Free-Range Letter to Gregory Peck Regarding “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Ahhh. Gregory Peck.

Ahhh. Gregory Peck.

Readers — Below  is a 1962 letter from the British Board of Film Censors to Gregory Peck, who starred as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s fun to read, not just because it’s from before the world knew what a classic the movie would become, but because it’s Free-Range! Paragraph two reads:

“The theme is one which touches our work closely. [Remember — these are censors!] We feel that it is not only wrong but impossible to shield children completely from the wickedness of the world, and we feel that through seeing something of it they may discover good things as well. The children’s excited reaction to the madman who lived nearby and their eventual discovery that he was a kindly defective, is just the sort of thing that children should learn….”

Here here! (Or is it hear hear?) Either way, hooray for the idea that kids can and should be part of the real world, not just quarantined in supervised, sanitized, “age appropriate” activities. Curiosity — as well as some discomfort and fear — have always been part of growing up. How else can children come to realize that “strangers” are not all the boogeymen society makes them out to be? Boo! – L.

I know it's hard to read this, so here's the link.

I know it’s hard to read this, so here’s the link.


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14 Responses to Free-Range Letter to Gregory Peck Regarding “To Kill a Mockingbird”

  1. Meagan May 14, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    It’s “Hear, hear” as in “Hear him, hear him!”

  2. C. S. P. Schofield May 14, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Seriously good, and also not something I think any modern bureaucrat would write unless a gun was put to his head.


    Does remind me of an old Beyond The Fringe sketch; a supposed BBC interview with “Lord Cobbold, who has recently been appointed to the British Board of Censors”. My favorite line? “When I go to the Theatre, I want to be taken out of myself. I don’t want to see lust and rasp and incest and sodomy. I can get all that at home!”

  3. marie May 14, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    The children’s excited reaction to the madman who lived nearby and their eventual discovery that he was a kindly defective, is just the sort of thing that children should learn…

    Beautiful. One of the dangers in the paranoia about strangers is that children are taught that oddballs are dangerous…and when someone is thought to be dangerous, it is okay (encouraged!) to make a big loud stink if that oddball approaches, comes near, or touches the child.

    When strange behavior by “kindly defectives” (boy, has language changed!) is seen as threatening, then kindness, understanding, and compassion go out the window. Sometimes people are weird. Be especially kind to those people.

  4. SKL May 14, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    I love that movie. The only reason I hesitate showing it to my kids is the part about the trial details. My kids would be asking 100 questions and I am not ready for all that. I do look forward to sharing it with my kids someday … just not sure when.

  5. wombat94 May 14, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Ooh… I hadn’t thought about To Kill A Mockingbird in years… must view it with our daughters soon.

    One of the fun (and challenging) things in our own personal brand of Free Range parenting lately has been showing our daughters (currently ages 12 and 9) the classic films of our youth… many of which would almost certainly have ratings indicating that they are “too young” to watch in today’s world… (PGs would likely get PG-13 today and many PG-13s would likely get Rs today)

    This reminds me to take a step back and go further into the annals of American film history… beyond the 70s and 80s and into the 50s and 60s (at least).

  6. mandy May 14, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Oh, to go back in time to a sane world!

  7. EricS May 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    I still believe people’s mentality today is all to do with the digital age. They are forced, coerced, or manipulated to believing what the people behind the scene wants them to believe. On top of that, the digital age has made people lazy, and entitled. If it makes things easier for THEM. Not their family, not their kids, not their friends, etc… THEM. That is what they will work on. So if it inconveniences others, but makes easier for that ONE person, they will put their wants and desires above everyone else. And play it off like they “care”, and are “thinking of others first”.

    Parenting has ALWAYS been hard work, and it will continue to be HARD WORK. Any other way, your not only doing it wrong, but you are also not doing your children any favors. The fact is, helicoptered children turn out less than they should as they get older. Little confidence and self-esteem, unable to do things on their own with help from mommy or daddy. And more and more, grow up spoiled and privileged.

    I’m very glad Lenore posted that letter. Coming from an age where it’s all about common sense, technology doesn’t influence thought, and coming from a Board that is very critical in what is produced for television or movies. I think they were much more strict with morals and ethics in the late 50’s, early 60’s than they are now. Yet, they seem to have more level heads than people today. The 50s and 60s were the generations before mine, my views on their ethics are based on my parents and extended family values. Which is what they taught me. Can anyone who grew up in the 50s and 60s confirm if it was a higher standard of morals and ethics then, than it is now?

  8. anonymous this time May 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    The term “kindly defective” brings about waves of insight into the British cultural psyche.

  9. Reziac May 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    That’s a touching letter… mainly because we’d never see it today. 🙁

    When I was 5 years old and walking to kindergarten by myself, every day I had to go past the “bogeyman” house. This was just an older fellow who would leap out of the bushes and yell BOO (literally!) so we little kids were naturally all scared to death of him… but it was a game, not reality, and we all knew it. If we’d really been afraid, we could have easily walked down a different street, or on the other side of that street.

    Fact is, we all love to be scared once in a while, and it’s good for us… but we’ve so little to be afraid of in modern life, that perhaps people are partly filling the =need= to be scared occasionally with ‘bogeymen’ that are just as fictional as ours was in 1960… and since now there are so few REAL fears to compare, the fictional fears are accorded a status of ‘reality’.

  10. Leslie May 14, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    TKAM is my favorite novel and movie.

    I read it aloud to my son when he was in 8th grade. We both enjoyed it. Great conversations.

  11. marie May 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Oh, to go back in time to a sane world!

    Remember that those men outside the jail wanted to HANG Tom Robinson before he had been tried. Is that the world you want to return to? 🙂

    Every age has advantages over previous times and every age comes with its own problems.

    Me? I will take air conditioning, please.

  12. Tiny Tim May 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Speaking of movie ratings, I watched Sweet Charity (musical) a few months ago. It had a G-rating. There’s no sex, no nudity, and no bad words. But it’s certainly “adult,” including “show girls.” I have no problem with it being G, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t PG-13 if released today.

  13. Emily Guy Birken May 15, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    I taught high school English for four years, and TKAM was one of the novels I was lucky enough to teach every year of my career. I got something new out of the story every. single. time. that I read it and taught it.

    However, I was horrified to hear the students’ reaction to Atticus’ abilities as a father. Almost to a student, everyone seemed to think Atticus was a terrible father because he let his kids go off on their own all the time.

    If I can be anything like Atticus (and Amasa Lee, upon whom he was based), I’ll know I have succeeded as a parent. But modern parenting is all about the face time, and not about actually guiding a child into adulthood. I wrote a little bit about this 3 years ago when I was accosted for allowing my then-9-month-old to sleep in the car while I ran into a restaurant for a five minute errand:

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