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Watkins, Arthur (1907-1965)


Main image of Watkins, Arthur (1907-1965)

Arthur Watkins (1907-1965) was Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors from 1948 to 1956, having previously worked in the Children's Department of the Home Office. He was also a playwright (under the pseudonym Arthur Watkyn), whose work inspired two British films: For Better, For Worse (1954, d. J Lee Thompson) and Moonraker (1957, d. David MacDonald). This background, coupled with a personal enthusiasm not only for films but also their makers and the creative process, made Watkins a very different figure from his predecessor Joseph Brooke Wilkinson.

Although his achievements would be overshadowed by those of his successor-but-one John Trevelyan (1958-71), Watkins is an important figure in British film censorship in that he introduced the policy of taking context and artistic merit into account which still underpins BBFC decision-making today. He also offered consultations to film-makers in advance of production to advise them on potentially difficult areas.

He was the first BBFC Secretary to be aware of the importance of media relations. Whereas his predecessors showed no interest in explaining or defending BBFC decisions, Watkins made it his policy to do so, consciously promoting himself as a sympathetic figure prepared to take film-makers' concerns on board.

This led to the creation of the X certificate in 1951, the BBFC's first age-restrictive category. Watkins recognised that this was necessary at a time when an increasing number of serious films dealt with adult-oriented subject-matter.

It seems likely from Watkins' interests and temperament that the BBFC might have liberalised still further under his tenure, had his views not frequently conflicted with those of his examiners and, rather more seriously, BBFC President Sir Sidney Harris. But the two men otherwise got on well, and their shared Home Office experience was invaluable when liaising with each other and the Government.

Michael Brooke

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