Much as I would like to make a post here praising the people at the British Board of Film Classification for their hospitality and helpfulness, I can't. So I've written out the story anyway lest anyone else find themselves in the same situation. So, a friend sent me a link to the BBFC website, which seemed to offer the ability for anyone to come in and view their records of any film they'd classified;"Anyone wishing to view the Board’s records should email firstname.lastname@example.org and should provide a list of film titles and release dates. We will check the availability of each file and contact you to make an appointment to come in and view the records. No file can be removed from our building. We only charge for this service if we have to recall a box from our external archive and the cost is £17.24 for up to four boxes. You will have to complete a Copyright Acceptance Form before viewing and you should refer to it for terms and conditions."
I thought this would make excellent research material for this website. I emailed the helpline address above but heard nothing back, so I called the helpline to make an appointment and re-sent the email through while I was one the phone. I was told I should be OK to look at The Evil Dead
and Evil Dead II
folders, but not the Army Of Darkness
material as it was still within their 20 year limit, a policy created to protect any examiner or expert named therein.
I took the day off work and caught the train to visit the BBFC located in Soho Square, Central London on the 27th of February, turning up at 9:30am and waited to see one of the Information Officers, who I shall call 'F'. She explained that she'd been away the week before so was a little rushed, but took me upstairs into a side room and handed over the two folders. I was told I couldn't take any photos, but I could note which pages I was interested in and get them to make photocopies on my behalf, as they would need to get clearance from any person named on each document, which might take a little time if they had to track people down. I looked through both folders, there was a wealth of material there, probably over a hundred pages in each folder; including examiners handwritten notes on each of the films, letters between lawyers, letters between the BBFC and Palace Pictures, and even a prototype version of the 1990 The Evil Dead re-release VHS cover. I went through both folders, putting to one side any documents I wanted, and finished after about an hour. Then 'F' asked me to send her an email briefly reiterating what I wanted photocopies of, just so she could forward it on to management, using my Smartphone I did that while I was standing in her office, and she verified she had it. Then she gave a little talk about what they do in her department, explained how they are trying to publicize the research service they offer, showed me a few things, and then I left.
On the 1st of March I got an email back from 'F' saying "...sorry, but I've lost the email you sent the other day. I purged too much. Could you send it again..."
so I sent it again. On the 30th of March I got another email asking me to re-send it, which I did, from two separate email addresses I use this time, and still heard nothing back. On the 16th of April I called and spoke to someone else in her department, and was told 'F' was away till later in the week. I briefly explained my situation and was told they only make photocopies of documents in very rare legal or educational circumstances, and he made it clear it was extremely unlikely I was going to get photocopies for my research purposes.
Confused, I thought it best to speak to 'F' directly. On the 23rd of April I got through to her, she said she hadn't heard back from me and could I email her again which I did (the fourth email now), to two separate BBFC email addresses while on the phone to her, and she acknowledged she'd now received my email. Within two hours I got an email back to say unfortunately they couldn't make copies, but I could go back again and take notes if I wanted to. I took this up as a complaint that same day, speaking to someone else there. I was told they'd spoken to management but the decision stood, but pointed out in a later email that I should have been under no illusions as I had signed & agreed to the 'Copyright Acceptance form'. I have a copy of this form, and it does not say that photocopies of documents cannot be made, simply that the decision to do so is at the BBFC Director's discretion. Further to this, they said "as our website says - No file can be removed from our building - this applies to copies too"
, which is somewhat confusing? Why would anyone apply to the BBFC for copies, if the copies they made for them could never leave their premises, that is nonsensical? Finally they also said there was never any guarantee made that they would provide copies in any case.
At no time did 'F' mention that it was unlikely that I would be allowed copies of anything, and didn't even indicate there might be any problems, she actually made it seem a mere formality, just so they had in writing who I was and what I wanted the information for. I even had a conversation with her over blacking out the names on any paperwork rather than going to the trouble of tracking people down, as it was the dates & situations that were important to me, rather than who specifically said what to who. If she had made this clear, I would have taken much longer and made careful notes, but here I am two months later, a day spent in London, emails back and forth, and nothing whatsoever but this fairly dull story to show for it. All it would have take is one sentence to point their policy out.
Ladies and gentlemen... The BBFC.