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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 10:02 GMT
Blacklisting: A sure way to the top

Sir Cliff joins Frankie as a victor
You always want what you can't have, the adage goes. Which may be why the threat of a ban hanging over a record, film or book can be such a tonic to sales.

As Sir Cliff Richard can testify, the cantankerous general public may listen to the censors, critics and moral crusaders. But it refuses to be dictated to.

The 59-year-old bachelor boy has scored his 14th UK number one with charity single The Millennium Prayer, despite being denied airplay on radio stations around the country.

The Quo
Status Quo battled for airplay
Veteran rockers Status Quo were similarly struck off the playlist by pop station Radio 1 in 1996 for being "too dull".

Stung by this rejection, the band took the BBC to court, despite their music being regularly played to the more mature audience of Radio 2.

Radio 1 DJ John Peel applauded the writ as a cunning publicity stunt: "But if everybody started taking legal action if we didn't play their music, then where would we be?"

But when it comes to being banned, victory is judged in the top ten, not the High Court.

Movie poster
A Clockwork Orange was blamed for real crimes
When in 1984 the BBC decided to steer well clear of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood single Relax - its lyrics deemed too suggestive - the song rocketed to the top of the charts and stayed there for five weeks.

Thanks to a sophisticated marketing drive, which saw the "Frankie says... " T-shirt become the mid-80s must-have, the group used the ban to tap the ever-rich vein of teenage rebellion.

Although a potent sales tactic, unleashing teen rage can land you in hot water.

The late Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film version of A Clockwork Orange caused a frenzy of media outrage.

Stanley Kubrick banned his own film
Journalists linked a string of violent crimes to the scenes depicted in the movie. Sentencing a 16-year-old for assaulting a child, a judge called the attack part of a "horrible trend" prompted by "this wretched film".

Following death threats, Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to pull the film from release in the UK.

Although his death has put this veto in question, any attempt to import the film or screen it in this country remains prohibited.

More than 25 years on, British audiences may find the violent content, which has seen A Clockwork Orange become part of modern folklore, relatively tame.

Films with a similar 1970s outlaw pedigree have been gradually finding their way into the mainstream in recent years.

The Exorcist broke the boundaries of horror films
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre enjoyed a theatrical release this year - the once notorious slasher flick passing the British censor without cuts.

The "video nasty" scare of the early 1980s, which saw titles like Driller Killer and Straw Dogs come under intense scrutiny, has largely abated.

Even The Exorcist - widely regarded as one of the scariest movies of all time - has won a video certification.

Total Film's Cam Winstanley said such films were trying "to push the envelope" and see how much violence, sex and swearing they could include.

"They're mythical in their status," says Winstanley, adding that their notoriety has enticed a new generation of cinema-goers.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has tried to throw off its image as a censoring body, making sure the cuts it sometimes suggests are in tune with public attitudes.

Monty Python film angered local councils
"We don't ban films, fullstop," says the BBFC's Sue Clark. "That's not our business."

In the UK the final fate of films rests with local authorities - who have often proved more eager to issue blanket bans.

Monty Python's Life of Brian, with its contentious religious storyline, fell victim to outraged councils across the country in 1979.

Such action cannot be dismissed as provincial prudishness.

In 1996, Westminster City Council decreed that Crash - a film combining sex and traffic accidents - could not be screened in the heart of the capital.

The BBFC had not even seen the movie when the ban was announced.

The film's director, David Cronenberg, may have found some consolation in the knowledge that many of our century's misunderstood geniuses have been banned.

Banned genius: James Joyce was dubbed 'obscene'
Literary giants James Joyce and DH Lawrence both battled accusations that their greatest works were obscene and unfit for publication.

Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses was unavailable in the UK until 1937.

All unsold copies of The Rainbow by Lawrence were destroyed in the 1920s. By 1965 it was made one of the set texts for school examinations.

Such triumphs aside, blacklisting can spell doom for a career. Few of the American writers, actors and directors who fell foul of the McCarthy anti-Communist witch hunts in the 1950s rebuilt their reputations.

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie: The high profile hideaway
Salman Rushdie has become the ultimate embodiment of the creative conscience.

The author's 1988 book, The Satanic Verses, enraged Muslims and earned him a fatwa death sentence from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni.

Ironically, his 10 years in hiding have made Rushdie one of Britain's most recognisable writers and encouraged many to read his "blasphemous" novel.

And the tale of Lady Thatcher's attempt to ban Peter Wright's Spycatcher should stick in the mind: thousands of copies of a book many fewer people would otherwise have read were smuggled into this Western democracy.

And, after a lengthy legal tussle, the book went proudly on sale in bookshops up and down the country.

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See also:

16 Mar 99 | Entertainment
Texas Chainsaw Massacre released uncut
21 May 99 | Entertainment
Censor attacks film violence
10 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Exorcist finally possesses videos
01 Oct 99 | Monty Python
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more!
10 Sep 99 | Entertainment
UK eyes Kubrick finale
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