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What the Censor Saw

The depiction of sex and violence in From Russia With Love proved a huge challenge for EON Productions as they sought to ensure an ‘A’ certificate in Britain for the second Bond film. Drawing on archive material from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), LUKE G. WILLIAMS takes an in-depth look at the censorship process surrounding the film and examines how the James Bond films helped push the boundaries of the ‘permissive society’ that was emerging during the 1960s.

The 1960s was a decade in which British society and popular culture underwent a series of fundamental changes. Attitudes towards the depiction of sex and violence within popular culture had been pretty puritanical prior to 1960, but one event largely changed that – the trial of Penguin Books under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act for publishing a full and unedited edition of D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. The ‘not guilty’ verdict delivered by a jury of three women and nine men on November 2, 1960 validated the clause in the 1959 Act that ‘obscene’ material could be published if it could be justified on the grounds of the “public good” (i.e. artistic merit).

Lady Chatterly's Lover (1928) | John Trevelyan with his 1973 book What the Censor Saw

ABOVE: (left) The cover of the 1960 Penguin Books paperback edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). The trial of Penguin Books under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was a high-profile public event and a test of the new obscenity law. (centre left) Following the ‘not guilty’ verdict on November 2, 1960 the book was free to be published for the first time in the United Kingdom unedited, and sold its first print run of 200,000 copies on the first day of publication, going on to sell over three-million copies in the next three months. Lady Chatterley's Lover was only the second book ever to sell in excess of one-million paperback copies in the UK (centre right) The account of the historic trial was documented in A Penguin Special paperback The Trial of Lady Chatterley: Regina V. Penguin Books Limited: The Transcript of the Trial published in 1961. (right) Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, John Trevelyan, holding a copy of his own 1973 book What the Censor Saw.

One man who watched the progress of the ‘Lady Chatterley trial’ with particular interest was John Trevelyan (1903-1986) – then Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors (as the BBFC was then known) since 1958 and a BBFC ‘examiner’ since 1951. In the wake of the trial, Trevelyan, under whose leadership the BBFC had become gradually more liberal, reflected: “The British Board of Film Censors cannot assume responsibility for the guardianship of public morality. It cannot refuse for exhibition to adults films that show behaviour that contravenes the accepted moral code, and it does not demand that ‘the wicked’ should also be punished. It cannot legitimately refuse to pass films which criticise ‘the Establishment’ and films which express minority opinions.”

What the Censor Saw (1973)  by John Trevelyan first edition

Trevelyan's attitude represented an important shift in the BBFC's philosophy. The Board had been established on January 1, 1913 as an independent censorship body with a mandate from the film industry and Home Office to protect the moral sensibilities of the public by preventing the classification of films which were “likely to be injurious to morality”. But by the 1960s, as Bob Dylan sang, the times were ‘a-changin’ – and so were the boundaries and definitions of what was considered art. The old-fashioned notion that art should be morally elevating, or that artists, whether they be novelists, filmmakers or whatever, should shy away from controversial subjects, was being swept away. It wasn't a case of moral standards necessarily changing, more a case of many of the hypocritical double standards that governed perceptions of what was or wasn't morally acceptable being removed. Trevelyan argued exactly this point in his fascinating memoirs What the Censor Saw (1973): “The phrase ‘permissive society’, which we have heard so often in recent years, is misleading,” he wrote. “Human beings are much the same as they always have been, and behaviour is no more wicked or licentious now than it was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago. The difference is that there is now increasing honesty, and an increasing maturity of young people.”

