When I was fourteen there was a lot of talk in the playground about the release of a movie in February 1969 called the ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which had caused a debate about nudity, morality and sex.
Prior to 1969 going to the cinema meant Saturday morning pictures, Walt Disney or Cliff Richard in ‘Summer Holiday’ but this was the year that I managed to trick my way into the Granada Cinema to see an X rated film. This was by no means easy because I always looked younger than my age and it was only possible to deceive the cashier by getting someone else to buy my ticket while I kept out of sight. Well, it worked because I got away with it (or perhaps she just didn’t care?) and my first adult film was ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which included a scene where a semi-clothed girl was posing for an artist and which set my pulse racing somewhere close to danger levels.
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.
Miss Jean Brodie 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 half 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.
There is an interesting postscript to this story because a few years later when I bought my first house on Frobisher Road in Bilton near Rugby we soon became friends with the neighbours. Nettie and Neil were an unusual couple who lived a sort of semi-hippy lifestyle, they had no real furniture, grew their own vegetables and cooked one saucepan dinners. It turned out that Nettie’s maiden name was an unlikely and unforgettable Antoinette Biggerstaff and for a while had been a bit of a child actor and had actually played one of the girls, Helen McPhee’ in the ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. Not the one who took her kit off but if you watch the film she has one single line which is ‘No, Miss Brodie, you can’t beat being detached’. After I left Rugby in 1980 and moved to Derbyshire I sadly lost touch with Nettie and Neil.
Antoinette Biggerstaff (Nettie Davies) is on the far right of this picture:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was X-Rated!?! Absurd. Very interesting piece though.