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Mary Whitehouse

Mary Whitehouse
Mary Whitehouse in 1981
Born Constance Mary Hutcheson
(1910-06-13)13 June 1910
Nuneaton, Warwickshire
Died 23 November 2001(2001-11-23) (aged 91)
Colchester, Essex
Alma mater Chester City Grammar School.
Cheshire County Teacher Training College
Organization National Viewers' and Listeners' Association
Movement Social conservatism
Nationwide Festival of Light
Religion Anglican[1]
Spouse(s) Ernest Raymond Whitehouse (m. 1940–2000)
Children Richard Whitehouse
Christopher Whitehouse
Paul Whitehouse[2]

Constance Mary Whitehouse, CBE (née Hutcheson, 13 June 1910 – 23 November 2001) was an English social activist known for her strong opposition to social liberalism and the mainstream British media, both of which she accused of encouraging a more permissive society. She was the founder and first president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, through which she led a longstanding campaign against the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). A staunch social conservative, she was disparagingly termed a reactionary by her socially liberal opponents. Her motivation derived from her traditional Christian beliefs, her aversion to the rapid social and political changes in British society of the 1960s and her work as a teacher of sex education.

Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Whitehouse became an art teacher, at the same time becoming involved in evangelical Christian groups such as the Student Christian Movement and Moral Re-Armament. She became a public figure via the Clean-Up TV pressure group, established in 1964, in which she was the most prominent figure. The following year she founded the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, using it as a platform to criticise the BBC for what she perceived as a lack of accountability, and excessive use of bad language and portrayals of sex and violence in its programmes. As a result, she became an object of mockery in the media.

During the 1970s she broadened her activities, and was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light, a Christian campaign that gained mass support for a period. She initiated a successful private prosecution against Gay News on the grounds of blasphemous libel, the first such case for more than 50 years. Another private prosecution was against the director of the play The Romans in Britain, which had been performed at the National Theatre, which she withdrew when it became clear she was about to lose.

Whitehouse's campaigns continue to divide opinion. Her critics have accused her of being a highly censorious figure, and her traditional moral convictions brought her into direct conflict with supporters of the sexual revolution, feminists and gay rights campaigners. Others see her more positively and believe she was attempting to halt a decline in what they perceived as Britain's moral standards. According to Ben Thompson, the editor of an anthology of Whitehouse-related letters, in 2012: "From Mumsnet to ... feminist anti-pornography campaigns [and] the executive naming and shaming strategies of UK Uncut, her ideological and tactical influence has been discernible in all sorts of unexpected places in recent years."[3]


  • Early life 1
  • Clean Up TV campaign and the NVALA 2
    • Beginnings 2.1
    • Sir Hugh Greene at the BBC 2.2
    • Television and war 2.3
    • Programmes: comedy and drama from the mid-1960s to 1980 2.4
    • Doctor Who 2.5
    • After 1980 2.6
  • Other campaigns and private prosecutions 3
    • Permissiveness 3.1
    • Protection of children 3.2
    • Gay News 3.3
    • The Romans in Britain 3.4
    • Margaret Thatcher's government 3.5
  • Later years and assessments of her influence 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Born in Nuneaton in Warwickshire, Whitehouse was the second of four children of a "less than successful businessman" and a "necessarily resourceful mother".[4] She won a scholarship to Chester City Grammar School,[5] where she was keen on hockey and tennis,[4] and after leaving she did two years of unpaid apprentice teaching at St John's School, Chester. At the Cheshire County Teacher Training College in Crewe, specialising in secondary school art teaching she was involved with the Student Christian Movement before qualifying in 1932. She became an art teacher at Lichfield Road School, Wednesfield, Staffordshire, where she stayed for eight years.

She joined the Oxford Group, later known as Moral Re-Armament (MRA), in the 1930s. At MRA meetings, she met Ernest Raymond Whitehouse; they married in 1940 and remained married until his death in Colchester, aged 87, in 2000.[6] The couple had five sons, two of whom (twins) died in infancy.[7]

After raising her sons in their earliest years, Whitehouse returned to teaching in 1953. That year she broadcast on Woman's Hour on the day before the coronation of Elizabeth II "as a loyal housewife and subject" and wrote an extensive article on homosexuality for The Sunday Times.[3] According to Thompson this concerned how a mother might "best avoid inadvertently pressuring her sons towards that particular orientation", and gained enough attention to be republished as a pamphlet.[3]

She taught art at Madeley Modern School in Shropshire from 1960, taking responsibility for sex education. Shocked at the moral beliefs of her pupils, she became concerned about what she and many others perceived as declining moral standards in the British media, especially in the BBC.