Look Back in Anger (1959)/Peeping Tom (1960)

ABOVE: (left) Quad-crown poster for Look Back In Anger (1959) directed by Tony Richardson, and executive-produced by Harry Saltzman. Based on John Osborne's 1956 play, Look Back In Anger was part of what became known as the ‘Kitchen Sink/Angry Young Man’ movement that took the theatrical, cinematic and literary world by storm in the late Fifties, with frank dialogue and realistic portrayals of working class characters. Many of the early films that defined the ‘British New Wave’ were made by Woodfall Productions - a company co-founded in 1958 by British director Tony Richardson (1928-1991) and writer John Osborne (1929-1994), with Canadian producer Harry Saltzman (1915-1994), who would later team up with American Albert R. Broccoli (1909-1996) to make the James Bond films. Most of these films were granted an ‘X’ certificate on their original release, but still went on to be commercially successful at the British box-office. (right) The quad-crown poster for Peeping Tom (1960) directed by Michael Powell (1905-1990). The film's controversial subject matter and harsh reception by British critics had a negative impact on Powell's career as a director in the United Kingdom. Re-discovered and re-released in the USA by American ‘New Wave’ director Martin Scorsese in 1979, Peeping Tom attracted a cult following; and in later years has been re-evaluated, and now widely considered a masterpiece of British cinema. Peeping Tom (1960) was photographed by respected Czech-born cinematographer Otto Heller (1896-1970), who would serve as the uncredited second-unit director of photography on Dr. No (1962). Otto Heller would later photograph all three of the 1960s Harry Palmer films starring Michael Caine, and produced by Harry Saltzman, from the novels of Len Deighton (who had written a draft of the From Russia With Love screenplay in 1963).

It was against this more liberal backdrop that the James Bond films entered into public consciousness. Given the moral hand-wringing which had greeted the increasing popularity of Ian Fleming's original Bond novels (most famously expressed by Paul Johnson in his review of DR. NO, appearing in the New Statesman on April 5, 1958 under the headline ‘Sex, snobbery and sadism’), it was inevitable that some measure of moral controversy would surround the Bond movies, based as they were on the exploits of a central character conceived by Fleming as a trained killer with a liking for casual sexual encounters. Producers Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman were well aware that they would have to carefully gauge and control the representations of violence and sex in the films if they were to avoid a dreaded ‘X’ certificate, which would prevent the films from becoming a mainstream box-office success. To cite a precedent, Michael Powell's Peeping Tom had, in 1960, received an ‘X’ certificate and been greeted with widespread criticism and moral revulsion, effectively ending Powell's hitherto glittering and critically acclaimed career. Such a response to the first Bond movie, Dr. No, could have wrecked Saltzman & Broccoli's plans for a lucrative series of 007 films.

All of which explains why Saltzman met with the BBFC ahead of the classification of Dr. No; as Trevelyan himself later recalled: “I had a discussion with Harry Saltzman and we agreed that since he intended to make a series of these films we should aim to get them all suitable for the ‘A’ category since ‘X’ certificates would reduce his viewing audiences.” A key factor in ensuring an ‘A’ certificate (which allowed children under the age of 16 to watch a film, if accompanied by an adult) was the insertion of humour into the Bond films, an element largely missing from Fleming's original novels. Dr. No director Terence Young is regarded by many Bond scholars as the man who insisted on this change in approach, as he explained in an interview with Richard Schenkman in 1981: “The main thing is that one had to persuade Sean [Connery] and everybody on the first picture that this picture was going to have a certain style… Tongue-in-cheek, but no more than that. You had to play it with a straight face, but the audience had to realise that there was a little sense of humour lying around… An awful lot of funny bits in Dr. No were knocked up on the set.”

Sean Connery, James Bond author Ian Fleming and Harry Saltzman| Albert R. Broccoli with Dr. No director Terence Young

ABOVE: (left) Sean Connery, James Bond author Ian Fleming and co-producer Harry Saltzman look at maps of Jamaica during pre-production on Dr. No (1962). (right) Co-producer Albert R. Broccoli with Dr. No director Terence Young at the Morgan's Harbour Hotel at Port Royal in Kingston, Jamaica, which served as the location of Puss-Feller’s bar over three days beginning Monday January 22, 1962.

