Now you see it . . .
The Golden Age of Censorship
Paul Hoffman Doubleday, 339pp, £17.99
The Golden Age of Censorship is narrated by the ghost of a film censor whose task is to record accurately the scandalous events that took place during his career at the British Board of Film Classification. The story begins in the mid-1980s, when video arrives in British homes. Amid tabloid hysteria over a predicted wave of sexual and violent material, the BBFC is thrust into the political spotlight. A new director assembles an elite team of censors whose role is “the most serious task of deciding what others see and what they don’t”. They are to play a central yet secretive role in British cultural life.
But while the censors make a living from deciding what is likely to corrupt the general public, their time spent together in a competitive and politically charged environment eventually corrupts the censors themselves, stripping them of any ability to feel compassion for each other.
Having been the cruellest and most corrupt of all in the internecine battles that follow, the ghost’s wish is finally to “tell the truth and get it right”. Paul Hoffman hints at a parallel between the narrator’s life as a censor and his afterlife as a writer: while the latter may seem freer, both are weighed down by the responsibility of having the final say.