No-one likes a censor, of course, but over the years the British Board of Film Classification has garnered plaudits for taking an educated and enlightened view when swinging its cutting knife.
More importantly, it is the body that decides what age classification to give movies and games. This is, to an extent, a subjective decision, bound to cause controversy. But the BBFC sets out clearly the rules to which it sticks, and in each case gives a detailed analysis of why a certain film or game is appropriate for children of 12, say, or 15. In doing so it provides concerned parents with enough information to make a decision on behalf of their own young 'uns: after all, one 8-year-old may be able to handle Ghostbusters, and another may make it only as far as the bit with those horrible stone dogs. (And that's okay, right, everyone I grew up with?)
This information is published on the BBFC website. But that's not a great deal of use when faced with an excited, Kia-ora-stuffed child, desparate to get in to see The Exorcist. Happily, the BBFC app - available for iPhone and Android - places this information at your fingertips. We tested the Android app.
Like all good reference services, the BBFC app is very simply laid out. It's not unpleasant to look at, but there's nothing fancy. And nor should there be. It's designed principally for smartphone-sized screens, but it's not jarringly wrong on our 10in tablet.
When you open the app by default you get a list of out-now and coming-soon films, listen alphabetically. You can refine this down to just current releases, or those that are upcoming. The same options are available for DVDs, and Games. We must report, however, that we had some trouble getting those options to load.
UPDATE: These issues have now been fixed.
See also: Best Android Apps
If the film you need to check out is no longer available in the cinema, you can check through a huge database of films listed in the A-Z section. In essence, if a film has been released in the UK, there will be some detail about its classification, although only more recent films get the full treatment.
And what a treatment it is. By default, you get a cast list and the bare details of the film, as well as the classification, and a single sentence, such as what you'd see on the poster 'Contains mild scenes of danger', etc. But you'll probably want more, and under the 'Extended Classification Information' tab you can find a reasoned explanation of the categorisation, explaining in detail problem areas such as swearing, sexual references and drug taking. Be warned, these descriptors are very descriptive. It's strictly reading for the parent making the choice rather than the child who is the subject of it. Things are explained in detail, and bad language is faithfully reproduced.
It's all the information you are ever likely to need in order to make a decision about the age appropriateness of a film or game, in an easy to access and digest format. And, weirdly, we've started turning to the BBFC app rather than IMDB to get information about what movies to go see, as the information provided in some ways offers a perfect review of each title. We started off by describing what the BBFC does as subjective, but you'd be hard pressed to find a more objective and useful guide to the multiplex, in a more accessible form.