Victorian Video Nasties

John Springhall on violence in the 19th-century media

On June 15th, 1868, a Conservative member of parliament, J.G. Hubbard, later Lord Addington, asked the Tory Home Secretary, Gathorne Hardy, 1st Earl of Cranbrook:

Whether his attention had been directed to the lamentable amount of juvenile criminality, largely attributable to the spread of cheap publications and theatrical representations of an exciting and immoral character, which corrupt the children of the lower classes, and stimulate them into courses of dishonesty and vice; and, whether the Government will propose any remedy for these growing and most serious evils?

Sanctimonious adult attitudes towards commercial entertainments intended primarily for working-class youths clearly have a lengthy historical pedigree, stretching over time from the 'penny gaffs' of the 1830s onwards, to the American 'horror comic' imports of the 1950s and the 'video nasties' of the early 1980s. Campaigns to censor these particular forms of media entertainment in Britain have resulted in such irrational and repressive legislation as the licensing provisions of the Metropolitan Police Act (1839), the still extant Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act (1955) and the more recent Video Recordings Act (1984).

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