Whether such humour was a conscious attempt, from the start, to disarm the censor is unclear, but Young's tongue-in-cheek approach certainly helped placate Trevelyan. “The only reason I used to get away with a lot of it was because I always used to try and make a laugh at the end of a violent scene,” Young later admitted. “That was one of the traditions I set up … He [the censor] giggled and laughed and he let us get away with it.” Editor Peter Hunt recalled a further tactic that was used to sweeten up Trevelyan. “I got to know him very well,” Hunt confessed. “He was a very reasonable man really… a very nice man. I got to be quite friendly with him. He liked to have a couple of martinis, [so] the producers used to say to me: ‘Go on, Peter, you take him out to lunch and [then] show him the picture.’ And I used to enjoy showing him the picture and having lunch with him, putting a few martinis in him and making him mellow!”

Nevertheless, when Dr. No was released in the UK in October 1962, several critics were unimpressed by its ‘A’ certificate classification and by the BBFC's perceived leniency and liberal attitude towards cinema's newest ‘hero’. Richard Whitehall, writing in influential monthly magazine Films and Filming, was particularly vituperative: “Oh, Trevelyan, art thou sleeping in Soho?” he complained. “This is surely one of the X'iest films imaginable, a monstrously over-blown sex fantasy of nightmarish proportions. Morally the film is indefensible with its lovingly detailed excesses, the contemporary equivalent of watching Christians being fed to lions, and yet its lascivious dedication to violence is genuinely hypnotic.” Whitehall went on to call Dr. No “the perfect film for a sadomasochist society" although he admitted that it lacked “the unrestrained nastiness of that other British mutation, Peeping Tom”.

Dr. No editior Peter Hunt and Terence Young | Sean Connery and Zena Marshall in Dr. No (1962)

ABOVE: (left) Editor Peter Hunt watched by director Terence Young in the Pinewood Studios cutting room. (right) James Bond (Sean Connery) seduces Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) in one of several scenes in Dr. No (1962) where the lead character is shown to be morally ambiguous. Many of the ‘kitchen sink’ dramas of the late Fifties and early Sixties had been awarded an ‘X’ certificate by the BBFC for this reason. Even Woodfall's Oscar-winning British period comedy Tom Jones (1963) starring Albert Finney, was rated ‘X’ when first released, but subsequently re-rated ‘AA’ in 1971. Whilst the ‘X’ rating (introduced by the BBFC in 1951) usually meant a restricted audience, and routinely applied to horror films, Tom Jones was another early Sixties film that broke the mould and was a substantial hit for distributor United Artists. Tom Jones played for a staggering 54-week unbroken run from June 1964-July 1965 at the London Pavilion, going on to win four Academy Awards including Best Film in 1964.

Several other critics echoed Whitehall's analysis; Penelope Gilliat, in The Observer, called Bond “a vile man to be given as a hero”, while Thomas Wiseman, in the Sunday Express, found it “disturbing that we should be offered as a hero – as someone we are supposed to admire – a man whose methods and morals are indistinguishable from those of the villains”. Nina Hibbin, in the communist Daily Worker, advanced a more sophisticated point, taking issue with the ‘humorous’ approach advocated by Young by arguing that Dr. No “doesn't wallow, as horror films do, in blood and torture and slow death. It goes a stage further – by asking you to take such things for granted, playing for a laugh whenever the sardonic Mr. Bond makes a new joke”.

