James Ferman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

James Ferman
James Alan Ferman

(1930-04-11)April 11, 1930
Died24 December 2002(2002-12-24) (aged 72)
OccupationDirector of the BBFC
Years active1959-2002
Spouse(s)Monica Robinson

James Alan Ferman (11 April 1930 – 24 December 2002) was an American television and theatre director. He was the Secretary (later termed Director) of the British Board of Film Classification from 1975 to 1999.[1]


Ferman started at Great Neck High School in 1941. Ferman originally came to the United Kingdom while in the United States Air Force, following an English degree from Cornell University in 1951,[2] where he was a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.[3][which?] He subsequently studied at King's College, Cambridge.[4] Before his time at the BBFC, Ferman worked on TV series such as Armchair Theatre, and after moving from ABC to ATV,[2] Emergency Ward 10 and many documentaries. He also wrote the libretto for the musical Zuleika.

At the BBFC, Ferman oversaw extensive liberalization of censorship standards and fronted a successful campaign for the Home Office to prohibit common law private prosecutions against films, which were being used extensively during the 1970s.[5] In the late 1980s he faced criticism by some media outlets who accused him of allowing videos to pass which they blamed for real-life violence.[5] This led him to take caution over violent and sexually violent works, but his continued liberalization led to an anti-BBFC campaign run by the Daily Mail.[5] He later faced criticism for refusing to allow several films from the 1970s to be released following the introduction of video censorship under the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the media outcry over "video nasties" (a collection of low-budget slasher films, often containing violence against women and said to be too violent and gory for UK release).[citation needed] These films, including works such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, were not without cultural value, said many cultural commentators.[citation needed]

Ferman was also well known for his policies on illegal weapons, which resulted in sequences involving nunchuks being removed[citation needed], including in films such as Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Namco video game Soul Blade. One notable change in 1991's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze was after being unable to tell "the difference between a martial arts weapon and a sausage, and believing that children would be similarly bamboozled."[6] However, under Ferman's tenure cuts to films, once comparatively routine, became exceedingly scarce.[2] While liberal commentators complained about his refusal to release certain films, others (such as Mary Whitehouse) saw him as excessively lenient. This dichotomy was clear right up to the end of his tenure when he was criticized both for refusing to allow the release of The Exorcist on video and for permitting the uncut release of David Cronenberg's Crash (1996) in cinemas.[7]

In 1997, Ferman clashed with new home secretary Jack Straw over policy on pornographic videos.[5] Ferman released several hardcore pornographic films uncut after liberalizing the guidelines in 1996, suggesting that relaxation of restrictions would discourage illegal material.[8] After Straw was appointed, Ferman failed to prevent him from forcing the BBFC to use the old, stricter guidelines on pornography, and from imposing a new president on the Board.[5][8] In 1998, after these events, Ferman retired.[5]


On 24 December 2002, Ferman was admitted to Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, with acute pneumonia. He died later that day.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Ferman was married to Monica Robinson and had two children, a son and a daughter


  1. ^ Michael Brooke "Ferman, James (1930-2002)", BFI screenonline page
  2. ^ a b c Dennis Barker Obituary: James Ferman, The Guardian, 27 December 2009
  3. ^ "Pi Lambda Phi 2010 Membership Directory"
  4. ^ Obituary; James Ferman, Daily Telegraph, 26 December 2002
  5. ^ a b c d e f Robertson, James. "Ferman, James Alan (1930–2002), film censor". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  6. ^ Matt Edwards (February 2017). "Why sausages were cut out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2". Den of Geek.
  7. ^ "'Tough act' for film watchdog". BBC News. 11 November 1998.
  8. ^ a b Petley, Julian (2012). Head-on Collisions: the BBFC in the 1990s. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-84457-476-6.
  9. ^ "Film censor Ferman dies". BBC News. 25 December 2002. Retrieved 25 December 2002.

External links[edit]