Hello and welcome to Lucky Dip #2 – after the success of Lucky Dip #1 I have high hopes for this next one. Now, aisle 2 is also full of minute books like the first. As we had an older record last time, I looked for something a little more recent.
Here we are: Fire Service and Licensing Committee minutes 1965-1974. Sounds promising? Not especially, but that’s why we’re looking at it! Let’s see what I can find…
Well, the reason this volume caught my eye was the distinctive binding – its of a type that I haven’t come across before. It’s very heavy and robust for its size, and has the title in gold on the front and printed on the spine. The physical presence of the book says that this is something that was intended for permanent preservation and is imbued with authority from the logo on the front.
Inside, the volume begins with alphabetical index pages which have been manually filled out by hand. However, as the little paper note below says, the index was never completed. This is both common and frustrating for a researcher – and is probably because manual indexing is so time consuming that the effort tails off!
So what exactly did the councillors on the fire and licensing committee discuss? As well as the running of the fire department, it also had responsibility for things like petrol stations, taxi licences and charity street collections. One of my favourite entries is on page 106, where they authorise the purchase of “17 dozen pairs of firemen’s socks” – a wonderful image! This level of operational detail would be very unusual for a committee today.
What really caught my eye leafing through, were the fairly frequent trips of committee members to private showings of films, like “How to undress in public without due embarrassment”(p18) in 1965 and the controversial Swedish sex education film “Language of Love” in 1971 (p218). After viewing the films, the committee then decided whether to approve the film for showing locally, and at what certificate. The first was approved at 18, in accordance with the BBFC, the latter was refused.
Now I was surprised the local council was doing this in the 1960s and 1970s as I knew the British Board of Film Classification (originally Censorship) is older than that, so here I turn unapologetically to the power of Wikipedia from which the below derives.
Apparently, it all goes back to the 1909 Cinematograph Act which required local councils to licence public cinemas. This was designed to introduce fire regulations in order to reduce the number of accidents occurring from the dangerous combination of ad hoc pop-up cinemas and flammable early film.
However, councils added their own conditions when issuing these licences, such as reserving the right to determine opening days. These additions stretched the purpose of the Act, and were challenged in court in 1910. The cinema lost and licence conditions became more common, especially for vetting individual films. To try and gain some consistency nationally, the film industry setup its own censorship body, the BBFC, in 1912 attempting to regain some control over the situation for it’s members. The BBFC did not have any power in law, but it gave councils something to follow to save the bother of checking every film.
In 1985 the BBFC gained statutory powers over recordings such as videos or DVDs, but surprisingly (for me at least), local councils still have the final say to decide what certificate a live screening of a film has and whether it can be shown in their area. In this minute book we can see that the councillors often chose to simply follow the BBFC certification, which presumably is the method applied today. However, councils still sometimes use their power to prevent films being shown or altering their certificate – typically for the most controversial of horror films.
Another minute book, another mini voyage of discovery. Let me know what you think and stay tuned for next time!
5 thoughts on “Lucky Dip #2 – Fire Service and Licensing Committee 1965-1974”
It sounds as though the life of a committee member was very varied in the 1970s. One week you’re authorising spending some money on socks, next week you’re on an outing to see a Swedish sex film! Fascinating stuff. So could the modern day licensing committee still veto the showing of something at, say, City Screen?
Loved the idea of outing to see ‘How to undress in public without due embarrassment’. Wonder if someone was taking notes?
Lol. And you have to ask: in what circumstances would someone have to undress in public???
Thanks for your comments – I’ve been away on holiday so excuse the slow reply! Yep, the 2003 Licensing Act covers film screenings, and the licensing committee is the part of the council with responsibility for that. It’s very rare for films to be banned by councils after being passed by the BBFC – the most famous recent example appears to be “Crash” in 1997 which was banned by Westminster Council and so couldn’t be shown in any West End cinema (apart from the premier which had already happened!).