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A Quick Guide to British Film Certificates

As cinema grew into a mass medium it was inevitable that moral guardians would take an interest. In the early days, censorship was a local issue with councils deciding what was was fit to be seen. This made life difficult for film makers and distributors who had to take account of various petty rules and foibles. Far better to tone films down to a level that was broadly acceptable to the mass of people and to certify they were suitable.

Thus was born the British Board of Film Censors, an industry body which classified films (and cut out offending material). These classifications had little legal status and could be overruled by local authorities, but they were largely respected.

1913 - 1930

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

A - Adult: (Children accompanied by responsible adult)

1930 - 1942 

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

A - Adult: (Children accompanied by responsible adult)

H - Horrific (Persons over 16 only)

1942 - 1951

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

A - Adult: (Children accompanied by responsible adult)

H certificate films were banned (presumably it was felt that life had enough horrors)

1951 - 1970

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

A - Adult: (Children accompanied by responsible adult)

X - Persons under 16 not admitted

1970 - 1982

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

A - Parents advised that the film may be unsuitable for children under 14

AA - Children under 14 not admitted 

X - Persons under 18 not admitted

1983 - 1989

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

PG - Parental Guidance. some scenes may be unsuitable for young children

15 - Passed only for persons of 15 years or over

18 - Passed only for persons of 18 years or over

1989 - 2002

U - Universal (unrestricted admission)

PG - Parental Guidance. some scenes may be unsuitable for young children

12 - Passed only for persons of 12 years or over

15 - Passed only for persons of 15 years or over

18 - Passed only for persons of 18 years or over

This is the point that things get really murky. If a Hollywood production has enough money behind it, and a target audience with a lower age than the certification classification would allow, then they just create a new one specially. (i.e. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring's catchy rating "PG Fantasy violence and battle scenes may not be suitable for under 8's") 

From end of August 2002

The 12 rating is revised to a 12A which allows the under-twelves to get in with an adult. But there will be a warning under the certificate explaining what type of naughtiness might be in the film.