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Smith, Andreas Whittam (1937-)


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The successor to Lord Harewood as President of the British Board of Film Classification was Andreas Whittam Smith, a distinguished journalist whose achievements included the founding of The Independent newspaper, of which he was its first editor (1986 to 1994).

He was a surprise choice, as up to that point he had shown no particular interest in film and video issues (indeed, he rarely watched films), though this meant that he had not developed any fixed ideas before taking up the post. He once memorably described an encounter with pornography distributors:

"I said to them: 'This Office Tart movie - it's got no artistic merit whatsoever, has it? It's not meant for anything other than sheer titillation, is it?' They said: 'No, that's right.' I immediately thought to myself: 'I can work with these people'. What I liked about them is that they had absolutely no cant. That seemed so refreshing."

The Whittam Smith era was characterised by greater openness, in stark contrast to the secrecy of the Harewood/Ferman years. In the late 1990s, the BBFC embarked on extensive research into attitudes towards censorship, and established that the vast majority of people approved of censorship for children but preferred to be allowed to watch what they chose in the 18 and R18 categories.

The upshot of this research (and the BBFC losing an appeal over the attempted banning of seven pornographic videos) was that in 2000 classification guidelines underwent sweeping changes. Virtually anything was now permitted at the 18 category (barring extreme sexual violence and anything illegal), the R18 category was changed to embrace hard-core pornography, but the younger age categories were tightened up, with particular attention paid to drugs references and swearing.

Andreas Whittam Smith retired from the BBFC in 2002, and was succeeded by Sir Quentin Thomas.

Michael Brooke

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