The influence of ‘psychiatrist friends’ on British film censorship in the 1960s

Tim Snelson, William Macauley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


This article will demonstrate the significant influence that psychiatric consultants exerted on the policy of the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) and, as a result, on cinematic representations of mental illness and psychiatric practices during what Arthur Marwick (2005) called the 'long 1960s'. Drawing upon extensive research at the British Board of Film Classification archives, this article complicates dominant narratives of British censorship in highlighting how John Trevelyan, appointed as Secretary of the BBFC in 1958 and frequently depicted as a liberalising force, deferred to psychiatric expertise outside the BBFC in making decisions about film censorship and certification and, in some instances, scriptwriting and editing. This article will explain how a proliferation of American and, later, British films dealing with mental illness caused BBFC examiners to lose confidence in their ability to make censorship decisions in the mid-1960s. Initially, this loss of confidence prompted consultation with the influential British mental health organisation, the National Association for Mental Health (NAMH) and, subsequently, a small group of trusted medical professionals, referred to as 'psychiatrist friends', who decided on cuts and certification of films including The Caretakers (1963), The Collector (1965) and Repulsion (1965). As a result, the BBFC moved from a default position of prohibition to one of enabling 'serious' films that promoted mental health awareness and discussion of contemporary mental health issues. This article aims to offer new insights into the policies, processes and practices of the BBFC, to contextualise censorship within historical debates about mental health representation and to highlight the mutually productive interactions that took place between the fields of mental health and cinema.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-500
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of British Cinema and Television
Issue number4
Early online date1 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • BBFC
  • censorship
  • mental health
  • psychiatry
  • antipsychiatry
  • 1960s
  • The Caretakers
  • Repulsion
  • Anti-psychiatry
  • Mental health
  • Censorship
  • National Association of Mental Health (NAMH)
  • The Collector
  • Psychiatry
  • Trevelyan

Cite this