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Cinema Retro

British Regulations Enacted
Concerning the Film Industry

To understand some of the changes in the film industry, we also need to look at the cinema laws which, of course, dictated the changes and development of the film indusry.


This was the first English Act of Parliament specifically concerned with the cinema and grew out of concern over fires in theatres caused by the highly combustible nitrate base film stocks of the period.
The Act banned cinematograph exhibitions except in licensed premises. It assigned the power to license cinemas for up to a year to county and county borough councils, which had the power to set their own conditions and to delegate. This latter provision became important as the Act was used not only to reduce the literally inflammable risk of fire but also the morally inflammable risk that cinemas presented to public welfare. It meant that the licensing authorities could adopt the classifications given to films by the British Board of Film Censors. This shift in emphasis was implicit in the addition of the word 'regulating' to the title of the Act in 1952.

Several types of show were exempt from licensing. A licence was not necessary if shows were given for less than six days a year and if at least seven days' notice was given to the chief officer of police. One was not necessary for shows in structures of 'a moveable character', if at least two days notice was given to the chief police officer and if the show otherwise complied with regulations. The Act did not apply to shows in dwelling houses, even if a charge were made. Trade shows, etc, were not 'exhibitions'.
The Act was repealed by the Cinemas Act 1985.


In 1916, an import duty was imposed for positive film prints at 1d (0.42p) a foot and for negative at 5d (2.1p). Imports of blank (unexposed film stock were taxed at 0.33d (0.14p) per linear foot.



The 1909 Cinematograph Act had clearly failed to prevent the dangers from fires caused by the use of films with a nitrocellulose base. The powers of local authorities were reinforced by requiring cinemas and other places in which cinematograph film was handled (laboratories, distribution depots, etc) to notify the local authority, provide fire escapes and make other safety provisions. The Act granted powers of entry and to remove samples for testing.

The Act applied in Scotland except in 'the city and royal burgh of Glasgow' nor in the city of Liverpool, which had its own law in the Liverpool Corporation Act 1921.



This Act introduced screen quotas that came into force on 1 April 1928 for renters (distributors) and 1 October 1928 for exhibitors.

In that year the UK generated $165m box office revenue and produced 44 films (4.8 per cent of films shown), against 723 US film imports (81 per cent). The UK provided 30 per cent of US film export earnings for the year.

The Quota was based on proportion of screen time during accounting period (i.e., days per year). It started at 7 1/2% of the films shown had to be British made films... and rose to 20% by 1935.

The Quotas were initially set for 10 years.



The Cinematograph Act 1909 permitted Sunday shows in England and Wales, subject to safety and employment regulations, but this Act removed a possible anomaly by declaring that films shows on Sundays would not create an offence under the Sunday Observance Acts 1625 to 1780.

It established a new Cinematograph Fund, under the control of the Privy Council. Not more than five per cent of takings nor more than the profit earned from Sunday shows were to be paid to the fund, to be used for 'encouraging the use and development of the cinematograph as a means of entertainment and instruction'. [In fact it went to the British Film Institute, which was founded the following year.]

A Schedule to the Act allowed a poll of local electors on whether to allow Sunday cinemas.



March 25, 1936, a committee was formed and headed by Lord Moyne that was given the task: "To consider the position of British films, having in mind the approaching expiry of the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, and to advise whether, and if so what, measures are still required in the public interest to promote the production, renting and exhibition of such films"

The report warned of the dangers of allowing growing foreign (ie, American) control of the British industry, notably exhibition, and recommended that financial institutions be encouraged to fund British film production on 'reasonable' terms. It recommended the extension of the quota provision for a further 10 years but condemned the practice of making 'quota quickies'—cheap and usually shoddy films made to satisfy the demand artificially created by the need to fulfill the quota. Blame for encouraging this practice was placed on the foreign (ie, American) distributors, who wanted to spend as little as possible on acquiring their quota of titles. As a deterrent it recommended a quality test—a cost of £2 per foot of finished film was proposed—that would also apply to films made in other parts of the Empire, which counted towards the quota.

The administration of this test and other matters concerning the industry should be put under an impartial Films Commission appointed by the government.



An Act to prohibit the exhibition or distribution of cinematograph films in connection with the production of which suffering may have been caused to animals; and for purposes connected therewith.

This Act did not apply in Northern Ireland.



This Act focused on the outcome of the Moyne Committee report. It established the Cinematograph Films Council and set the British screen quota for feature films and for short films at 15 per cent for renters and 12½ per cent for exhibitors.



This Act abolished the film quota for distributors introduced by the 1927 Act but, while leaving the exhibitors' quota for the supporting program at 25 per cent, almost doubled the quota for main features from 25 per cent to a record 45 per cent.


SPECIAL LOAN ACTS IN 1949, 1950, 1952, and 1954


Some information provided by which is an excellent reference site.



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