The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act was introduced in 1955 in the United Kingdom and was designed to limit the amount of violence, gore, and evil behavior in books and magazines which involved pictures. The Act or Parliament specifically protected children from material depicting the commission of a crime, acts of violence or cruelty, and any other incident which might corrupt a child. The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act is still current legislation, although there have been very few prosecutions.

In the 1950s, there was a noticeable shift in the tone of some comics that caused people to question the material that was being printed. Some comics contained darker, more adult-oriented content along with themes of violence. Horror comics were becoming more popular, and parents were becoming concerned about the impact that the material was having on their children. As a response to the more mature material in comics, the Comics Code Authority was formed in America in 1954 which severely limited what could be illustrated and stated in comic books. The Comics Code Authority was the inspiration for The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act, however The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act was far more lenient and did not restrict things such as nudity, sex, divorce, and depicting lawmen in a negative manner. Instead, the Act focused specifically on scenes of violence.

The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act was introduced by Gwilym Lloyd George, First Viscount Tenby (1894-1967) after complaints from the National Union of Teachers and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. The Act was quickly approved by the United Kingdom Parliament. The penalty for violating the Act was severe and could include a four month imprisonment and a fine. Even possessing a comic (with the intent to sell) could violate The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act. However, the Act included a convenient clause which gave potential sellers some protection, provided they could prove they had not examined the book, and had no reason to suspect it might be harmful.

An amendment was added in 1975 which gave the justice of the peace the power to grant constables the right to search for materials violating the law, provided there was enough evidence to constitute a search warrant. The constables could then seize the material and destroy it if necessary. This power could extend not only to the copies of the comics, but also to printing plates and source material. This amendment provided sufficient motivation for comic creators not to violate The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act.

— Michael Baker

Further Reading

  • Barker, Martin. A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984.
  • Holbrook, David. Creativity and Popular Culture. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994.