Despite the moral reservations of some critics, Dr. No was a smash hit in the UK, securing the continuation of the 007 series and ensuring that the cocktail of fantasy, humour, sex and violence, which secured an ‘A’ certificate, would remain in place for the second film in the series – From Russia With Love. Interestingly, Trevelyan later recalled that the violence in the Bond films was more of a concern to him than the sex. “These films were essentially fantasies,” he argued. “Bond being the ‘Superman’ of the 1960s who could not only get all the girls to bed without any difficulty but could escape from any perilous situation, using violence and being quite callous about it even to the point of joking about it. The agreement [reached with Saltzman] resulted in keeping the sex to a reasonable level, but we had some problems with the violence and in most of the films we asked for some modifications.” This recollection does not, however, square with the BBFC file for From Russia With Love, which details that of the “thirteen cuts” required to ensure the film received an ‘A’ certificate, the majority concerned sexual imagery and sexually charged dialogue rather than violence, including seven cuts of “double entendre dialogue”. For example, as early as the second reel, dialogue had to be removed from a scene which referred to “lovers” and “physical enjoyment”. The Tatiana/Klebb scene in reel 2 of the From Russia With Love cutting continuity script in which Klebb quizzes the young Russian woman about her romantic past, clearly shows additional lines were present when the film was originally edited.

Daniela Bianchi and Lotte Menya | Sean Connery and Leila Giraut From Russia With Love (1963)

Other sequences examined in forensic detail by the BBFC were the belly dancing and gypsy girl fight scenes during reel 5, as Hunt recalled: “We had a great censor problem with the gypsy fight, with the two girls fighting. It was considered to be rather amoral … I had to appease the British censors certainly, and I think various other censors, because they thought it was far too sexy and amoral, the whole fight. And at one point, I remember the British censor telling me that he could see the girls’ pubic hairs. I said to him, ‘I've been watching it frame by frame on the Moviola and I can't! If you like I'll show it to you on the Moviola frame by frame and if you can see anything like that anywhere, I'll cut it out right in front of you!’”

Ultimately, the BBFC insisted that the gypsy belly dance was shortened “removing as many of the shots as possible where she is wriggling her stomach or bending backwards” and also specified that the fight between Zora (Martine Beswicke) and Vida (Aliza Gur) was shortened “very considerably”. Hunt later recalled that the cuts made little difference to the sequence as a whole. “There were a great deal of problems about the gypsy girls fighting, there was a certain amount of displeasure over that. They thought it was very near the knuckle. We had to play around with it. But in the end it resolved itself, I took a few frames out here and there but it didn't make any difference really.” Interestingly, Young recollected that the sequence ended up disappointing its originator, Ian Fleming, who found it too mild! “Ian was very disappointed because in the book I believe they're stark naked or very nearly naked and one of them bites the other's breast, her nipple or something. I said: ‘Ian what kind of a picture do you think we're making? How did you think we'd get away with that?’”

Leila Giraut and Sean Connery | Aliza Gur and Martine Beswicke in From Russia With Love (1963)

The love scene between Bond and Tatiana in an Istanbul hotel room was another scene to be trimmed to satisfy the BBFC. The shot of Tatiana walking towards the bed nude was removed. This shot (actually not of Daniela Bianchi herself, but of a double clad in a body stocking), was later restored to video and DVD editions – the only original cut to be restored to From Russia With Love in the 49 years since the film's original classification. Also excised were references in the scene's dialogue [present in the cutting continuity script] to Bond “searching” her and Tatiana's line “I hope I came up to expectations”. Additionally, the BBFC insisted that the shots of Bond and Tatiana kissing should be shortened and that the shot of cameramen behind the double mirror secretly filming Bond and Tatiana's love-making should be “shortened and darkened”.

Young, speaking in the early 1990s in typically candid and forthright fashion, remembered this sequence as a particular challenge to get past the BBFC. “We had a lot of censorship problems with this sequence. She was naked and they said: ‘oh, you can't do that!’ In those days they didn't like the idea of people screwing on the screen. You'd normally be expected to pan away to the fireplace to the embers [of a fire] or to something else. There were a lot of nice clichés we used to have in the cinema… waves breaking, white stallions… Today you could show it in a Sunday school! When you analyse it, it's only in the last five years that the floodgates have opened. I mean, take a film like White Palace [a 1990 erotic drama, starring Susan Sarandon and James Spader], I mean [in that film] the physical act is performed about four or five times!” Young also recalled that the censor interpreted the shot of the cameraman mopping his forehead as a witty comment on the lovemaking (“They laughed and said that's not dirty”) and that was the reason why they let the shot through, albeit in the aforementioned “shortened and darkened” form.

