In 1986, Pixar opened its doors as a stand-alone animation studio for the first time. Its first notable release was a roughly 90-second computer-animated short titled “Luxo Jr.,” which you can watch here, The film features two anthropomorphized balanced-arm lamps — one large, one smaller — and tells a nice father/son story over its minute and a half. And it has become a piece of movie history. That year, Luxo Jr. received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film, becoming the first CGI film, of any length, to be nominated for an Oscar. Since then, Pixar — which is now a subsidiary of Disney — has released more than two dozen feature films and has introduced the world to the Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, and Monsters Inc. franchises. Its old ogo, pictured above, features a balanced-arm lamp in place of the letter I, which is a reference to Luxo Jr.
Luxo Jr., though, isn’t the first time a balanced-arm lamp had an impact on the movie and TV industry. Just ask the BBC, which about forty years earlier, banned the nefarious devices.
Yes, nefarious. Or, so they thought.
Balanced-arm lamps have been around for roughly a century. In 1932, an inventor named George Carwardine received a patent for an early design for one such lamp and, by 1935, brought it to market under the name “Anglepoise lamp.” (Two years later, a Swedish company released its own version, calling it the Luxo, and the Pixar film borrows its name from that version.) The Anglepoise lamp became suddenly popular after World War II broke out; the British government ordered blackouts to make it harder for German planes to bomb British homes, and that meant that overhead lighting needed to be turned off. Smaller, personal lights like the Anglepoise lamps allowed for some illumination without running the risk of being blown up, as described in this ad. And when the war ended, their popularity remained. For anyone who needed to focus on reading and writing, having a personal light source was a boon.
But that — for reasons unclear — became a problem for the TV and radio censors at the time. In 1948, the BBC decided it needed to reduce if not eliminate the amount of lewd or offensive content on its airwaves. It asked one of its executives, Michael Standing, to draft guidelines for the writing staff, and he did just that. In 1949, the broadcaster published “The BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide For Writers and Producers,” colloquially known as “The Green Book,” detailing what jokes were allowed and which were not, among other things. For example, per Wikpiedia’s editors, “among jokes banned were those concerning lavatories, effeminacy in men, immorality of any kind, suggestive references to honeymoon couples, chambermaids, fig-leaves, ladies’ underwear (such as “winter draws on” and so on), lodgers and commercial travelers and the vulgar use of words such as ‘basket.'” (“Basket” was a euphemism for “bastard” at the time.)
But the Green Book didn’t stop there. As the Irish Examiner reports, “In 1949, the intimate pool of light honed by the Anglepoise lamp was deemed likely to produce ‘furtive’ and ‘degenerative’ programming ideas amongst the writing staff of the Variety Department. Unless another less shady character was illuminating the room, the Anglepoise was prohibited as a conduit of ‘smut’ and’ innuendo’ by Michael Standing’s infamous Green Book.” Standing and his team believed that having your own private light would, apparently, make you think about private parts.
The ban, thankfully, did not last very long. Standing’s decision was ultimately overruled by the Director-General of the BBC, who found the ban “extreme and unnecessary,” per Wikipedia’s editors.
From the Archives: The British Ban on Clapping: Why the BBC refused to play a song about Texas on the radio.