Clean Up TV campaign and the NVALA


Whitehouse began her activism in 1963 with a letter to the BBC[8] requesting to see Hugh Greene, the BBC's Director General. Greene was out of the country at the time, so she accepted an invitation to meet Harman Grisewood, his deputy,[9] a Roman Catholic who she felt listened to her with understanding.[10] Over the next few months though, she continued to be dissatisfied with what she saw on television.

With Norah Buckland, the wife of a vicar, she launched the Clean Up TV Campaign in January 1964 with a manifesto appealing to the "women of Britain". The campaign's first public meeting on 5 May 1964 was held in Birmingham's Town Hall.[11] Richard Whitehouse, one of her sons, recalled in 2008: "Coaches arrived from all over the country. Two thousand people poured in and suddenly there was my mother on a podium inspiring them to rapturous applause. Her hands were shaking. But she didn't stop".[2]

Although he regularly clashed with Whitehouse, the academic [13]

Sir Hugh Greene at the BBC

Greene, knighted in January 1964,[14] became her bête noire. He was, according to Whitehouse, "more than anybody else ... responsible for the moral collapse in this country".[15] The CUTV manifesto asserted that the BBC under Greene spread "the propaganda of disbelief, doubt and dirt ... promiscuity, infidelity and drinking".[16] In place of this, the authors argued, the Corporation's activities should "encourage and sustain faith in God and bring Him back to the hearts of our family and national life."[17][18] Interviewed by the Catholic Herald for its Christmas 1965 issue, Whitehouse thought the BBC loaded its programmes in favour of the 'new morality'.[19] She commented about one unnamed television programme, believing it to be "unbalanced" and biased, in which "youngsters were asking questions there was not a single member of the panel who was prepared to say outright that pre-marital relations were wrong. In fact when a girl asked a clergyman 'Do you think that fornication is sin', he replied. 'It depends on what you mean by sin and what you mean by fornication.'" Whitehouse thought it was a "big hazard" for "present-day children" that "so many adults do not stand for anything", and affirmed that it was the responsibility of the BBC to have a "missionary role" to compensate for this social deficiency.[19]

The Clean Up TV petition, using the manifesto, gained 500,000 signatures. Whitehouse complained in 1993 that during Greene's period at the BBC, "hardly a week went by without a sniping reference to me".[5] Whitehouse's critics responded quickly. The playwright David Turner had heckled her[15] at Birmingham Town Hall; his work was criticised during the meeting.[10] Within a few months, an episode of Swizzlewick, a twice-weekly serial he created, featured a parody of her as Mrs Smallgood.[20]

In a speech Greene delivered in 1965, he argued, without naming Whitehouse directly, that the critics of his liberalisation of broadcasting policy would "attack whatever does not underwrite a set of prior assumptions", and saw the potential for "a dangerous form of censorship...which works by causing artists and writers not to take risks." He defended the right of the BBC "to be ahead of public opinion."[21] Greene ignored Whitehouse, blocked her from participation in BBC broadcasts, and purchased a painting of Whitehouse with five breasts[15] by James Lawrence Isherwood.

The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (now known as Mediawatch-UK) was launched to succeed CUTV in November 1965,[11] replacing what they themselves perceived as CUTV's negativity with an active campaign for legislative change.[22] The former cabinet minister Bill Deedes, later editor of The Daily Telegraph, supported the group in this period and was the leading speaker at NVALA's founding conference in Birmingham on 30 April 1966,[23] and acted as a contact between his parliamentary colleagues and Whitehouse.[24] Quintin Hogg, better known as Lord Hailsham, was another high-profile politician who gave his support to NVALA and Whitehouse at this time.[23]

Through the letters she frequently sent to Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, Whitehouse caused particular difficulties for civil servants at 10 Downing Street.[25] Reportedly, for some time Downing Street intentionally "lost" her letters to avoid having to respond to them.[25] It has though been suggested that her contact with parliamentarians helped give her some leverage over the BBC which her own direct communication with the Corporation's executives could not achieve.[26] Although accepting the differences between them, Whitehouse wrote to Wilson on 1 January 1968: "You have always treated our approaches to you seriously and with courtesy."[27]

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, suggests that when Greene left the BBC in 1969, contrary to the view that it was because of disagreements over the appointment of the Conservative Lord Hill as BBC chairman in 1967, whereby she could be given some credit for his departure, it was more to do with a political struggle between the BBC and Wilson.[28] However, Hill was prepared to meet Whitehouse at Broadcasting House.[29]

Television and war

War coverage met with her objections. During his brief period as editor of Panorama (1965–66),[30] Jeremy Isaacs received a letter from Whitehouse complaining about his decision to repeat Richard Dimbleby's coverage of the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp. She complained about this "filth" being allowed on air as "it was bound to shock and offend". In a 1994 interview, Whitehouse continued to maintain that it was "an awful intrusion" and "very off-putting".[31]

