Thanks to the internet, pornography isn’t what it used to be. Fifty years ago, raincoated men snuck into cinemas showing X certificate films full of furtive anticipation. Now that porn is readily available at the click of a mouse, it no longer feels naughty.
This was the conclusion of Laurie Taylor in The Naughty Pictures Committees, a look at film censorship in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was left to random groups of local councillors up and down the country to decide what was fit for their constituents to behold.
In a scenario that had a touch of Alan Bennett, the gently mocking Taylor conjured up elderly gents, armed with pencils and pads, going along to screenings of questionable films at the local town hall at 8am. One of the more enlightened of this number recalled half the committee in Sale, Greater Manchester, walking out of Last Tango in Paris during “the butter moment”, as Taylor decorously described it.
Although the British Board of Film Classification, celebrating its centenary this year, is still going strong, apparently it is very rare these days for local authorities to impose separate certification, or bans, on particular films.
One former councillor recalled half the censorship committee walking out of Last Tango in Paris during “the butter moment”
On the very day George Entwistle finally conceded defeat, Roger Bolton fronted an Archive on 4 programme dedicated to the legacy of John Reith, the BBC’s inaugural director general, described by one of his successors, Greg Dyke, as “an egomaniac who believed he’d been chosen by God”.
In Who’s Reithian Now?, the monstrous autocrat came across as deeply unlikeable and even, in the words of his daughter Marista, unloveable. He famously kept a hate list of his adversaries, both real and imagined, compared commercial TV to the bubonic plague, called Anthony Eden a “namby-pamby third-rater”, and branded Top of the Pops “evil”. After sacking one announcer for being revealed as homosexual, it later emerged that Reith himself was either bisexual or gay.
However, both Dyke and commentator Max Hastings agreed that all Reith’s faults and foibles paled into insignificance compared with his success in repeatedly resisting government intervention in the affairs of the BBC – a legacy that has endured, often against the odds.
The excellent NHS satire Polyoaks, written by Dr Phil Hammond and David Spicer, is back for a second series, brimming with gags about venal practice managers, barmy government initiatives and squabbling GPs trying to cope with managing their own finances. “I blame Churchill,” says one of the GPs unhelpfully. “If he hadn’t won the war, we’d have a health service like the Germans.”
Front Row seldom disappoints and occasionally delights. Its Rolling Stones special, ahead of the rock band’s return to touring, consisted of separate interviews with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts, not known for his media-friendliness or enthusiasm for touring.
“Keith insists we carry on,” he confided, as if he had no say in the matter. “It’s been 20 years’ standing around, five years’ work.”
For Richards, continuing to tour has been “a great game of dare”, and the thing that keeps him going. Jagger said he was beginning to feel “like a listed building”, while Richards had the last word: “It’s not Mozart, it’s only rock’n’roll.”
The Naughty Pictures Committees, R4, Monday, November 12
Archive on 4 – Who’s Reithian Now?, R4, Saturday, November 10
Polyoaks, R4, Friday, November 9
Front Row, R4, Wednesday, November 7