12A is the new PG

By - Tuesday 20th August, 2013

Local comedian Anthony Miller casts a wry eye over the entrance policies of Croydon’s corporate cinemas – and asks us not to ‘think of the children’, but of the adults who have to put up with their behaviour

Croydon’s most expensive creche. Photo by Bob Walker. Image used under Creative Commons License.

Recently on Channel 4 News Krishnan Guru-Murthy got into an almighty row with Quentin Tarantino over screen violence. “I’m shutting your butt down” ranted Mr Tarantino. I do not wish to get into the childish nonsense about what adults should or shouldn’t be allowed to watch. However, I do sometimes wonder how VUE get away with showing material to children which a live promoter would be shot for? I mean what is the point of Certificate 12A?

For years I’ve avoided going to Vue Cinemas during the day when it’s cheaper because of the horror of trying to watch Mr Bean films over the sound of actual whining infants. Mr Bean is supposed to be the childish one not you – shut up! And I’m not just talking about children here but actual infants – indeed not just infants but babies. You used to be able to go to a 12-rated film knowing only the more grown up children would be there, but in 2002 – almost silently – the powerful studio lobbies finally succeeded in managing to bully children into bullying their parents into to bullying the politicians into letting anyone (accompanied by an adult) into a 12A.

12A is the new PG and I sometimes think the only person who’s noticed is me.

Yes, call me Mr Selfish, but surely taking someone who can only focus only about 20cm away to the latest 3D blockbuster is a bit of a waste of money? Also I do find babies crying slightly distracting aurally even if this flies in the face of “evidence” that men do not seem to react at all to babies crying. Seriously, are babies in cinemas a massive step forward for feminism or something? Or what?

What effect does exposing children of a very young age to 12A type content actually have?

It isn’t like the cinema’s even a cheap day out. Even during the day VUE is charging £9.80 for an adult to see a 2D film.  £7.35 for a child, £7.85 for a teen. Do teens take up more space? Or £29.40 for a family of four… ah, I see –  bring two kids and adults and you all get in for £7.35 – the child rate. If I could find two kids I could get in cheaper. Yes, 12A films are marketed to families – even where the kids are clearly too young to watch them. See I was so stupid I thought that it was just a few irresponsible parents smuggling the under fivess into 12As but it seems not. Not only does VUE let in young children and babies– it actually encourages the practice. As we can see from their website:

We welcome babies in all our cinemas, however please note that age restrictions apply – babies will only be admitted into U, PG and 12A certificates. We ask that you respect other guest’s enjoyment of the film, if your baby becomes distressed, please leave the auditorium.


I took this up with VUE and they asserted that they HAVE to allow babies in to 12As because this is THE LAW. But it is not. The law is they DON’T HAVE to stop babies coming in. It isn’t that they’re forced to allow babies in or they’ll have their buttocks whipped by the European Court of Human Rights. Not that I’m aware anyway. I run a comedy club. There are no legal age restrictions but I don’t let in babies because it would be stupid – they’d probably spend the whole gig screaming. That said it’s in a pub so I need special permission to have under 18s in. Still you don’t need to go to the pub for a beer these days – you can buy one in VUE…

OK, I’m a live comedy promoter with a vested commercial interest in knocking other forms of entertainment but what effect does exposing children of a very young age to 12A type content actually have? Well, ask about child psychology and entertainment and you’ll get a never ending stream of content pumping out conflicting information. For example, The Academy of Pediatrics says very certainly “More than one thousand scientific studies and reviews conclude that significant exposure to media violence increases the risk of aggressive behavior in certain children, desensitizes them to violence and makes them believe that the world is a ‘meaner and scarier’ place than it is.”

One other problem is not so much the age of the children as a lack of supervision of them

Meanwhile, an article on CNN waffles that “prolonged exposure to violence in media is a risk factor. And it’s kids who have multiple risk factors who are likeliest to behave aggressively” – Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media. Still, who’s she? Some do-gooder.

