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11 Reasons the BBC Has Banned Hit Songs

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The BBC, Britain’s sometimes old maidish, publicly-funded broadcaster, was in a tough spot last week. Following the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former Prime Minister and controversial Iron Lady, anti-Thatcherites campaigned to get the song, “Ding-Dong, The Witch is Dead,” in the top spot on UK music charts.

The 74-year-old song, celebrating Dorothy’s timely squashing of the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, nearly made it, topping out at number 2, which meant that the BBC would eventually have to play it on its Sunday music chart show. The mere notion that the BBC would air a song mocking the death of Lady Thatcher resulted in complaints from Thatcher supporters that the broadcaster was letting the charts be “hijacked” for political purposes; anti-Thatcherites threw around the words “freedom of speech.”

On Sunday, April 14, BBC Radio 1 Controller Ben Cooper responded to the controversy on his blog, explaining that he was sensitive to all sides of the argument and had decided to treat the rise of the song “as a news story.” They played a 5-second excerpt of the song, rather than the full 51-seconds of high-pitched Munchkin crooning, and explained why the song was at the top of the charts. “Most of [our audience] are too young to remember Lady Thatcher and many will be baffled by the sound of the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz,” he said. “To ban the record from our airwaves completely would risk giving the campaign the oxygen of further publicity and might inflame an already delicate situation.” 

It’s obviously not the first time—nor will it be the last—that a song has caused the BBC a spot of bother. That’s because for pretty much as long as the BBC has been in business, it has been in the business of censoring. But that doesn’t mean that the BBC’s treatment of popular music over the last 90 years has always been understandable—sometimes, it’s been downright manic, careening from thinking that whatever the kids were into these days was clearly objectionable to worrying that it lived up too much to its old maid Auntie image.

Here are a few things that got songs banned from the Beeb.

 

1. Prostitution

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In 1930, just eight years after the BBC was launched on the world, Cole Porter’s ballad about a happy hooker, “Love for Sale,” was banned from the Beeb’s airwaves for its ambiguity about prostitution.

2. Drugs 

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Illegal substances are a perpetual sticking point for the Beeb. In 1931, Cab Calloway’s classic “Minnie the Moocher” was kept off the air, probably owing to its drug references and depiction of generally loose morals. Just over 60 years later, in 1993, obvious references to drugs got The Shamen’s “Ebeneezer Goode” banned—the refrain went “eeeezer Goode, eeeezer Goode." Get it? “E’s are good”?

3. Violence

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Louis Armstrong’s “Mack the Knife,” from The Threepenny Opera, was banned in 1959 because of worries that its jazzy tune might incite gang violence. To be fair, it’s a pretty catchy tune about a violent murderer.

4. Sex

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Oh, Auntie Beeb. If there’s one thing that the British public, according to Auntie Beeb, can’t stomach, it’s references to sex. In the 1930s, ukulele-player George Formby and the BBC had a wary relationship, since a whole bunch of Formby’s cheery tunes were all about the fuzzy double entendre. In 1937, his jam, “With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock” (Blackpool Rock is a popular seaside candy that comes in stick form) was permitted, provided the version aired excised the lyrics: “With my little stick of Blackpool Rock, along the promenade I stroll/ In the ballroom I went dancing each night/ No wonder every girl that danced with me, stuck to me tight.”

The Beatles’ 1967 “I Am the Walrus” was banned for the words “pornographic priestess” and “knickers”; the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” was banned that same year for, well, everything. Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s breathy, velvety, overtly sexual “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus” (with its lyrics, “I go and I come, between your kidneys,” which sounds plainly ridiculous and somewhat painful) was pulled from the airwaves in 1969, solidifying the French opinion that the Brits were all a bunch of repressed weirdoes.

Paul McCartney’s 1972 Wings-era jam “Hi, Hi, Hi,” written with his late wife Linda, was banned for its sexually suggestive lyrics and references to drugs. (According to McCartney, the Beeb just misheard the words: One line the BBC heard as “get you ready for my body gun” was actually meant to say “get you ready for my polygon.” Obviously.)

In 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” was deemed too explicitly sexual (although “Relax, don’t do it, when you want to come” actually sounds not explicit enough—don’t do what?). In a move that probably did much for the song’s chart performance, Radio 1 DJ Mike Read called the lyrics “disgusting” and yanked the record off the turntable live on air.

5. Politics

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McCartney had a rough year in 1972 with the BBC: His “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was banned for its overtly political and anti-British message. Politics, especially of the kind that question authority, weren’t popular with the Beeb: In 1977, the Sex Pistols’ raucous “God Save The Queen” was banned for its anti-establishment message.

