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EDITIONS
Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
New chief film 'censor' named
Sir Quentin will oversee film classifications
Senior civil servant Sir Quentin Thomas - who played a key part in securing peace in Northern Ireland - has been named as the new president of the British Board of Film Classification.

He will replace Andreas Whittam Smith, who left his post at the BBFC on Wednesday to take up a new role with the Church of England.


I am very much looking forward to... learning more about the difficult issues the BBFC has on its plate

Sir Quentin Thomas
Sir Quentin, 58, was one of the first UK officials to make contact with the Sinn Fein in the search for a peace deal in the early 1990s, and was instrumental in securing the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

A film fan, he will take charge of vetting all cinema and video releases in the UK.

"I am very much looking forward to taking up this appointment and learning more about the difficult issues the BBFC has on its plate," he said.

His knighthood came in 1998 for "services to peace in Northern Ireland".

Andreas Whittam Smith
Mr Whittam Smith spent almost five years in charge
He was said to have viewed the problems of Ulster as "an intellectual puzzle which he approaches like a grand master".

He left the Civil Service in 1999 after years of service at the Home Office, the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office.

He also worked on the law on obscenity and film censorship and advised the government on broadcast policy during his time at the Home Office.

On taking up the new post, he welcomed the government's decision to retain an independent film regulator despite the creation of a "super-regulator" for the rest of the media.

'Effective and efficient'

"The BBFC enjoys the confidence of the public, the local authorities and the relevant commercial and creative interests," he said.

"The BBFC model is a good one - it is independent self-financing, effective and efficient. It provides clear guidance when it is needed."

The BBFC president has to oversee the classification of 7,000 films and videos a year, many for the specialist R18 market that are distributed only to licensed sex shops - an experience Mr Whittam Smith described as "refreshing".

Asked how he would respond to a media fuss about a film, Sir Quentin said: "It is part of the evidence that the board must take into account, if there is a sense that the papers are reflecting public concerns.

"But I don't mean there is a sort of Pavlovian response every time there is a fuss in Parliament or the press. This is an issue upon which everyone has a view."

He also said the board's view would would not be "on a par with somebody on the number 24 bus or a taxi driver".

During his five years in charge, Mr Whittam Smith was credited with liberalising the board's cinema and video ratings.

Predictions

Sir Quentin will face decisions such as whether to relax the rules on what level of sex and violence children are allowed to see.

The BBFC is considering letting children under 12 into 12 certificate screenings if they are accompanied by an adult, and a scheme has been trialled in Norwich.

Before leaving, Mr Whittam Smith predicted that censorship may become even more relaxed in years to come, with age restrictions on films vanishing completely.

"In the very long term, all ratings will become advisory," he said in July. "There will be a long pause before the next relaxation, but it will all happen in a 10-year period."

But Sir Quentin - who will earn 28,000 a year for 25 days' work - disagreed with his predecessor.

He said: "I am sceptical about whether we can make those advisory or whether there would be support for that."

See also:

31 Jul 02 | Entertainment
29 May 02 | Entertainment
29 Oct 01 | Entertainment
13 Jun 02 | Entertainment
31 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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