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8 More Surprising Things Banned by the BBC

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There’s a reason why the BBC, Britain’s mostly independent but publicly-funded television and radio broadcaster, is still called “Auntie”: Like a maiden aunt, the complaint goes, the BBC always thinks it knows what’s best for its audiences. The network takes its role as an arbiter of taste, morals, ethics, and standards very seriously. And as such, the BBC doesn’t show just anything—for example, chat show presenters aren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes, and depictions of drugs or alcohol are not allowed on children’s programming without a really good reason.

However, what the BBC decides to ban or not allow is, well, sometimes a little weird. We've already covered what songs the BBC has banned; here are some other weird things once banished by their airwaves.

1. Airing anything from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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Back in the early days of television, programming both in the US and the UK wasn’t like a tap—you couldn’t just turn on the TV at any hour of the day or night and expect there to be something to watch. But even as the number of viewable hours increased in the 1950s to around 50 hours a week, mostly filling up the evening and early afternoon hours, there was one hour that was sacred: Between 6 and 7 at night. This was the so-called “toddlers’ truce,” a period of TV silence just after children’s programming, which ran from 5 to 6 p.m., ended. Turning off broadcasts for that hour gave parents (well, mothers) the opportunity to get their kids to bed without TV as a distraction, advocates claimed.

This was all well and good if there was only one broadcaster. But in 1955, the recently launched ITV, a competitor channel that lived off advertising revenue, complained that the hour’s silence was an hour they weren’t making money. This, they claimed, gave the BBC, which was funded by collecting licensing fees from the public, an unfair advantage.

After a bit of government back and forth, the BBC ended the toddlers’ truce on February 16, 1957, when it ran a five-minute news broadcast followed by an innovative new teen show, The Six-Five Special, on Saturday nights. The show was an early attempt at the kind of bandstand programming that would later dominate teen viewership, featuring hip rock n’ roll and other stuff that the kids were into in those days. The first show kicked off with the presenter saying, “Welcome aboard The Six-Five Special. We've got almost a hundred cats jumping here, some real cool characters to give us the gas, so just get on with it and have a ball.” Say what now? 

2. Star Trek

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Four episodes of the original series of Star Trek were not aired on the BBC because, according to the Beeb, “they all dealt most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease.” The episodes in question were “Whom Gods Destroy,” “Miri,” “The Empath,” and “Plato’s Stepchildren" (which featured one of the first interracial kisses on television). It wasn’t the last time the Final Frontier ran afoul of British taste; in 1988, the BBC initially refused to run a somewhat gruesome episode of The Next Generation called “Conspiracy,” which featured alien parasites taking over Starfleet officials’ brains (the episode later ran in an edited form). Another episode, “The High Ground,” which dealt with terrorism and made a glancing reference to Irish nationalism, was also dropped from the initial run, but re-aired in 2007. 

3. Alien life

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Speaking of the Final Frontier—in November 2012, superstar physicist Brian Cox said that he and his BBC Two series, Stargazing Live, were prevented from investigating life on a recently discovered planet because BBC heads thought making contact with extraterrestrials would violate health and safety guidelines. Cox had planned on pointing a large telescope at Threapleton Holmes B, the planet in question, to listen for signs of life, but the Beeb put the kibosh on the plans. Cox was incredulous; he told BBC’s Radio 6: "[I said], you mean we would discover the first hint that there is other intelligent life in the universe beyond Earth, live on air, and you're worried about the health and safety of it? … It was incredible. They did have guidelines. Compliance!"

4. Kettles

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The BBC’s student quiz show, University Challenge, refused to allow a team from Goldsmiths College in London to use a kettle—as in the thing you boil water for tea in—as their mascot, on the grounds that it was an overtly political message. Though the kettle may look like an innocent kitchen appliance, in this context, students were using it to protest the London police’s “kettling” protestors during demonstrations, a practice that involves corralling or containing “unruly” demonstrators.

5. Hypnotism

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Well, sort of: The BBC doesn’t expressly ban hypnotists from its radio and TV broadcasts, but it does require that “Any proposal to feature a demonstration of hypnosis must be referred to a senior editorial figure or, for independents, to the commissioning editor.” So you can do it, but only with approval. That’s because the UK’s Hypnotism Act of 1952 requires that any demonstrations of hypnotism for public entertainment be licensed, and prohibits any demonstrations on people under the age of 18; the Act stemmed from concerns about the safety of stage hypnosis. The Act also states that the cops can lawfully enter a premises if they believe some unlawful hypnosis is going on. So, you know, watch out.

6. Communist folksingers

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According to MI5 documents released in 2006, the BBC was a hotbed of anti-communist paranoia during and after World War II—so much so that it banned that likes of British folksinger Ewan MacColl and his theatre producer wife, Joan Littlewood (MacColl, by the way, was also not allowed to enter the U.S. owing to his red sympathies). But folksingers weren’t the only “subversives” the Beeb feared: The Guardian reported that MI5 had an officer resident at the BBC who vetted all editorial applicants from the 1930s through the end of the Cold War. Those who were deemed suspicious had their files marked with a green tag, called a “Christmas tree,” the meaning of which was only known to a few higher-ups.

7. Bananas! And picking up sausages with tongs!

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The BBC made headlines (in papers that like to make fun of the BBC) in January after bananas were “banned” at its new headquarters in London; according to a spokesman, the “ban” was really more of a consideration for a staff member who has a severe allergy to the yellow fruit. The funny part, however, was that certain areas in the newsroom now sported signs featuring a banana with a big cross through it.

In other health and safety news, The Mirror reported on April 10 that BBC employees are “fuming” over new regulations in the canteen preventing them from picking up hot sausages with tongs or making their own toast. One anonymous Beeb worker told the newspaper, “I was told I couldn’t pick up two sausages with the tongs to put in a roll as I might burn myself. The sausages were hardly sizzling hot but I resent that someone in a pinny [apron] can tell me I can’t take care of myself.”

8. Sacha Baron Cohen (as the ‘Dictator,’ at least)

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Extreme satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, the genius behind the squirm-inducing Ali G, Borat, Bruno, and The Dictator, claimed in May 2012 that he, as his Dictator persona, was “banned” from the BBC. Untrue, said the BBC. "There is no ban," a BBC spokesman told the BBC (no, really, he did), "but our chat shows thrive on the spontaneous banter between guests and the presenter, something you just don't get when people come on as characters. We'd love to have Sacha on as himself.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

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Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

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[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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