Terence Young directs Sean Connery and Tatiana Romanova on the Istanbul hotel set at Pinewood Studios | Rosa Klebb watched the love scene being filmed From Russia With Love (1963)

ABOVE: (left) Terence Young directs Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi on the Istanbul hotel bridal suite set at Pinewood Studios. The sequence was first filmed on April 8-9, 1963, and re-shot at the end of filming in late July/early August 1963, after the director was dissatisfied with the original version. The re-shot version (with Bianchi's hair up) had dialogue polished by an uncredited Berkely Mather, one of the three credited screenwriters on Dr. No (1962). Mather also suggested adding Grant (Robert Shaw) watching behind Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) to the shot of Bond and Tania being filmed, thereby setting up his comments on the film reel later during the Orient Express sequence, although this was ultimately not used. (right) The shot of Bond and Tania being filmed behind a two-way mirror was one that gave the BBFC examiners cause for concern, and they ordered it to be “shortened and darkened” for the finished film.
BELOW: During their journey on the Orient Express Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi revoiced by Barbara Jefford) wears a blue negligee and says: “Oh. I will wear this one... in Piccadilly.”, to which Bond replies: “You won't. They've just passed some new laws there.” Bond is referring to the Street Offences Act 1959, which criminalized soliciting by prostitutes across England and Wales, and aimed to regulate and control street prostitution by making it illegal for sex workers to solicit clients in public spaces. Shepherd’s Market, located in the Piccadilly area of central London, was known for its nightlife and entertainment. It was also a place where sex workers offered their services on the streets. Bond's reference to the 1959 Act was one of only a few instances in the early films that related directly to real life society and culture, and anchored them in the time they were made.

Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi From Russia With Love (1963)

One of the more subtle changes requested by the BBFC occurred during the Orient Express sequence when Tatiana asks Bond: “Am I as exciting as all those western girls?” Originally, she asked: “Was I as exciting as all those western girls?” The change of the verb from the past to present tense served to change the implication of the line from Tania asking about her sexual technique to a more general comment about her looks and personality. Another line to hit the cutting room floor due to its sexual connotation was Connery's comment “two hours should straighten this out” as he lowered the blind in the train carriage.

Perhaps the most violent section in the film, and the one that you would have thought would cause the BBFC most concern, was the vicious and jarringly realistic fight between Robert Shaw's Donald ‘Red’ Grant and Connery's Bond. Brilliantly choreographed by stunt arranger Peter Perkins, the sequence stands alone as easily the best fight scene in 007 history – and one of the few times in the series that you feel Bond is in serious jeopardy. Frustratingly, the BBFC files are short of detail concerning exactly what footage (and how much!) was cut from this scene, only stating that EON should “shorten the fight between Bond and Grant”. However, Young's recollection was that only one minor cut was made to the scene: “We got away with this fight because of one thing,” he explained. “And it was a pure fluke. I added it at the end of the scene, [Grant] has made him cough up his money at one stage and Sean says to him: ‘You won't be needing this, old man,’ and he takes it. The censor laughed and, on the strength of that, they only made one cut in the fight. In those days it was considered a very violent fight.”

Cut lines in From Russia With Love cutting continuity script

The final cuts made to From Russia With Love are the most noticeable and jarring. Originally, during the Orient Express sequence, Grant was meant to remark “what a performance!” when referring to the filmed footage of Bond and Tatiana having sex in the Istanbul hotel room. However, the BBFC insisted on removing this line. Similarly, at the end of the film when Bond is in a gondola with Tatiana he was meant to say to her “He was right, you know. What a performance!” while examining the film reel before disposing of it overboard. However, the BBFC also insisted on removing Bond's repetition of Grant's line, leaving the line “He was right, you know” isolated and making little sense. This cut also created an uncomfortable jump in the film's soundtrack and visuals that still looks clumsy and unsatisfactory even to this day, ensuring one of the best Bond films ends on something of a sour note.

