UK Censorship & London bans The Story of O:


“Films rated X are intended only for viewing by adults…”

UK Film magazines promised British film-goers more than the British film censor would allow in 1976. The three British film magazines from my ‘O’ archive, which feature Story of O upon their covers promised the flesh and golden tones of Just Jaeckin’s Histoire d’O (one reviewer, it was said, “had seen so much flesh he was considering turning vegetarian”) but the film would not be made available to UK cinemas until late 1999, and to video issue until 2000.

The Story of O film was presented several times for certification, firstly in 1976 when it was rejected by the BBFC censors headed then by James Ferman. Ferman

Ferman was born in New York on April 11 1930, the son of a film director who had worked with D W Griffiths. He was brought in to the British Board of Film Censors, as it then was, in 1975 when the board was in danger of losing its remit after a number of its decisions had been overturned by local authorities and some films had been subject to prosecutions by anti-pornography groups such as The Festival of Light.

In many ways he had a successful run (of 24 years): no film he certificated was ever prosecuted and yet the proportion of censor-cut films was reduced from 40 to four per cent as he replaced scissor work with classification upwards. Ferman gained a 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 and the media outcry over “video nasties”. However, during his 24 years as director, he frequently came under fire for allowing the screening of violent or sexually explicit films such as Crash, Lolita, and Natural Born Killers.

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After being refused by Ferman and his team the distributors of The Story of O appealed to the Greater London Council’s film viewing board. They also refused a certificate. A number of cuts were made but these did not satisfy a full meeting of GLC members. September 26th 1978 found the London Evening Standard declaring on its front page:

“London bans The Story of O”

The Story of O was shown for the first time finally in London in December 1999, having been awarded a Camden Council 18 certificate, for a short run at the ABC Leicester Square and then for a run at the Picadilly, – twenty five years after its British ban.


‘O’ had been shown previously in London on a small number of occasions to private audiences. One showing was to a capacity audience in London at the French Institute. 

Membership undertaken previously was a requirement eagerly taken up by the London kink community. The London Institut Francais presented Histoire d’O (in its original French language) as part of a erotic film season entitled plaisir interditin (Eroticism in French cinema, 1930-1996) in the April of 1997.

The two part season saw Histoire d’O shown again in the May. Oddly, the accompanying still in the programme, attributed to the National Film Archive, was incorrect. It was an image from Kenneth Anger’s unfinished (and unseen) Story of O. Other films over the two months included Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle, Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales and Bernado Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris.

The Continental Film Review was a British film magazine celebrating all things sexy and continental. Undoubtedly a film magazine for incorrigible optimists. Continental featured movies from Italy, France, Sweden, and other continental countries that would rarely have been seen in the UK, except occasionally at gentleman’s adult cinema clubs, or at a flea-pit cinema for “one-day-only”, and stripped of all coherence by the British censor. I recall a European ‘The Sadist’ as a case in point, and a tiny cinema in Weston Super Mare, now long since demolished.


Continental Film Review did however, focus on the serious side of new cinema and championed the likes of Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Borowczyk, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The magazine started up in 1952 and ran for almost four hundred issues terminating in 1984. As an art student in the early 1970s I found back-issues invaluable for collage and scrap-booking. Issue #288 sports ‘Story of O’ on its cover and is dated October 1976.

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Sporting Jane Birkin on the cover (a still from Catherine & Co.) Films and Filming dated March 1976 does in fact feature “The Story of O – Pictures inside” – a four page picture spread (in black and white) of the film then denied UK audiences.

Britain’s longest established screen monthly Films and Filming ran from October 1954 through till March 1990. In its original form it ceased publication with the June 1980 issue.


With a colour spread rivalling the Playboy edition featuring Story of O in December 1975, Cinema X proudly displayed The Story of O on its cover in the previous month. Originally A Cinemonde publication in colour, Cinema X appears to have been envisioned by the company as the British arm of their publishing empire, which already included a similar publication in France (Cinemonde) and in Italy (King Cinemonde). Gerald Kingsland was the magazine’s first editor. Very much born of the permissive climate of the late sixties, the first issue’s editorial stated: “So far the more adult magazines have reserved a few pages for the X cinema… blood and sex are only lightly touched on, Cinema X devotes all its time to the world’s X cinema.” 

Una-Histoire-dO-CivettaWikipedia states, “Cinema X was initially supportive of home-grown British sex films… By the mid-seventies, though, Cinema X’s love affair with the British sex film had begun to falter. The then extant policies of UK censorship meant that British films had to remain softcore while the United States and most of Europe headed into the hardcore porno chic era.” Cinema X ceased publication in the late 1970s but not before spawning its very own spin-off, Cinema Blue, in 1975, the year Jaeckin and his team completed Story of O.



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