Maybe it’s not such a big deal, but if nothing else it just seems a bit sad that the rituals of my childhood and adolescence are dying. Stuff like lying about your age to get into the cinema and smuggling in beer from the off licence. Mind you, at VUE’s drinks and food prices… Fortunately the cinemas are too understaffed to stop you smuggling in your own stuff. There’s an upside to everything.

One other problem is not so much the age of the children as a lack of supervision of them. Anyone remember usherettes? Weren’t they quaint? Or as a rather uncharitable correspondent to QYPE writes, “I’m really sorry, I’m not a fan of this place – on the two or three occasions I’ve gone to films here, they’ve been blighted by the feral brats who either chose to hang out here, or perhaps live, rat-like, under the seats, surviving off dropped sweets and drinks.”

Purley Way gets a similar bashing on QYPE for its lack of visible staff: “Overall poor staffing levels led to an overly frustrating waiting time to get served, not good. Also people double parking outside horrendous this aspect needs looking at also, simply not good enough. So everyone go somewhere else.” (All sic) Honestly none of this particularly bothers me, as I don’t park where I can be blocked in and it’s fine if you use the self service machines. As someone else remarks, when you do manage to find a quiet screen and can extricate your car “The screens are great, you really do get the best view (vue) in town.”

That said, I do feel I do so much myself when I go to VUE that pretty soon they’ll be asking me to project the film as well and none of this seems to be reflected in lower prices. Although full marks go to the cleaning staff at both VUEs for their stoic efforts in cleaning up after the people who like to leave wrappers, cans and scum scattered everywhere instead of using the bins.

Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller

Anthony is the Managing Director of London's 2nd worst comedy club, Pear Shaped.

More Posts

  • Anne Giles

    How right you are!! We often go to the Grants Vue, but generally find that the films we see don’t attract families with children. We avoid during summer hols though.

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    A woman who gives birth remains – when I last looked – a full and equal member of society, her tastes, inclinations and rights unchanged. It’s only quite recently that we’ve caught up with this idea and the revolutionary notion of inclusion for her has started to catch on. She’s no longer a pariah with a pram, but can go places and, you know, do stuff. Like see a film. You have a problem with that?

    Point of information – breastfed babies don’t ever have to scream the place down. If they start, you latch them on. True fact. Bottle-feeding mums have to plan a bit more but it’s in their interests to do so – they want to see the film. So we shouldn’t have to disturb you. Everyone should be polite in the cinema – no talking, no rustly sweet wrappers, no screaming – so if a kid screams, you take it out. Obviously. It’s certainly obvious to all the mums I know. There must be rude mums out there (there are plenty of other rude people) but now we’re talking about courtesy, not babies in cinemas.

    Parents are part of society – we’re just like carefree 20-somethings but older, and with cares. We can go wherever we like. So babies in cinemas are indeed a massive step forward for feminism. Hallelujah! Deal with it.

    Kids and violent images is a complex issue but you put your finger on it when you quote Caroline Knorr : ‘It’s kids who have multiple risk factors who are likeliest to behave aggressively’. That’s MULTIPLE factors, like dodgy families, poor home discipline, economic deprivation AND a diet of 18-rated films. For secure, happy kids from stable backgrounds, 12A films are suitable from whenever a responsible parents judges it so for that particular child. In my case, that’s been for the last 18 months or so. My kids are 12 and 10.

    By ‘feral brats’, by the way, I’m assuming you mean ‘neglected children’. Great attitude.

    I’d agree that Vue cinemas are understaffed and that the food is over-priced, but the rest of this is as insubstantial as popcorn, isn’t it?

    • Anne Giles

      People always used babysitters before. When I was a teenager, I often babysat for parents who wanted to go out. Often they would put me up for the night. Babies are better off sleeping in their cots, with a babysitter handy.

    • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

      Entertainment is a communal experience. It is inevitable that babies will be distracting to the rest of the audience. Why should one person’s needs be put over everyone else’s?

      And it’s it not a binary babies-or-no-babies issue. I’m drawing attention to the fact that the rest of the consumers have no choice and the inclusion of babies in the audience AND this is not reflected in a reduction in ticket price. If I knew there were going to be babies there I might chose to stay at home. Also I dont think babies should be in any arena of public entertainment after 6 pm.

