video classifier, a decision that gave it statutory powers for the first time in its history. It was renamed the British Board of Film Classification later that year.

From 1 September 1985, all video recordings had to possess a BBFC classification (at the time these were U, PG, 15, 18 and R18), which had to appear four times at a specified minimum size: on the cassette label, on each side of the video box and on the spine.

Videos were classified separately from theatrical releases, as different criteria came into play, such as the increased possibility of a video falling into the hands of children. As a result, films passed uncut for cinema release were often cut for video.

Not all videos had to be scrutinised by the BBFC. A video was exempt from classification if it was considered educational or if it promoted sport, religion or music. However, this exemption was only granted if the video in question did not contain images of human sexual activity, urinary or excretory functions, extreme violence and torture, or the depiction of techniques likely to be useful in committing crimes.

The supply of unclassified (and non-exempt) videos was made a criminal offence, as was supplying 15 and 18-certificate videos to people under age. R18 videos could only be sold in licensed sex shops.

Michael Brooke

Related Films and TV programmes

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of 1994 Criminal Justice Act1994 Criminal Justice Act

Wide-ranging legislation that also extended film and video censorship

Thumbnail image of BBFC ClassificationsBBFC Classifications

A brief guide to the BBFC classifications and what they mean

Thumbnail image of British Board of Film ClassificationBritish Board of Film Classification

The organisation primarily responsible for film and video censorship in the UK

Thumbnail image of Content LegislationContent Legislation

Laws governing film content - not just censorship but also copyright

Thumbnail image of The Video NastiesThe Video Nasties

How a few graphic horror films led to the introduction of video censorship

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Ferman, James (1930-2002)Ferman, James (1930-2002)

Censor, Director