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Now and Then: John Trevelyan (1968)


Main image of Now and Then: John Trevelyan (1968)
29 March 1968
16mm, colour, 20 mins
Production CompanyAdanac Productions
ProducersBernard Braden
 Barbara Kelly
PhotographyRichard Bayley

Bernard Braden interviews Britain's leading film censor.

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A defence of a public institution as well as a personal interview, Bernard Braden's discussion with John Trevelyan uncovers the philosophy of the BBFC as much, if not more than, the way it probes the opinions of its head. Trevelyan was at the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors, now Classification) from 1951 to 1971, becoming its chief in 1958. During his tenure, which ran throughout the 'swinging sixties', the BBFC became a more liberal organisation, reflecting wider public opinion about screen representation of sex and violence.

The filming of this interview occurred during the week of a minor controversy reported in the national press: the removal of a scene of full-frontal nudity in Jonas Cornell's Puss & Kram (1967, released in the UK as Hugs and Kisses). The film was essentially a Swedish variation on the French new wave (it has much in common with Fran├žois Truffaut's Jules et Jim, 1962), and its nude scene illustrates the 'problem of Sweden' that Trevelyan alludes to in his interview (i.e. that Swedish liberal attitudes are not necessarily applicable to British society). Braden's use of the episode as the basis for discussion reveals how intertwined are Trevelyan's opinions and those of the organisation he represents.

Trevelyan was a former teacher and education administrator, and his status as a more liberal chief censor is tainted by criticisms within the British film industry that he unfairly distinguished between film as art and as exploitation. There is some evidence here of his cynical attitude, particularly in the references to those filmmakers with 'bad' motivations (by which he means sexual or violent scenes included for commercial potential). This criticism of his favouritism towards art cinema was corroborated by the events surrounding Andy Warhol's Flesh (US, 1968). The BBFC hadn't passed the film for commercial exhibition, but Trevelyan nevertheless defended it when a private screening was raided by the police - unlike a film with 'bad' motivations, Flesh had received warm critical reviews.

Puss & Kram's nude scene was re-instated after several local councils showed the film uncut with no public backlash. It has been suggested that this led, the following year, to Lindsay Anderson's If.... (1968) being passed with its scenes of nudity left intact.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
Complete unedited interview (19:38)
Trevelyan, John (1903-1986)
Now and Then (1967-68)