1969 I went on a school trip to see the sex education film ‘Helga’ which was designed to make up for the fact that our parents and school teachers were all too embarrassed to tackle the subject head on. It opened in cinemas on 24th April and we were all bussed to the Granada Cinema to watch the German government sponsored film about sex, pregnancy and giving birth. Even though it didn’t have an X rating this was certainly more explicit than any of the adult films that I had deceived my way in to see and it had ladies with no clothes on, voluptuous bodies and bushy pubic hair and far from putting me off I left the cinema thinking about how Id like to try it!
In film censorship the original X certificate was issued between 1951 and 1982 by the British Board of Film Censors in the United Kingdom. From 1951 to 1970, it meant “Suitable for those aged sixteen and over’ and from 1970 to 1982 as films became more explicit and violent this was raised to eighteen and over.
Censorship was a bit more vigorous in the 1960s than it is now and Lord Harlech and his Board would slap an X certificate on anything considered remotely unsuitable. My first X film, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, whilst it had some brief nakedness (not full frontal) certainly wouldn’t get an X certificate forty years on and neither would the second X film that I managed to sneak into see which was ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ where there were no semi clothed ladies, no swear words and not much violence either. I really liked that film and it remains one of my all time favourites but my final X film was ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and I really didn’t really understand it all and I don’t think I even stayed until the end. Despite my critical dismissal of it, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ went on to become the only X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Why was Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid rated X? I saw that movie when I was in my mid-teens at a local theater and I’m sure that if it had even had an R rating, I would not have been allowed to go.