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Duval, Robin (1941-)


Main image of Duval, Robin (1941-)

Robin Duval was Director of the British Board of Film Classification from 1999 to 2004. Although his tenure was brief compared with the 24-year reign of his predecessor James Ferman, he was responsible for its most dramatic policy shift since the early 1950s, when the BBFC first started assessing artistic merit as a factor in reaching its decisions. Under Duval, the BBFC was transformed from a notoriously secretive private fiefdom largely run by a single individual into a much more open organisation which the long-term anti-censorship (and frequent anti-BBFC) campaigner Mark Kermode now regards as one of Europe's most liberal regulatory bodies.

Duval was admirably qualified for the job. After working as a scriptwriter and producer for BBC Radio, advertising agency J.Walter Thompson and the Central Office of Information (becoming the latter's Head of Television and Film Production), he joined the Independent Broadcasting Authority (later Independent Television Commission) in 1985, the last seven years as Deputy Director of Programmes. All this gave him invaluable experience of both programme production (in a hands-on and administrative sense) and content regulation.

On starting at the BBFC, Duval announced that classification decisions would be much more open, transparent and rapid - the last aspect being seen as a criticism of Ferman's fondness for delaying controversial decisions by months (if not years) in the hope that any fuss would blow over. Duval was also concerned about accountability, and in September 2000 announced that the upshot of eighteen months of intensive research into public opinion was that the BBFC would no longer be cutting films for adults unless they were deemed to infringe the criminal law.

Although his timing was partly dictated by the BBFC losing an appeal over its refusal to classify seven hardcore pornographic videos, this policy change represented the logical culmination of Duval's belief that the public was much more responsible than his predecessors may have been prepared to admit. However, this liberalisation was accompanied by a toughening-up of the rules regarding films below the 18-certificate level, particularly those aimed at children - again, in response to public concern. But in 2002 the theatrical 12 certificate was modified to 12A, permitting children to see a wider range of films provided they were accompanied by an adult, which in turn gave parents the freedom to set their own guidelines, helped by more informative classifications that offered capsule summaries of the reasons for particular age restrictions.

To further increase BBFC accountability, Duval appointed its first press officer and significantly expanded its website, which now offers detailed information about classification decisions spanning its entire history. On his retirement in 2004, Duval summed up his credo:

The future has to do with providing information rather than taking preventive measures. I see the BBFC becoming a gold-standard of classification and advice information across all the different channels of communication. And classification is, I think, going to thrive. But what probably is going to go away, in the very long term, is the mandatory element.

Duval was succeeded by David Cooke.

Michael Brooke

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

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Revised BBFC 12 certificate that admits accompanied children

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BBFC classification designed to cover pornography

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Censor, Director

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