Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Paul Deslandes


This thesis uses British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) Secretary John Trevelyan as a historical lens to examine the concept of permissive society in 1960s Britain, joining the voices of historians who have complicated the notion of a cultural and/or sexual revolution. Trevelyan, who served as Secretary of the BBFC from 1958 to 1971, is well- known for liberalizing film censorship in Britain as he played a major role in facilitating the presence of sex, nudity, violence, and drugs on British cinema screens. While historians have located Trevelyan at the forefront of a permissive landscape, no scholar has placed Trevelyan in the center of their narrative.

During Trevelyan’s tenure as Secretary, the existence of censorship as a principle was questioned by artists, journalists, members of the public, and even Trevelyan himself. Trevelyan’s personal views and understanding of the principle of censorship indicated a society grappling with an uncertain future, one that would be impacted by globalization and the thrust forward into a modernized world. Additionally, by investigating how Trevelyan was portrayed in the press and how Britons used the newspaper to understand film censorship, it becomes apparent that British society expressed apprehension about changes in permissiveness in the long sixties. Trevelyan had a hand in the reimagination of Britain in a time of imperial and international decline, using film censorship – both advertently and inadvertently – to portray a certain sense of “Britishness” on cinema screens that intertwined with new notions of permissiveness. Through treatment of the kitchen sink and Swinging London films, Trevelyan and the BBFC guided Britain’s changing national portrait to one that depicted new social liberties while adhering to many of the same traditional beliefs and societal conventions established in earlier decades. Using BBFC film files, newspaper and trade magazine articles, Public Morality Council files, Trevelyan’s memoir What the Censor Saw, radio interviews, and other primary materials, I will argue that Trevelyan as both a liberal leader and as the figure of a censor reflected an uneven development of permissiveness in the 1960s – indeed, the so-called “permissive society” was in reality a mix of permissive leaps and conservative traits set against a raging background of fear, excitement, and uncertainty.



Number of Pages

140 p.

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