Later in 1965, the decision by the BBC not to broadcast Peter Watkins' The War Game on 6 August 1965 led to Whitehouse writing to Sir Hugh Greene and Harold Wilson on 5 September,[32] and again to the Home Secretary Frank Soskice on 6 October[33] In her view a decision over whether to broadcast Watkins' film should be taken by the Home Office rather than the BBC. Nuclear war was "too serious a matter to be treated as entertainment. For a producer to be allowed, as now appears possible, to prejudice the effectiveness of our Civil Defence Services, or the ability of the British people to re-act with courage, initiative and control in a crisis, surely goes far beyond the responsibility" which should be given to someone in this role.[33] The letter was leaked at the time and extracts were published.[32]

The contemporary coverage of the Vietnam War, "the first 'television war'",[34] demonstrated for Whitehouse that television was "an ally of pacifism".[35] In a 1970 speech to the Royal College of Nursing she argued: "However good the cause ... the horrific effects on men and terrain of modern warfare as seen on the television screen could well sap the will of a nation to safeguard its own freedom, let alone resist the forces of evil abroad."[35] Trying to reconcile this "pacifism" with her objection to fictional violence, she saw such news coverage as "desensitisation"[35] in which the media use the "techniques of violence" to raise "impact" in order "to satisfy an apparently insatiable demand for realism."[35]

Programmes: comedy and drama from the mid-1960s to 1980

The situation comedy Till Death Us Do Part attacked many of the things Whitehouse cherished. She objected to its profane language: "I doubt if many people would use 121 bloodies in half-an-hour",[8] and "Bad language coarsens the whole quality of our life. It normalises harsh, often indecent language, which despoils our communication."[8]

Whitehouse and the NVALA won a libel action against the BBC and its writer

External links

  • Ramsey Campbell (1987) "Turn Off: The Whitehouse Way" (an account of a public appearance by Mary Whitehouse) in Ramsey Campbell, Probably, PS Publishing, ISBN 1-902880-40-4
  • Max Caulfield (1976) Mary Whitehouse, Mowbray, ISBN 0-264-66190-7
  • Mary Whitehouse (1967) Cleaning-up TV: From Protest to Participation, Blandford, ISBN B0000CNC3I
  • Mary Whitehouse (1971) Who Does She Think She is?, New English Library, ISBN 0-450-00993-9
  • Mary Whitehouse (1977) Whatever Happened to Sex?, Wayland, ISBN 0-85340-460-7 (pbk: Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-22906-3)
  • Mary Whitehouse (1982) Most Dangerous Woman?, Lion Hudson, ISBN 0-85648-408-3
  • Mary Whitehouse (1985) Mightier Than the Sword, Kingsway Publications, ISBN 0-86065-382-X
  • Mary Whitehouse (1993) Quite Contrary: An Autobiography, Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 0-283-06202-9

