‘It’s a video nasty!’: Some background to the The Young Ones episode

Part of my research into my article on The Young Ones and Thatcherite Britain has involved looking at the moral panic concerning the ‘video nasties’ of the early 1980s. The boom in video sales in the first half of the 1980s provided a challenge to the authorities that classified film in the UK and there was a concern that objectionable (‘obscene’) material could get into the hands of children as videos could be viewed anywhere, rather than just in the cinema. The video format also made it easier to transfer material from the United States and Europe into the UK, getting around the problem of the British censor in many instances. Coinciding with a new wave of horror films (starting in the early 1970s with films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), this gave rise to the concern that Britain was being flooded with ‘video nasties’. While anger grew amongst Britain’s political and moral figures over the existence of these ‘video nasties’, they grew more desirable amongst British youth, as depicted in The Young Ones episode ‘Nasty’ (from 10.30 in clip below).

Conservative MP Graham Bright introduced a Private Member’s Bill, which eventually became the Video Recordings Act 1984. You can read the transcripts of the House of Commons and House of Lords debates about the Bill, which make for some interesting (if not amusing) reading. Margaret Thatcher also made mention of the Bill in March 1984, when addressing the Conservative Central Council, declaring:

And I am also delighted that, in order to protect our children from the evils of pornography, the House of Commons has now passed Graham Bright’s Video Recordings Bill. There must be no place in Britain for the video nasty. When that Bill finally reaches the Statute Book, parents everywhere will applaud.

The Video Recordings Bill has been viewed since as a ‘moral panic’ (see this academic article) where the traditionalist section of the Tory Party was able to assert itself within the Thatcherite paradigm. Thatcherism was about mixing these ‘traditional’ Tory values with an aggressive neo-liberal agenda and often the ‘moral majority’ within the Conservatives was sidelined by the ‘modernising’ aspects of Thatcherism. This episode (and satirised by The Young Ones) shows the dynamic (and not necessarily fixed) nature of Thatcherism in the early 1980s before she reached her hegemonic height in the mid-1980s.


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