      The “feral brats” quote is a verbatim quote of QYPE – we looked at what other people praised and criticised in the running of the venues so that it wasn’t just my voice ranting on. Also it is funny – if a bit mean.

      Some cinemas have bring-a-baby screenings. Alternatively they could seat parents with babies where the mothers could exit easily where they are a distraction. Some churches have an area from which mothers can watch from behind plexiglass if their infants go into screaming mode. There are many solutions to the problem. My point is they’ve gone for the cheapest and this is not reflected in their ticket price.

      “Point of information – breastfed babies don’t ever have to scream the place down.” I’ll tell them to bring a bottle next time. Babies scream for a variety of reasons and are not all the same – breastfed or otherwise. Babies may scream for many reasons including illness. Prem babies for instance can be far more demanding and loud than babies who went to full term. Note the word can.

      “We can go wherever we like.” You cant come in my club with a baby. It’s illegal. But you can take your baby to a cinema after 6pm where they also serve beer? Sounds like a double standard somewhere to me.

      • Liz Sheppard-Jones

        An almighty row worthy of Quentin and Krishnan themselves! :-)

        Both you and Anne Giles (below) misunderstand and appear to think I’m suggesting babies be taken out at night. I am in favour of women being able to go where they wish at 11 o’clock in the morning or 1 in the afternoon. No parent is free to go out at night without making prior arrangements and this continues for the best part of two decades, so think carefully before you go there.

        Babies are indeed all different – I had one who could be taken anywhere, and was, and another I wouldn’t have risked in the cinema because of the danger of noise and distraction for others. (Interestingly enough, he was prem). That’s an issue of courtesy, which we should all show, and was my decision to make. I actually think that plexiglass and special screenings are a really great idea. But your issue of ‘no choice for other customers’ is bogus – I have no choice if a gang of rude teenagers talks and throws popcorn during a movie I’ve paid to see, but I would complain afterwards and ask for my money back. I’d do the same if a baby screamed and ruined my enjoyment.

        There’s a philosophical issue here, about whether or not when a woman has a baby she should be restricted and banned, or whether the assumption should be made that she can participate in normal activities and take responsibility for her behaviour. I’ve taken a very young breastfed baby to bars to meet friends, for example – (my friends not his). When they are that tiny and feeding on demand they simply need to be where you are. The baby was in a sling, he fed if he needed to, he slept, he took up no space, he didn’t care about music and conversation, he made not a sound and I had a life. This should be regarded as completely normal. When he got bigger, that didn’t work anymore and it was time to leave him at home with dad and a bottle.

        Until you actually have a baby, it’s difficult to imagine the difficulties and complications that normal activities throw up. Women were once expected to put up with being marginalised – now we won’t. That’s a very good thing indeed. Babies in cinemas is part of a social revolution.

        • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

          I dont have kids. But I’ve been stuck with other people’s babies often enough. Erm … you may be responsible about where you take your kids but I can tell you as a worker in the nightime economy many people aren’t “Dont worry she hears me and her mum swearing all the time” they tell landlords cheerily – Interestingly these are always the first people to complain about the adult content. It is the themes more than the swearing people most often object to.

          Anyway the point was not to bash mothers and babies but to comment on a social change that seems to have gone un-noticed. We did actually look at other forms of entertainment that are available to families for the same price to do some comparisons but not enough people got back to us in time for us to get their comments in.