Further reading

  1. ^ Robert Aldrich; Garry Wotherspoon (2001). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History Vol.2: From World War II to the Present Day. Routledge. p. 442.  
  2. ^ a b Elizabeth Udall "Mary Whitehouse: 'Sometimes I denied she was my mother'", The Daily Telegraph, 27 May 2008
  3. ^ a b c d Ben Thompson "Ban this filth!", Financial Times, 9 November 2012. This article is a reprint of the introduction to Ben Thompson (ed.) Ban This Filth!: Letters From the Mary Whitehouse Archive, London: Faber, 2012 ISBN 978-0571281497
  4. ^ a b Obituary, The Times, 24 November 2001
  5. ^ a b c d Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 24 November 2001
  6. ^ "England and Wales Deaths 1984-2006". Retrieved 25 July 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Mary Warnock "Whitehouse [née Hutcheson], (Constance) Marywhitehouse, Mary", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  8. ^ a b c d Jonathan Brown "Mary Whitehouse: To some a crank, to others a warrior", The Independent, 24 November 2001
  9. ^ Tracey and Morrison Whitehouse, London & Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1979, p.41 ISBN 0-333-23790-0
  10. ^ a b Asa Briggs The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume 5, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p.332, 334
  11. ^ a b c d David Winter Obituary, The Independent, 24 November 2001
  12. ^ a b Richard Hoggart "Valid arguments lost in an obsession over sex", The Guardian, 24 November 2001. Hoggart is mistaken here in thinking he could have referred to Dennis Potter's plays on 5 May 1964, as Potter's earliest work in this form, The Confidence Course, was not transmitted until 24 February 1965.
  13. ^ The Times, 6 May 1964, cited by Tracey and Morrison, p.44
  14. ^ Michael Tracey The Production of Political Television, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, p.159
  15. ^ a b c d Dennis Barker "Mary Whitehouse: Self-appointed campaigner against the permissive society on television", The Guardian, 24 November 2001
  16. ^ a b Mary Whitehouse quoted by David Stubbs "The moral minority", The Guardian, 24 May 2008
  17. ^ Quoted in Dominic Sandbrook White Heat, London: Little, Brown, 2006, p.544
  18. ^ The full manifesto is quoted by Roy Shaw in "Television: Freedom and Responsibility", New Blackfriars, no.553, June 1966, p.453
  19. ^ a b Ian James "MRS. MARY WHITEHOUSE, co-founder of the Clean-up Television Campaign", Catholic Herald, 24 December 1965
  20. ^ Steve Fielding "A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page, from Anthony Trollope to "The Thick of It", London & New York; Bloomsbury, 2014, p.136
  21. ^ Reprinted in Sir Hugh Greene The Third Floor Front: A View of Broadcasting in the Sixties, London: The Bodley Head, 1969, p.100-1
  22. ^ Michael Tracey and David Morrison Whitehouse, p.47
  23. ^ a b Thompson Ban This Filth, p.36-37
  24. ^ Stephen Robinson The Remarkable Lives Of Bill Deedes, London: Little, Brown (Hatchette Digital) 2008, p.111-12
  25. ^ a b Alan Travis Bound and Gagged: A Secret History of Censorship in Britain, Profile Books, 2000, p.231-2
  26. ^ Thompson Ban This Filth, p.33
  27. ^ Thompson Ban This Filth, p.39
  28. ^ a b c Robertson, Geoffrey (24 May 2008). "The Mary Whitehouse Story: Mary, quite contrary". Times (London).  (subscription required) Also see Geoffrey Robertson The Justice Game, London: Vintage, 1999 [1998], p.136
  29. ^ Robert Hewison Too Much: Art and Society in the Sixties, 1960-75, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p.33 (Published by Methuen, London in 1986)
  30. ^ Alan Rosenthal The New Documentary in Action: a Casebook in Film Making, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972, p.95, 96
  31. ^ Allison Pearson "Television: Mary, Mary, quite contrary ", The Independent on Sunday, 29 May 1994. The interviews with Isaacs and Whitehouse were contained within The Late Show: The Mary Whitehouse Story, which was, according to the BFI Film & TV database, transmitted on 23 May 1994. See the BFI site also for a synopsis of this programme.
  32. ^ a b Patrick Murphy and John Cook "The War Game" in Ian Aitken The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, Abingdon & New York: Routledge, 2013 [2006], p,974
  33. ^ a b Thompson Ban This Filth, p.30
  34. ^ A much used description, see for example Daniel Hallin "Vietnam on Television", The Museum of Broadcast Communications website
  35. ^ a b c d Mary Whitehouse 'Promoting Violence', Royal College of Nursing in the UK Professional Conference, The Violent Society, 5 April 1970, quoted in Tracey and Morrison Whitehouse, London: Macmillan, 1979, p.86-87, 205, n.27
  36. ^ "Damages For Mrs Mary Whitehouse", Glasgow Herald, 28 July 1967, p.11
  37. ^ a b Mark Ward "A Family at War: Till Death Do Us Part", The Main Event (Kaleidoscope brochure) 1996
  38. ^ Thompson Ban This Filth, p.12
  39. ^ Patrick Newley Obituary: Dave Allen, The Stage, 15 March 2005
  40. ^ Brooke-Taylor, Tim (24 May 2008). "Why The Goodies had to 'get back' at Mary Whitehouse". The Times. Retrieved 16 September 2015.  (subscription required)
  41. ^ Quoted by Boris Ford The Cambridge Cultural History of Britain: Modern Britain, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.24
  42. ^ Michael Tracey and David Morrison Whitehouse, p.84
  43. ^ Mary Whitehouse "Television: Controlling the explosive influence", The Spectator, 28 December 1974, p.14. The page on the website of The Spectator contains some typographical errors, these have been corrected.
  44. ^ Coleman, Sarah (February 2002). "Morals Campaigner Mary Whitehouse". World Press Review. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  45. ^ See also Ben Thompson (ed.) Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive, London: Faber, 2012 cited by "Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive by Ben Thompson – review", The Guardian, 26 October 2012
  46. ^ : "Rock ‘n’ Roll legend Alice Cooper in conversation with Mark Lawson"Mark Lawson Talks to..., BBC Four, November 2011
  47. ^ Martin Fletcher "Ban This Filth! Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive, Edited by Ben Thompson", The Independent, 10 November 2012
  48. ^ James Silver "The post-Mary Whitehouse experience", The Guardian, 9 April 2007
  49. ^ a b Sandra Salmans "British Woman Carries On Crusade Against Sex and Violence in the Media", Sarasota Herald-Tribune (NY Times News Service), 7 April 1977
  50. ^ Mary Whitehouse quoted by Dominic Sandbrook State of Emergency, The Way We Were: Britain 1970-74, London: Allen Lane, 2010, p.461-62
  51. ^ The full quote is in Tracey and Morrison, p.85
  52. ^ Graeme Burk and Robert Smith Who's 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die—An Unofficial Companion, Toronto: ECW Press, 2013, p.148-49
  53. ^ David J. Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen Walker. Doctor Who: The Seventies. ISBN 978-1852274443