Despite the 13 cuts made to the film by the BBFC, several critics still slammed the organisation for granting From Russia With Love an ‘A’ certificate. “What I find extraordinary,” complained Philip Oakes in the Sunday Telegraph, “is that quasi-pornography (which seems to me a fairly clinical description of the Bond dossier) can now be presented as run-of-the-mill entertainment”. Films and Filming also maintained their opposition to the Bond films, with Peter G. Baker writing: “I dislike the hypocrisy in British cinema today. A few weeks ago John Davis, the chairman of ODEON, on which circuit From Russia With Love is generally released, complained that producers are making too many ‘X’ certificate pictures because cinemas need more pictures that are ‘family entertainment’. (I don't know what vice – or virtue? – has to be filmed for the British Board of Film Censors to give such pictures an ‘X’.) If ODEON cinemas really think the new Bond film is nice clean fun for all the family, then Britain has some pretty kinky families… or soon will have.”

ABOVE: When From Russia With Love was released in the United States in April 1964 it was promoted with the same trailer seen for the UK release, but with British actor Tim Turner’s voiceover narration replaced by an un-named American voice artiste. The trailer therefore includes the brief snatch of dialogue from Sean Connery speaking the line “Well, I'll tell you something Kulturny...” which was deleted from the final release version as part of the BBFC cuts in the UK. It remains a mystery why Sean Connery’s name is entirely missing from both trailers!
BELOW: Ahead of the US release, a letter from US censor Geoffrey Shurlock (1894-1976) was sent to United Artists executive Robert Blumofe (1909-2003), detailing the cuts made to From Russia With Love by the British Board of Film Censors. The same cuts were then applied to the US release of the film, although this was not always the case with later films in the series.

1964 letter from US censor Geoffrey Shurlock to UA executive Robert Blumofe

Films and Filming raised this criticism with Trevelyan himself in an interview, asking: “When you have a British film, like, say, From Russia With Love, do you not think that if the film had been French it would have been awarded an ‘X’ certificate rather than an ‘A’?” Trevelyan's reply was admittedly a little unconvincing: “Oh, no. This kind of really good ‘hokum’ picture is seldom made in France, if ever. If you take From Russia With Love seriously, you've probably got to give it a double-X.” This led Films and Filming to ponder: “So, provided all kinds of abnormality and perversion are not taken seriously, the Board will award an ‘A’ and not ‘X’' certificate?”

By the time the 1960s ended, the moral panic that had greeted the Bond novels in the 1950s and first Bond films in the early 1960s had largely subsided. Cinema critics and audiences had become more accustomed to graphic representations of sex and violence while the Bond movies had become a much-loved British institution. In 1970, the BBFC amended their certifications by making the guidance attached to ‘A’ certificates more open to interpretation and advisory (cautioning parents that the film might be unsuitable for young children, but removing the requirement for children to be accompanied to such films by adults). Meanwhile, a new ‘AA’ certification was also introduced, for which only children of 14 or over could be admitted.

1973 From Russia With Love BBFC certificate card | BBFC examiner Stephen Murphy and president Lord Harlech

ABOVE: (left) The BBFC certification card attached to the start of all 35mm film prints of From Russia With Love in 1973 when the film was re-released in the UK on a double-bill with Diamonds Are Forever (1971). The card shows the names of BBFC President Lord Harlech [William David Ormsby-Gore (1918-1985)] who served from 1965-1985, and Stephen Murphy, who succeeded John Trevelyan as Board Secretary in July 1971. (right) Murphy [pictured left with Lord Harlech leaving Bow Street Court in 1975] would preside over one of the most turbulent periods in the Board's history, passing such films as Ken Russell's The Devils (1971), Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1973). Murphy had to deal not only with far more graphically explicit films, but also the increasing public and media backlash that accompanied their release.