          For example I talked to Mr Nik Coppin who does a kids comedy show for …erm …kids called Huggers (his other show is aimed at a more adult market) in an attempt to get some price comparisons and ask how much he knew whether or not what he did was actually psychologically okay for kids. He replied:

          “So, Huggers. How do I know it’s psychologically ok for sprogs?
          I don’t ‘know’ about it from a psychologically point of view, but that sounds a bit serious. I mean, it’s not going to mentally disturb them if that’s what you mean. Or will it? I certainly hope not.
          I hadn’t a clue about how it would all go when I came up with the idea for the show and no, I didn’t do any research into it. I put it on purely as a bit of a laugh as the comedy antithesis of bigger older naughtier sister Shaggers.
          Mike Belgrave wanted to come on board and co-produce and host the first season in Edinburgh and he does kids entertaining, so that helped. I would’ve just done it on my own at some stage anyway mind. Just for a laugh if for no other reason.
          I mean, how hard can it be? You get families in a room and entertain them in a clean, fun way. The format is very much the same as a normal comedy show, with a compere and a few acts doing short spots, so there’s no time for anybody to get bored really.
          Kids can be restless at times, but then so can adults. You just read the room and make adjustments as you go, I guess.
          Over it’s two years, I’ve found out what works or doesn’t work as I go along and it’s doing great and going from strength-to-strength.
          As for the logic of it, how exactly do you mean?
          Huggers is at the Free Festival in Edinburgh.
          In Brighton we charged £5 and £2 for kids.
          Australia, it was something like $15 adults, $5 kids and $30 for a family of 2 adults and 2 kids I think.
          Something like that.”

          Leaving aside live entertainment vs cinema there are other things you can do with kids than take them to the pictures.
          The park is free. There are many places you can visit that are less than £7.35 a head.
          If nothing else taking a baby to see a film and paying £7.35 to get it in doesn’t seem to me like value for money.
          If they really want to go for the under 3s market why not have a baby price as well as a child price and set aside specific times during the day.

          Also it does bother me on a general level that they can get away with material in a 12A that I couldn’t in an adult show.
          It just makes me feel a bit of a mug sometimes.

          I believe Anne Giles may have had babies at one time

          • Liz Sheppard-Jones

            Nope. You don’t have to be a parent to have a view about kids, though.

            There are lots of things for families to do, absolutely. And between a few months old and about three or four, cinemas are pretty hopeless anyway – you can’t keep them quiet or stop them squirming.

            But talking about family entertainment is a red, red herring. This issue is about women, who happen to have babies with them, and whether they should be allowed into cinemas. They should. Film buffs get pregnant too.

          • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

            It should be up to the cinema within the BBFC rules. The point was the rules have changed. Also sorry if I’m absolutely honest I dont care if you’ve popped one out and no one just “happens to have a baby” with them like they might happen to have a lighter on them. That is an evasion of all responsibility. If I wanted to watch a film surrounded by kids there are many places resembling a Giles cartoon I could go that are cheaper. Taking a baby to a cinema to watch a 12A is obviously retarded. It is also an erosion of respect for entertainment as art. “And between a few months old and about three or four, cinemas are pretty hopeless anyway – you can’t keep them quiet or stop them squirming” You said it yourself. Taking babies to the cinema is all about the needs of the parent and nothing to do with the needs of the child or, indeed, the rest of the audience. Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? or should the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?
            Answer: draw a cost quality time triangle.

            “But talking about family entertainment is a red, red herring” Not at all, the article raises many issues – you are obsessed with one. The one that suggest that maybe, just maybe, someone somewhere might dare one day to say “no” to you.

          • Liz Sheppard-Jones

            You’re the one who started talking about babies. I’m merely focussing on a point on which I disagree with you.

            ‘Yes, call me Mr Selfish, but surely taking someone who can only focus only about 20cm away to the latest 3D blockbuster is a bit of a waste of money?’ Well, Mr Selfish, my point is that it’s not the baby who fancies seeing the film.

            Taking kids to films they are too young to sit through quietly and enjoy is undesirable behaviour, so I don’t think it should be encouraged. Cinemas should care about the viewing experience of all their customers. It’s also not an enjoyable thing to do so it puzzles me that it’s as widespread as you say. I go to the cinema pretty regularly and it’s not a massive problem in my experience.

            I have no idea what is and isn’t ‘retarded’ as it’s not a word I like to use, but the issue that interests me here is what a woman accompanied by a baby is and isn’t allowed to do.

            You can call me obsessed if you want, but I think her rights are quite important.

          • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

            Fair enough