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The 18 Certificate

BBFC classification covering films and videos for adults only

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The 18 certificate was introduced by the British Board of Film Censors on 1 November 1982, following an overhaul of its classifications as recommended by the Williams Committee. It was defined as follows:

Passed only for persons of eighteen years and over. No person apparently under the age of 18 years shall be admitted to any exhibition at which there is to be shown any film which has received a '18' certificate from the British Board of Film Classification.

It replaced the old X certificate, the only difference being the change of name, which had been recommended because of the increasing association of the X certificate with pornography (the fact that it rhymed with "sex" did not help!). In 1985, following the recommendations of the 1984 Video Recordings Act, the 18 certificate was extended to cover video releases.

Despite the adults-only restriction, the BBFC continued to cut 18 certificate films and especially videos. This was partly due to the statutory requirement that all video releases comply with the criminal law (especially the 1937 Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act, the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and the 1978 Protection of Children Act), and partly due to the BBFC's own internal guidelines regarding strong sexual and violent material. They were particularly sensitive about horror films following the "video nasties" scare of 1982-83, and many titles were cut quite severely.

However, following extensive public consultation in 2000 which revealed a general consensus that adults should be allowed to watch what they liked, the BBFC dramatically liberalised its guidelines for the 18 certificate. With the exception of strong sexual activity and detailed depiction of criminal techniques, plus of course the legal stipulations mentioned above, virtually anything was now permissible, and this led to a great many previously cut titles being reissued.

The BBFC permits the following within the bounds of the 18 certificate:

The BBFC respects the right of adults to chose their own entertainment, within the law. It will therefore expect to intervene only rarely in relation to '18' rated cinema films. In the case of videos, which are more accessible to younger viewers, intervention may be more frequent.

There are no constraints at this level on theme, language, nudity or horror. The Board may, however, cut or reject the following content: - any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts which is likely to promote the activity. This includes also instructive detail of illegal drug use - the more explicit images of sexual activity - unless they can be exceptionally justified by context

Sex Education at '18': Where sex material genuinely seeks to inform and educate in matters such as human sexuality, safe sex and health, exceptions to the normal constraints on explicit images may be made in the public interest. Such explicit detail must be kept to the minimum necessary to illustrate the educational or instructional points being made.

Sex Works at '18': Material which appears to be simulated is generally passed '18', while images of real sex are confined to the 'R18' category.

Michael Brooke

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