Kubrick's Ban of ACO in The UK

by Mike Purdy

When A Clockwork Orange was first released in the U.K. it was shown at the Warner West End cinema in Leicester Square, London. Unusually, it was shown just at that cinema for a whole year before going on general release.

It was on general release for about another year, during which there was a lot of controversy about it.

I was working at the Central Criminal Court, in London, (better known as the "Old Bailey"), for the Metropolitan Police Solicitors, at the time and my job involved preparing cases for court and attending them when they were heard.

The fuss over ACO really started when a woman called Mary Whitehouse started complaining about the film in the media. Mary Whitehouse had started an organisation called the "National Viewers And Listeners Association" which was basically a group of self-appointed guardians of public morals. They had, (and still have), a habit of complaining about TV and Film content (often without even having seen the item concerned). At the time ACO was on release this group were pretty high profile and they got a lot of media coverage. As well as this group, many young people adopted the style of dress of Alex and his gang (which was basically a slightly futuristic version of "skinheads", which we had in UK at the time.

At the "Old Bailey" we kept seeing people on assault charges who said that they had seen the film and been impelled to go out and beat someone up. Most of us who worked at the Court thought this a load of rubbish but unfortunately such cases got a lot of publicity and many of the Judges would impose lesser sentences in these cases.

It got to the stage when we referred to these cases as "Clockwork Orange defences" and it became almost boring as one after another tried using this excuse.

I had seen the film 19 times since its release and had never gone out and beaten up a tramp or raped anyone.

Eventually Kubrick got so fed up with all the hassle that he decided to withdraw the film from the British Cinemas and never allow it to be shown here again it any format.

Even when the National Film Theatre did a Kubrick retrospective they were unable to get permission to show ACO as part of it.