  54. ^ Whitehouse 'kept TV on its toes'", BBC obituary, 23 November 2001""". BBC News. 23 November 2001. Retrieved 25 July 2009. 
  55. ^ "David Maloney". The Independent (London). 10 August 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  56. ^ Documentary on the DVD "Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars", BBC Worldwide, 2004
  57. ^ Simon Farquhar "Obituary: Richard Carpenter: Actor and writer famed for 'Catweazle' and 'The Ghosts of Motley Hall'", The Independent, 10 March 2012
  58. ^ Dorothy Hobson Channel 4: The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy, London: I.B Tauris, 2008, p.39, 41
  59. ^ "Whitehouse wins Scum television film court case", Glasgow Herald, 14 April 1984, p.5
  60. ^ Lord Thomson of Monifieth "A Defence of the Independent Broadcasting Authority" in Peter Catteral The Making of Channel 4, Abingdon: Routlege, 1999 [2013], p.75
  61. ^ "Lord Thomson: Born: 16 January, 1921, in Stirling. Died: 3 October 2008 in London, aged 87", The Scotsman, 6 October 2008
  62. ^ a b "Mary Whitehouse: Moral crusader or spoilsport?". BBC News. 23 November 2001. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  63. ^ Rees-Mogg, William (7 June 2010). "Was Mary Whitehouse right all along?". The Times. Retrieved 16 September 2015.  (subscription required)
  64. ^ a b Thompson Ban This Filth, p.86. See also Stuart Jeffries "Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive by Ben Thompson – review", The Guardian, 26 October 2012
  65. ^ Mark Lawson "Watching the detective", The Guardian, 31 October 2003.
  66. ^ John R. Cook Dennis Potter: A Life on Screen, Manchester University Press, 1998, p.350, n.82
  67. ^ George W. Brandt (ed.) British Television Drama in the 1980s, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p.10
  68. ^ See for example The Guardian, 16 February 1973, quoted in W. Stephen Gilbert The Life and Work of Dennis Potter, Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1998, p.145 (originally published as Fight and Kick and Bite: Life and Work of Dennis Potter, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995) and Ben Thompson (ed) Ban This Filth!: Letters From the Mary Whitehouse Archive, p.85
  69. ^ a b Simon Midgley "So has the Mary Whitehouse experience been worth it?", The Independent, 22 May 1994
  70. ^ Jonathon Green All Dressed Up: The Sixties and the Counterculture, London: Pimlico, 1999, p.349 (Originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1998)
  71. ^ Daily Telegraph, 29 March 1971, quote as reproduced in Tracey and Morrison, p.134
  72. ^ Whitehouse (1977) p.181, quoted in Tony McEnery Swearing in English: Bad Language, Purity and Power From 1586 to the Present Day, London: Routlege, 2006, p.143
  73. ^ Whitehouse (1977) p.180, cited in McEnery, p.143
  74. ^ John Sutherland Offensive Literature, Junction Books, 1982, p.111, 113
  75. ^ Letter from Mary Whitehouse, The Spectator, 6 August 1971, p.23; quoted in Tracey and Morrison, p.138
  76. ^ a b Joanna Moorhead "The Little Red Schoolbook - honest about sex and the need to challenge authority", The Guardian, 8 July 2014
  77. ^ Mark Duguid "Whitehouse, Mary (1910-2001)", BFI screenonline
  78. ^ Sutherland Offensive Literature, p.116
  79. ^ Cited by John C Beyer "Making Her Voice Heard", mediawatch, 23 November 2001
  80. ^ Evening Standard, 6 November 1971, quote as reproduced in Tracey and Morrison, p.135, 207 n.6:14
  81. ^ Dominic Sandbrook State of Emergency, The Way We Were: Britain 1970-74, London: Allen Lane, 2010, p.462
  82. ^ Roy Greenslade Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda, London: Macmillan, 2004 [2003], p.490
  83. ^ Jamie Doward "Top shelf gathers dust", The Observer, 13 May 2001
  84. ^ Kennedy, Dominic (8 July 2014). "Groups linked to paedophile network given state grants". The Times (London). Retrieved 11 October 2015.  (subscription required)
  85. ^ Thomson, Mathew (28 November 2013). Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement. Oxford University Press.  
  86. ^ a b Ost, Suzanne (2009). Child Pornography and Sexual Grooming: Legal and Societal Responses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 84.  
  87. ^ Obituary: James Kirkup, The Daily Telegraph, 12 May 2009
  88. ^ Corinna Adam "Protecting Our Lord", New Statesman, 15 July 1977, in a version republished 3 February 2006
  89. ^ a b c d "James Kirkup: poet and translator". The Times. 13 May 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2015.  (subscription required)
  90. ^ Tracey & Morrison, p.12
  91. ^ a b Tracey & Morrison Whitehouse, p.3
  92. ^ Peter Burton Obituary: Denis Lemon, The Independent, 23 July 1994
  93. ^ Editorial "From the archive, 13 July 1977: Editorial: Is the law on blasphemy still relevant?", The Guardian, 13 July 2012 (reprint)
  94. ^ "Bad news", The Spectator, 15 July 1977, p.3
  95. ^ a b Tracey & Morrison Whitehouse, p.4-5
  96. ^ Tracey & Morrison Whitehouse, p.11
  97. ^ Sutherland Offensive Litearure, p.149-50
  98. ^ John Horton and Susan Mendus (eds.) Aspects of Toleration: Philosophical Studies, Abingdon: Routledge, 1985 [2010], p.24
  99. ^ a b c d Michael Billington State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945, London: Faber, 2007, p.305
  100. ^ Howard Brenton "Look back in anger", The Guardian, 28 January 2006
  101. ^ a b c d Mark Lawson "Passion play", The Guardian, 28 October 2005
  102. ^ Robertson The Justice Game, p.177
  103. ^ "Sir Christopher Staughton". The Times. 17 November 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2015.  (subscription required)
  104. ^ "BBC 'On This Day', 18 March". BBC News. 18 March 1967. Retrieved 25 July 2009. 
  105. ^ Bruce Anderson "A life spent trying in vain to preserve the suburban idyll", The Independent, 26 November 2001
  106. ^ a b Andrew Holmes "Let there be blood", The Guardian, 5 July 2002
  107. ^ a b Richard Stanley "Dying Light: An Obituary for the Great British Horror Movie" in Steve Chibnall and Julian Petley (eds.) British Horror Cinema, London: Routledge, 2002, p.184
  108. ^ a b Ben Tufft "Thatcher wanted to ban sex toys using anti-pornography laws after pressure from campaigners", The Independent, 30 December 2014
  109. ^ Natasha Hinde "Sex Toys V Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady Wanted To Ban Them Under Obscenity Laws", The Huffington Post, 31 December 2014
  110. ^ Mary Kenny "In defence of Mary Whitehouse", The Spectator (blog), 10 June 2010
  111. ^ NVALA Archive, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex
  112. ^ "National Viewers' and Listeners' Association", Archive Hub website
  113. ^ Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story BBC2
  114. ^ Ben Dowell "Mary Whitehouse drama heads for BBC", The Guardian, 21 July 2008
  115. ^ Ben Thompson (ed.) Ban This Filth!, p.83-84


