The Panic Of '83

Christopher Fowler
pictures.aspx The Daily Mail started it, of course - an article in 1983 called for the banning of videos which brought undesirable images into the home for the first time. Home entertainment was a new concept, and the Mail feared it would break up the nuclear family structure it was so desperate to cling onto. On TV and in the press, the mentally bereft Mary Whitehouse (who censored any public arguments against her) appeared daily to champion her peculiar concept of Christian values, while the slug-like Graham Bright, a Conservative MP and publicity moth, introduced a Private Member's Bill that was passed as the Video Recordings Act. It gave statutory powers to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and made it illegal to sell or supply a video that the board hadn't examined and classified. As it cost money to get the film 'classified' (censored) many stopped even trying to get their films released. The result was the wholesale banning of films in what was then the most censored country in Europe, and naturally a thriving black market for films developed. At the same time, the tragic murder of the toddler Jamie Bulger was spuriously (and ultimately, wrongly) claimed to have been inspired by the film 'Child's Play 3'. It was later discovered that his killers did not even own a video player. I lived through the whole lunatic period of panic, working to comply to the BBFC rulings while I was at my film company. Some examples of the extremes of this censorship are outlined in my book 'Film Freak'. Looking back, it was as bizarre as the 'Satanic Child Abuse' and 'Paedophile' panics that later swept the nation, when the country's dimmest residents got hold of the wrong end of the stick and started snatching children away from innocent carers and tutors. My mate Jake West, together with Marc Morris, have made two definitive films about this time of fear and retribution, 'Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 1 & 2' should be seen by anyone interested in what happens when power is placed in the wrong hands. The second volume was released to tie in with the 30th Anniversary of the Video Recordings Act, July 1984 and limited to 6,666 individually numbered sets. Each comes with postcards featuring the DPP Section 3 cover art and Graham Humphrey's original cover art. Actually, I'm surprised he didn't interview me for these - I could have told him some real horror stories about what was going on...


Charles (not verified) Tue, 07/10/2014 - 15:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

But you can hardly claim that the current system in place rating movies and video games is a bad thing. I think it's great, and most parents probably agree with me. Who wants to watch a film with their child that unbeknownst to them contains some dirty scenes?

Mark (not verified) Thu, 09/10/2014 - 13:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The better question is who wants someone go to prison for owning something as silly as "Night of the bloody apes"?

As a parent, I simply watch any films I feel uncertain about on my own before showing them to my son.

Jake West (not verified) Fri, 10/10/2014 - 12:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Charles your comment is interesting and exactly why you should take a look at my documentary because it examines the flaws in the way the system has been set up. While most people agree with age ratings guidance there's sadly more to censorship than just protecting children and IMHO it's important people are aware of the how and why - if we want a fairer and better system that's not rooted in fear and ignorance to serve political agendas. Understanding the past gives us a clearer view.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Fri, 10/10/2014 - 23:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember the video nasties outrage, it's similar to the moral panic about comics. I remember my dad telling me how the police raided the works library and took away the horror comics.

During the video nasty period they also went on about porn, in Manchester we had God's own cop Anderson (By GM Police HQ someone put a sign next to the pond, Please keep off the water.). Our police had it in for Savoy books, especially. To show how ludicrous it got, in 1 raid of a video store GM Police took away a copy of the Big Red One as they thought it might be porn.

Talking to a German friend they had a similar scare as well. Some films are still band, mainly due to the fact no one has put them before the German censor.

I guess many places have their own moral panics.