James Ferman

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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 originally came to the United Kingdom while in the United States Air Force, following an English degree from Cornell,[2] where he was a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.[3] 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.

Ferman gained reputation as an overzealous censor as result of his refusal 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). These films, including works such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, were not without cultural value, said many cultural commentators.

Ferman was also well known for his keenness to remove references to illegal weapons, with the result that sequences involving nunchuks, no matter how innocuous or comical, were removed[citation needed]. A prime casualty of the ruling were martial arts films such as Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films which were aggressively pruned, and even 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."[5] However the other side of Ferman's tenure was that under his management cuts to films, once comparatively routine, became exceedingly scarce.[2] While liberal commentators complained about his dogged 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 criticised 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.[6]

On his retirement from the BBFC, Ferman called for a relaxation of the restrictions applied to hardcore pornography in the UK, suggesting that this would discourage illegal material.


On 24 December 2002, Ferman was admitted to Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, with acute pneumonia. He died later that day.[7]

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. ^ Template:Cite Den of Geek
  6. ^ "'Tough act' for film watchdog". BBC News. 11 November 1998. Retrieved 11 November 1998. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ "Film censor Ferman dies". BBC News. 25 December 2002. Retrieved 25 December 2002.

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