See also

Her favourite programmes were Dixon of Dock Green, Neighbours, and coverage of snooker,[5][114] although she had privately expressed gratitude to Dennis Potter and the BBC for his Where Adam Stood in 1976.[115]

Whitehouse's early campaign and her disagreements with the BBC under Greene were the basis of a drama first broadcast in 2008 entitled Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, written by Amanda Coe.[113] Julie Walters played Whitehouse, Alun Armstrong played her husband Ernest, and Hugh Bonneville played Greene.

The papers of the NVALA for 1970-1990 have been deposited at the Library[111] of the University of Essex.[112]

Writing in the Dictionary of National Biography, the philosopher Mary Warnock opined, "Even if her campaigning did not succeed in ‘cleaning up TV’, still less in making it more fit to watch in other ways, she was of serious intent, and was an influence for good at a crucial stage in the development both of the BBC and of ITV. She was not, as the BBC seemed officially to proclaim, a mere figure of fun."[7]

The journalist Mary Kenny believes "Mary Whitehouse was a significant figure. Some of her battles were justified, even prophetic. Today her attacks on ‘kiddie porn’ would be widely supported."[110] The academic Richard Hoggart observed: "her main focus was on sex, followed by bad language and violence. Odd: if she had reversed the order, she might have been more effective."[12]

Whitehouse was appointed a CBE in 1980.[11] In 1988, she suffered a spinal injury in a fall, which severely curbed her campaigning activities.[5] Whitehouse retired as president of the NVALA in 1994. She died, aged 91, in a nursing home in Colchester, Essex, on 23 November 2001.