6. Sappy lyrics

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So, ok, sex, drugs, anti-establishment politics, violence—not fit for the public consumption, fair enough. But what could possibly be objectionable about Bing Crosby? During World War II, the blue-eyed crooner’s homesick “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” wasn’t allowed on BBC airwaves because controllers felt that the lyrics might lower morale in troops overseas. Indeed, during the War, the BBC was particularly mindful of what it thought that the country needed, and concluded that saccharine sweetness wasn’t it. In 1942, the BBC pursued a “policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country in the fourth year of war.”

7. Teen death

What is with teenagers, death, and eternal love? In the 1950s and ‘60s, “death pop”—songs about teenagers whose love is ripped asunder by untimely death—was as big of a thing as Twilight is now. But as much as the kids were totally into the tragic, Romeo and Juliet romance of it all, the BBC wasn’t a fan. In 1960, it banned Ricky Valance’s version of “Tell Laura I Love Her,” a song about a boy called Tommy who dies in a car crash during a drag race. Tommy was only racing—heartbreak alert—to win enough money to buy his lovely Laura a wedding ring. Sigh. In 1961, the BBC banned John Leyton and the Outlaws’ syrupy “Johnny, Remember Me,” a song about a young man who is haunted by his dead lover, promptly rocketing the track to the number 1 spot on UK charts. 

8. Spookiness

Bobby Pickett’s Halloween jam “Monster Mash” was banned from the airwaves in 1962 on the grounds that it was “too morbid.” Evidently, Auntie Beeb is of a nervous disposition because “Monster Mash” wasn’t the only “scary song” the broadcaster banned: Just the year before, it refused to play The Moontrekker’s “Night of the Vampire” on the grounds that the eerie sounds of a creaking door and spooky laughter on the rock instrumental might actually scare someone to death. Muhahahaha!

9. Irreligious references to Heaven

In 1954, Don Cornell's "Hold My Hand" was banned because in it, he compares his relationship to his ladylove to heaven and that didn’t fly with the Beeb. “So this is the kingdom of heaven/ So this is the sweet promised land/ While angels tell of love, don't break the spell of love/ Hold my hand." Syrupy, sweet—and breeding a generation of atheists who find divinity only in themselves and their lovers? You be the judge.

10. Satire!

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Comedy was also not permitted by the BBC—several of mathematician and satirist Tom Lehrer’s songs, including “The Old Dope Peddler,” a 1960 sentimental song about the neighborhood drug dealer, were banned. Incidentally, rapper 2 Chainz sampled “The Old Dope Peddler” on his track, “Dope Peddler,” in 2012. Lehrer told the BBC in 2013 that he was “very proud” of his song’s being used more than half a century after he recorded it—his response to their request was, “I grant you motherf***ers permission—which is the word that they use constantly—to do this and please give my regards to Mr. Chainz, or may I call him 2?”

11. Awesome drum beats?

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Phil Collins’s “In The Air Tonight” was banned during the Gulf War, because... of its dark, atmospheric drumming? Spooky lyrics? Relationship to Miami Vice? Who knows? Incidentally, the Beeb also yanked The Cure’s “Killing an Arab,” for obvious reasons, and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” for not obvious reasons, off the air during the Gulf War. 

What won’t get you banned

But where it banned some songs for what seem like weird reasons, the BBC certainly didn’t ban every song in questionable taste—even after complaints by certain members of the aghast British public. In 1973, broadcasting standards campaigner Mary Whitehouse, a woman with a seemingly bottomless capacity for moral outrage who spearheaded several very public campaigns to ban “filth” from radio and television throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, complained about rock legend Chuck Berry’s performance of “My Ding-a-ling” on Top of the Pops. Watch the performance here:

"One teacher," Whitehouse wrote to the BBC, "told us of how she found a class of small boys with their trousers undone, singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation which—in spite of all the hullabaloo—is so obvious … We trust you will agree with us that it is no part of the function of the BBC to be the vehicle of songs which stimulate this kind of behaviour— indeed quite the reverse." But the BBC refused to apologize or disallow the song; then-director Charles Curran wrote to Whitehouse, “We did not think it would disturb or emotionally agitate its listeners and we believe that the innuendo is, at worst, on the level of seaside postcards or music hall humour.”

The BBC didn’t ban other songs that were controversial. Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up,” a song that some thought celebrated misogyny, despite the “shock” ending of the video, wasn’t exactly banned, although the BBC did limit its airplay and in some cases, only played a lyric-less version. And The Kinks’ “Lola,” the best, most melancholic song about falling in love with a trans-woman ever, was only briefly banned, not because of content that the 1970’s audience might have objected to, but because it made a reference to “Coca-Cola.” BBC Radio had a strict no product policy, so singer Ray Davies was forced to interrupt the band’s American tour to fly back to London and re-record the lyric to say “cherry cola” instead.

