Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Nicholls, John


Main image of Nicholls, John

John Nicholls was Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors from 1956 to 1958, having previously worked in the Foreign Office's Cultural Section. This, together with his considerable experience in the fine arts, made him a far cry from most of his predecessors in terms of appreciating a film's artistic merits.

Although he would seem admirably qualified for the job, Nicholls quickly ran into trouble when he proposed numerous cuts to Ice Cold in Alex (1958). The film's director, J Lee Thompson, protested both privately and publicly, and this led to widespread accusations from other British film-makers that Nicholls was biased against British films, citing several instances where foreign (notably American) films were given more lenient treatment.

The row led to the British Film Producers Association holding a meeting with the BBFC in May 1958 to discuss the issue and to recommend the creation of an appeals committee with the power to overturn BBFC decisions. Although sympathetic to the BFPA's grievances, the BBFC was determined to avoid the imposition of a body that would have required it to become more accountable.

Shortly after the meeting, John Nicholls offered his resignation. This may well have been a compromise, whereby the BBFC successfully prevented having their actions scrutinised in exchange for a high-profile scalp, although BBFC President Sir Sidney Harris explicitly denied such rumours in a press statement.

But it seems clear that Sir Sidney had been unhappy with Nicholls' tenure in general. Nearly two months before the BFPA meeting, he advertised for a "secretary and adviser to group required to assess entertainment values and public relations", and made John Trevelyan, who had been at the Board since 1951, Nicholls' unofficial deputy, a situation that Trevelyan described as "a very difficult position". After Nicholls' resignation, Trevelyan was appointed his successor.

Michael Brooke

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Related collections

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

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

Related people and organisations