Later years and assessments of her influence

Around 1986, papers released in late December 2014 indicate, Whitehouse met with Thatcher on at least two occasions to discuss the possibility of banning Sex toys using a potential extension of the "deprave and corrupt" provision in the Obscene Publications Act 1959.[108] The plan was abandoned because home secretary Leon Brittan thought the concept of public taste would be a problematic concept for legal action.[108][109]

It has been claimed by commentators not necessarily in agreement with her that Whitehouse's efforts played a part in the passage of the Protection of Children Act 1978, the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, which concerned sex shops, and the Video Recordings Act 1984, which banned 'video nasties'. A term reportedly coined by Whitehouse,[106] she screened edited highlights from these films for MPs at the House of Commons in late 1983,[107] which included extracts from The Evil Dead (1981) considered by her "the number one nasty".[106] It was "a highly effective means of lobbying the government to introduce tight state controls on the burgeoning video industry".[107]

By the 1980s, Whitehouse had found a powerful ally in the Conservative government, particularly in Margaret Thatcher herself, whose support base partially consisted of Christians and social conservatives. It has been claimed by the Conservative journalist Bruce Anderson that the market orientation of the Thatcher government prejudiced it against Whitehouse in private.[105]

Margaret Thatcher's government

The case was the subject of a radio play, Mark Lawson's The Third Soldier Holds His Thighs, on BBC Radio 4 in 2005. Whitehouse's account of the trial is recorded in A Most Dangerous Woman (ISBN 0-85648-540-3); she wrote that she was of the opinion that the legal point had been established, and they had no wish to criminalise Bogdanov, the play's director.

Since Whitehouse had not seen the play, the prosecution evidence rested on the testimony of her solicitor, Graham Ross-Cornes, who claimed he saw the actor's penis. However, cross-examination revealed that he had seen a performance of the play from the back row of the stalls, 90 feet from the stage.[101][102] Lord Hutchinson, counsel for Bogdanov, was able to demonstrate the nature of the illusion performed on stage.[101] This was achieved by suggesting that it might have been the actor's thumb protruding from his fist, rather than his erect penis. The defence had argued that the Act did not apply to the theatre; the judge Mr Justice Staughton then ruled that it did. After three days,[99] the action was withdrawn after the prosecution counsel told Whitehouse that he was unable to continue with the case;[101] the litigation was ended by the Attorney General putting forward a plea of nolle prosequi.[103] Both sides claimed a victory; Whitehouse's side asserted that the important legal point had been made with the ruling on the applicability of the Sexual Offences Act, while Bogdanov said it was because she knew that he would not be convicted.[104] Whitehouse had to meet £20,000 costs, most of which was paid by an anonymous donor.[99]

In 1982 she pursued a private prosecution against Michael Bogdanov, the director of a National Theatre production of Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain, a play that "drew a direct parallel between the Roman invasion of Celtic Britain in 54 BC and the contemporary British presence in Northern Ireland."[99] The first act contains "a brief scene"[99] of (simulated) anal rape - the Police had visited the production three times and found no basis for legal action.[100] In the prosecution Whitehouse's counsel claimed Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which described the offence of "procuring an act of gross indecency",[101] was applicable. Because this was a general Act, there was no possibility of defence on the basis of artistic merit, unlike that permitted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

The Romans in Britain

[95] Jensen was forced to abandon his plans.[98].the Queen which resulted in Thorsen's intentions gaining significant public condemnation in September 1976 from leading public figures, including [97] She had hoped that it could be used as a basis for prosecution if a planned pornographic film on the life of Jesus Christ had been made in Britain. The intended work, containing both homosexual and heterosexual content, was a project by the Danish filmmaker [95] Whitehouse had hoped to use the blasphemy laws against material other than Kirkup's poem, and was interested in pursuing a possible action against allegedly blasphemous content for some time.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, the barrister for Gay News in the case, described Whitehouse in homophobic terms in The Times in 2008, saying: "Her fear of homosexuals was visceral".[28] He describes the beliefs she reveals in her book, Whatever Happened to Sex?, as "nonsense", such as her assertion that "homosexuality was caused by abnormal parental sex 'during pregnancy or just after'", saying that for her, "being gay was like having acne: 'Psychiatric literature proves that 60 per cent of homosexuals who go for treatment get completely cured'".[28]

Gay News lost the case; the jury decided the case on a 10-2 majority. Lemon and his paper were fined, and Lemon receiving a nine-month suspended prison sentence.[89] A Guardian editorial after the verdict said of the trial: "No evidence was called, or allowed to be called, about the merits of the poem in literature or theology", despite the case concerning blasphemy, or to suggest that Kirkup's intention had been to "scandalise" which, given the poet's "list of serious works", the newspaper thought should have been proven.[93] The judge in at the prosecution, Alan King-Hamilton, QC, had only allowed novelist Margaret Drabble and journalist Bernard Levin to appear as "character" witnesses for the newspaper.[89] The Spectator editorial on 15 July commented: "The prosecution was perverse, the verdict misguided. As for the punishments, given that this was in effect a test case, they are excessive" and "left the law on obscenity even more muddled and confused than it was before, and have served no useful purpose whatsoever, except to delight Mrs Whitehouse."[94] The Court of Appeal and the House of Lords dismissed appeals, although Lemon’s sentence was overturned.[89]

