Tuesday, May 19, 2015

British Board of Film Censors & Snow White

The British Board of Film Censors (today referred to as the British Board of Film Classification) was the movie industry organization responsible for the attempted 1938 United Kingdom censorship of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Upon seeing it in February of that year, the Board felt that the dark forest scenes, and those with the Old Witch, would be too frightening for young viewers. As a result, they gave the movie an "A" rating, meaning it was more suited for an adult audience. Children under 16 could not attend, unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

This, of course, would not have sat well with the Disney Studio, particularly the thought of having to cut scenes to reverse the rating. And it certainly wasn't appreciated by thousands of young British moviegoers. A public uproar ensued, the media got into the debate, and Walt Disney couldn't have asked for better publicity. Within a couple weeks, officials from several of the largest counties had taken it upon themselves to watch the film and come to their own conclusions. Per county, the initial "A" certificate was soon changed to a general audience "U" rating.

According to the Hollywood Reporter (April 26, 1938, p. 5), Snow White was even screened at Buckingham Palace for the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, whom at the time would have been 11 and 8 respectively. With news like this, any holdout counties would soon have followed with their own updated film certificate.

An original 1938 British Board of Film Censors certificate is shown here with the "A" classification. Graphite black paper, signed in white ink by the board president William Tyrrell, (Tyrrell of Avon) and initialed by two examiners--their identities were kept secret. Certificate dimensions 25.5 x 20.5cm. Sold at auction in 2014 by Ted Owen & Company, London. Included in the lot was a film negative of it.

Later releases of Snow White saw the general audience "U" designation, as in this next certificate. It dates from the early 1960s when former Deputy Prime Minister, Herbert Morrison, had been appointed the Board president. His signature reads, Morrison of Lambeth.

Photos via the Ted Owen & Company auction page. Special thanks to Greg Philip of A Lost Film for locating these images.

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