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11 Single Facts About Bridget Jones’s Diary
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While it's not officially a holiday movie, so much of the action in Bridget Jones's Diary happens around the most wonderful time of the year that the rom-com has become essential wintertime viewing for many movie fans. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of a very single, and hopelessly romantic, working professional named Bridget (Renée Zellweger) who is determined to improve her love life. Enter two strapping gentlemen (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) to vie for her heart. Get to know more about the timeless dramedy that’s been delighting audiences since 2001. Just as it is.

1. THE SOURCE NOVEL CAME ABOUT FROM AN ANONYMOUS COLUMN ABOUT SINGLE LIFE.

In the foreword of Bridget Jones’s Diary, author Helen Fielding wrote about how she came to conjure up the story: “The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”

2. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE IN HELEN FIELDING’S LIFE.


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These include Jude (Tracey MacLeod) and Shazzer (Sharon Maguire, also the film’s director). In a column for the Evening Standard, MacLeod described how she didn’t even realize she inspired part of her best friend’s story until Fielding’s book launch party. “At the launch party for the first Bridget book, I was cornered by a smug married friend, ‘So ... what's it like being Jude?’ she asked,” MacLeod writes. “I was outraged. Of course I wasn't Jude, with her self-help books and horrible boyfriend. My boyfriend wasn't anything like Vile Richard ... But as more people began to believe that Jude and Shazzer were thinly-veiled portraits of myself and Sharon, I secretly got to like the idea.”

3. TONI COLLETTE DECLINED THE LEAD, AND KATE WINSLET WAS CONSIDERED FOR IT.

Before Zellweger stole the show, Aussie Toni Collette and Brit Kate Winslet were up for the part. According to AMC, “Toni Collette declined the role because she was on Broadway starring in The Wild Party at the time, and Kate Winslet was considered but the producers decided she was too young.”

4. HUGH GRANT ONLY SIGNED ON WHEN RICHARD CURTIS WAS ANNOUNCED AS THE WRITER. 


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“The only reason [I was a hard sell] was because I didn't feel they had the script quite right for a long time,” Firth told Cinema.com. “And I kept saying, ‘It's not working. Just get Richard Curtis to come in and help rewrite it.’ Eventually they did, and as soon as Richard came on board, I signed on the dotted line. So that's all it was.”

5. RENÉE ZELLWEGER GAINED 17 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

Zellweger’s weight gain for the role had the media abuzz for a while. According to The Guardian, “In order to play the eponymous heroine in the film adaptation of Fielding's bestseller, the actress gained 17 pounds, consulting a dietitian and endocrinologist who devised a regime of three full meals a day, multiple snacks, and no exercise.”

6. ZELLWEGER WORKED AT PICADOR FOR THREE WEEKS.

Zellweger went full Method for her iconic role, and became a temporary employee of the Picador publishing house. “We came up with a plan: she would be Bridget Cavendish, Bridget for obvious reasons and Cavendish as she was to be passed off as the sister of Jonathan Cavendish, a friend of one of our company chairmen,” Picador publicist Camilla Elworthy told The Guardian. “That last bit at least is true, and no one was to know that Jonathan Cavendish was one of the film's producers.”

7. ZELLWEGER KEPT A PHOTO OF JIM CARREY ON HER DESK.


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While working at Picador, Zellweger kept a picture of Jim Carrey on her desk—which made her alter ego Bridget Cavendish seem like some sort of obsessed fan. “Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee, and made photocopies—without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk,” noted Hollywood.com.

8. ZELLWEGER INVITED HER BOSS AT PICADOR TO BE AN EXTRA ON SET.

In Camilla Elworthy’s write-up for The Guardian, she noted how she became a part of the production. “Renée sent me a thank you letter and gift after she'd gone and I have seen her a few times since then," Elworthy wrote. "She invited me on to the film set one day. She informed me that I had to stick around and be an extra and made sure that I was put somewhere that I would be seen ... As a result, half my head can be seen for half a nano-second in the launch party scene.”

9. THE EPIC FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN GRANT AND COLIN FIRTH WASN’T CHOREOGRAPHED.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

10. FIELDING ASKED FRIEND SALMAN RUSHDIE TO CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Recalling how he came to be part of the film, famed novelist Salman Rushdie told Texas Monthly, “Helen Fielding, the author of the book, is an old pal of mine, and she asked if I’d come along and make a fool of myself, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

11. GRANT DIDN’T HEAR ZELLWEGER SPEAK IN HER AMERICAN ACCENT UNTIL THE FILM’S WRAP PARTY.

Zellweger was so engrossed with Bridget Jones that one of her leading love interests didn’t meet the real actress until the end of the shoot. “Not once did she stop speaking with that accent, until the wrap party,” Grant told Cinema.com, “when suddenly this weird ... Texan appeared. I wanted to call security, I didn't know who the f*ck she was!”

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
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Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


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Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


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De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
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In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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