In 1975 the BBFC was taken to court over the certification of the 1969 Swedish sex education film Language of Love [original title Ur kärlekens språk], and accused of approving a “grossly indecent” film. The private prosecution was brought by disgraced former Labour M.P. turned moralist campaigner Raymond Blackburn [working closely with anti-pornography campaigner Lord Longford (1905-2001)], after pressure from several local authorities who had the power to overrule the BBFC classifications, and ban films from being exhibited in certain circumstances, or in this case allow the film to be shown in cinemas licenced by them. The Greater London Council had originally awarded the film an ‘X’ certificate in 1970, and the BBFC followed suit in 1973, despite John Trevelyan originally refusing to certify the film, leaving the decision up to local authorities. Blackburn lost the case after magistrate Mr. Kenneth Barraclough could not find any evidence in law to support his accusations, and cleared Lord Harlech and Stephen Murphy of aiding and abetting Cannon Cinemas in the exhibition of Language of Love. Cannon Cinemas were committed to trial at The Old Bailey in 1976, but they too were cleared. The high profile case (and another surrounding the classification of Last Tango in Paris) ultimately led to Stephen Murphy's decision to retire from the BBFC in June 1975. Diamonds Are Forever was another film which came under criticism for its original ‘A’ rating during Stephen Murphy's tenure at the BBFC.

Throughout the 1970s, the Bond films were granted ‘A’ certificates, ensuring that families could attend them as a whole, with only the occasional minor cut requested by the BBFC to avoid an ‘AA’ certification. In 1982, the ‘A’ certificate was replaced by ‘PG’ (“some scenes may be unsuitable for young children”), while ‘AA’ was replaced by ‘15’ (“no person under the age of 15 to be admitted”). Although the Bond films were now established in the public's eyes as ‘family entertainment’, in private, at the BBFC's Soho Square headquarters, several examiners believed the Bond movies were not ‘A’ or ‘PG’ material and that the BBFC were wrong to routinely classify them as such. This argument was regularly re-hashed with the release of each new James Bond movie and the anti-Bond BBFC contingent termed this perceived leniency towards the series the ‘Bond allowance’.

It was against this context that From Russia With Love had to be reclassified for video release in 1984. The Video Recording Act of that year (a response to the ‘video nasties’ controversy in the UK) was the first piece of legislation to make it mandatory for all video releases to receive a BBFC certification. As such, all films in circulation, even those that had been classified already for cinema release, had to be re-viewed and re-certified. The BBFC files concerning the 1984 re-certification of From Russia With Love for its Warner Home Video release make for fascinating reading and show how, since the 1960s, the level of violence and sexual references that were considered ‘acceptable’ for a family audience had dramatically changed.

From Russia With Love Warner Home Video cover and cassette rating 1982/84

The first BBFC examiner who viewed the video version of From Russia With Love wrote: “Passed ‘A’ in 1963 with some thirteen cuts, this video tape appears to be the cut version, although most of the cuts – seven of them were in dialogue – could be reinstated. Although my memory of the film, particularly of the opening strangling and the fight on the train, was that it was fairly strong, it now appears to be quite acceptable for the ‘PG’.”

A second BBFC examiner concurred with this assessment, stating: “It surprised me, looking at the file, that this second Bond movie was subject to thirteen cuts, mostly removing sexual innuendo… These cuts look very silly now and the last one is very clear as the line “what a performance” is practically the last line of the film… These cuts could now be reinstated and it is a little disappointing that Warner should have sent in the cut version on video.” In truth, it is unlikely that Warner Home Video, or EON Productions, possessed an uncut print of the film. However, despite their desire to see the sexual innuendo reinstated, the second BBFC examiner did harbour some reservations about the violence in From Russia With Love, assessing that it was on the ‘PG’/‘15’ certificate boundary, while also dryly noting, “the main issue, though apparently less of a problem than belly dancing in 1963, is violence”. Of particular concern to this examiner were the following moments in the film:

“1. 2 mins 50 secs. Man in James Bond mask is garrotted.
2. 28 1/3 mins. Close-up of corpse with bloody face in back of car.
3. 39.58 Knife is thrown into man in long shot.
4. 1 hr 26 mins. Lengthy fight in train between Shaw and Connery includes kicks, and a stomp on back. Shaw attempts to garrotte Connery and Connery garrottes him. Unlike the later Bonds, this is played earnestly and is all the more exciting for that.
5. 1 hr 41 1/2 mins. Close up of Rosa Klebb's knife coming out of her shoe.”

Objectionable scenes in the 1984 BBFC reclassifcation of From Russia With Love

ABOVE: THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ - When reclassified for home video in 1984, the British Board of Film Classification were less worried than the 1963 examiners with regard to the overtly sexual content in From Russia With Love, but harboured reservations about allowing some of the more violent scenes to go uncut. (left) Daniela Bianchi in a provocative publicity shot for From Russia With Love (1963). (top right) Grant (Robert Shaw) garrottes a SPECTRE agent in a James Bond mask (Sean Connery) in the pre-credit sequence filmed in Pinewood Studios’ gardens. (bottom centre) Close-up of the driver murdered by Grant in Istanbul (played by Stunt Arranger Peter Perkins). (bottom right) Close up of the ‘poisoned’ blade flicking out from the toe of Rosa Klebb's shoe (Lotte Lenya). The knife mechanism was devised by special effects supervisor John Stears and engineered by Bert Luxford.

This examiner went on to refer to the ‘Bond allowance’ debate within the BBFC, writing: “Whether this violence would be acceptable in another context is one of those imponderables about which we regularly ponder at the Board. In this context, a very famous film shown repeatedly in the early evening (and during bank holiday afternoons by the ITV network in an attempt to get their money back for the Bond series), I would judge this [violence] acceptable. To up the category now would make us look punitive towards video and, in any case, this is a far less sadistic movie than Diamonds Are Forever. It's just a pity we couldn't reinstate the film cuts.”

From Russia With Love Rank Organisation publicity material | John Tevelyan (1903-1986)

ABOVE: (right) Original Rank Organisation publicity material distributed to principal ODEON and Gaumont cinemas before the release of From Russia With Love (1963). (right) John Trevelyan photographed in 1971 as he came to the end of his tenure as Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors.

In hindsight, perhaps the most important role the Bond movies played within the context of screen censorship was establishing a new barometer of what level of sex and violence was and wasn't acceptable within a ‘family’ movie. Had Saltzman & Broccoli not had an understanding and liberal advocate for their work in the form of John Trevelyan then the early Bond movies, and From Russia With Love in particular, might have been far less violent and sexually adventurous, and possibly far less successful than they ultimately were. One of the factors that attracted a younger audience to the early Bond films was that their attitudes to sex and violence seemed so much more modern than in their stuffy and mild contemporary competitors. Although the cuts Trevelyan insisted on being made to From Russia With Love might appear pernickety and inexplicable to a post-millennial audience, his refusal to bow to the self-appointed moralists of his day helped the Bond series gain crucial commercial momentum. As critic Alexander Walker once wrote, Trevelyan “was the super go-between… generous to the artists and patient with the businessmen”.

By the 1980s, with ultra-violent American action thrillers such as Rambo, Beverley Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon breaking box-office records, Bond movies were no longer seen as boundary-pushing cinema but as ‘safe’ family entertainment. When the Bond series next caused a censorship furore, with 1989's Licence To Kill, it was because the filmmakers decided to consciously increase the level of violence in response to their more violent American competitors. But that's a whole other story…

©007 MAGAZINE 13/04/2024


From Russia With Love 60th Anniversary

From Russia With Love FACT FILE