As much as I abhor the concept of film censorship, the assignment of age certificates makes perfect sense to me. While they still may have some outdated notions about what people of a certain age can and can’t see, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is the most fair and consistent organisation to do so. Compared to the Motion Picture Association of America, who have been routinely criticized for their hypocrisy (The Passion of the Christ gets the same rating as Once? Seriously?), when watching a film with a BBFC certificate, you know that their rating makes sense. Yes, they did ban The Exorcist and Evil Dead on video well into the mid-90s and still enforce cuts for daft reasons such as headbutts and knife fights, but I never said they were perfect. Just the most consistent.
When the popularity of home video exploded in the early 80s, there was much concern over horror and gory films making their way into the homes of ordinary decent citizens. The so called ‘video nasties’ stirred a moral panic and the BBFC, in association with the Video Standards Council, were there to issue strict certificates on films to ensure no little 3 year old sat in front of Cannibal Holocaust. By the time I started watching films on video, the outrage was slightly diminished and common sense began to prevail. Enter Simon Bates to guide us to wisdom and peace of mind. For a certain generation of BBC radio listeners, Simon Bates will forever be known as the host of Our Tune where, in a deep, soothing voice, he would read out stories of tragedy and sadness submitted by listeners and then play some music. For me and others my age, Simon Bates will forever be known as ‘that guy with the big glasses at the start of the video’. In between the trailers and the main feature, the certificate of the film would show up on screen and then would zoom out to reveal Simon Bates, in a nice suit and big glasses explaining to us what this rating means and why it was applied. He did four in total.
U – Universal
I could never understand why this had an announcement in front of it. U means anyone of any age can watch it. Surely then all Simon Bates had to say was, “Yeah, it’s fine. Go ahead” and leave it at that. Though considering some of the older, more scary Disney films were rated U, a gentle warning on how children could potentially be traumatized might have been helpful.
PG – Parental Guidance
This one always made me giggle as a youngster. Simon Bates‘ polite voice and posh accent saying the words ‘sexy’ and ‘nudity’ sounded very funny to me. I saw this clip the most as it perfectly described the Indiana Jones and James Bond movies I owned, especially when it came to the violence of the former and naughtiness of the latter.
*Wait. Didn’t I miss one? No. It turns out I didn’t. While the BBFC does indeed have a 12 certificate, it was not issued on home video releases until 1994 and, as such, was never given the Simon Bates treatment.
When it came to film, I had fairly liberal minded parents who would not necessarily have a problem with me watching something with a 15 certificate. A 15 film would usually mean adult themes as opposed to content. They were smart enough to know what we could and could not handle. Yes, there would be intense violence but never too gorey and they knew we knew all the swear words anyway, which was fine as long as we didn’t repeat them. So while I may have been too young age-wise, I never really felt like I was about to watch something inappropriate during Simon Bates‘ introduction. (Though, again, his use of ‘sexual swear words’ did bring out the giggles).
While my parents had no issue with me watching a 15 film, the bold, red 18 certificate was completely off limits. Blessed as I was with those liberal minded parents, they still knew when to say when. Luckily, I was also blessed with a big brother nine years older than me and so I got to see Robocop, Terminator and Predator in all their gory glory. The deeper, more serious tone in Simon Bates‘ voice seemed to say to me “You are not allowed to watch this” and this made me even more hyped, especially after hearing him say “Enjoy the film” afterwards.
Interestingly enough, there were also two other BBC certificates given to video releases. E meant ‘Exempt’. This was usually applied for rock concerts or fitness videos. R18 (Restricted 18) was strictly for hard core pornography videos sold in adult shops in Britain, which more than likely would be banned outright in 80s Ireland. Needless to say, Simon Bates never made a clip for this certificate, though how awesome would it be if he had?
I’m not going to say I miss these introductions because, quite frankly, I don’t, but they do make me feel nostalgic. Especially seeing the 18 certificate for that very first sensation of doing something that can get you into trouble with The Man as well as your parents. I owe a small piece of that to Simon Bates. With his nice suit, businessman’s hair, authoritative voice and big glasses, he straight up told me I shouldn’t be doing this, and then told me to enjoy myself doing it.