Denis Lemon, the editor and owner of Gay News, published the poem in the 3–16 June 1976 issue[91] on the basis that the "message and intention of the poem was to celebrate the absolute universality of God's love."[92] Whitehouse told Michael Tracey and David Morrison, the authors of a book about her: "I think it shook me more than anything I had seen or come into contact with all the time I had been campaigning. ... I don't think Jesus Christ has ever been more real to me as a person than he was at that particular moment."[91]

Whitehouse took private prosecutions in a number of cases where official action was not forthcoming. The action against Gay News in 1977 concerned "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name", a poem by James Kirkup, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,[87] the theme of which was the sexual fantasies of a Roman centurion about the body of Jesus Christ. She was the plaintiff in a charge of blasphemous libel against Gay News (Whitehouse v Lemon), a trial at the Old Bailey between 4 and 7 July 1977. It was the first prosecution for the offence since 1922. "I simply had to protect Our Lord," said Whitehouse at the time,[88] Kirkup's poem being in her opinion "the recrucifixion of Christ by 20th-century weapons".[89] The Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan and Cardinal Basil Hume both declined Whitehouse's invitation for them to give evidence at the trial.[90]

Gay News

Her subsequent petition against paedophilia and child pornography was signed by 112 million people.[86] Whitehouse urged the Conservative opposition to push for a bill on the subject, in the absence of interest from the Labour government. The private member's bill proposed by Conservative MP Cyril Townsend became the Protection of Children Act 1978.[86]

The Paedophile Information Exchange had been asked to help the Albany Trust, which received public money, to produce a booklet on paedophilia, which was to have been published by the Trust. Whitehouse mentioned the connection in a speech, and the Trusr withdrew its support for the production of the pamphlet in 1977.[84][85]

Protection of children

Following the release on appeal of the defendants in the Oz trial, "an unmitigated disaster for the children of our country",[80] Whitehouse launched the Nationwide Petition for Public Decency in January 1972, which gained 1.35 million signatures by the time it was presented to Edward Heath in April 1973.[81] She had around 300 speaking engagements during the period of her highest profile.[15] The pornographic magazine Whitehouse was launched in 1975 by publisher David Sullivan.[82][83]

Along with the (Catholic) Labour peer Lord Longford, Malcolm Muggeridge and Cliff Richard,[77] Whitehouse was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light, which protested against the commercial exploitation of sex and violence. The Festival's mass "rally against permissiveness" in Trafalgar Square was attended by 50,000 people in September 1971.[11] On 25 August that year she had an audience with Pope Paul VI regarding 'moral pollution',[8] in which she attempted to present the pontiff with Oz28 and the Little Red School Book, but these items found their way to an official of the Papal See instead.[78] In his Foreword to Whitehouse's book, Who Does She Think She Is? (1971), Malcolm Muggeridge wrote: "It is literally true that but for her the total demolition of all Christian decencies and values in this country would have taken place virtually without a word of public protest."[49][79]

Whitehouse had taken up other campaigns against the permissive society by the early 1970s. She objected to the UK edition of The Little Red Schoolbook, "a manual of children's rights"[70] on sex, drugs and attitudes to adults, which was successfully prosecuted for obscenity in July 1971. It was originally published in Denmark where, according to Whitehouse, it had done "incalculable damage"[71] and was "a revolutionary primer",[72] in which "open rebellion against the 'system', be it school, parents or authority generally, was openly advocated, while children were constantly exhorted to collect evidence against teachers of alleged injustices or anything which was likely to enhance revolution."[73] She was "greatly relieved - for the sake of the children" at the £50 fine and £115.50 costs imposed on Richard Handyside and Geoffrey Collins, its publishers,[74] who also had works by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro on their small list of publications. For Whitehouse it was a "fundamental right of a child to be a child" and "the duty of mature people to ensure that childhood is protected against the inroads of those who would exploit its immaturity for political, social or personal gain."[75] A modified second edition was allowed to be published in the UK,[76] but the original verdict in the prosecution was sustained in the Appeal Court and the European Court of Human Rights (see Handyside v United Kingdom). An unexpurgated edition of the book, bar one minor cut, was published in the UK during July 2014.[76]


Other campaigns and private prosecutions

At the same time William Rees-Mogg, Chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, commented that she was "on the whole a force for the good, an important woman."[69][62]

Whitehouse stepped down as President of the National Viewers and Listeners Association in May 1994. Michael Grade, at the time the Chief Executive of Channel 4, reflected on her career:

Some years earlier, Potter had publicly defended Whitehouse on several occasions without agreeing with her arguments.[68]

In August 1989,[64] in a broadcast of In the Psychiatrist's Chair on BBC Radio, Whitehouse confused the playwright with his hero in The Singing Detective. She claimed that Dennis Potter's mother had "committed adultery with a strange man and that the shock of witnessing this had caused her son to be afflicted"[64] with psoriatic arthropathy. Potter's mother won substantial damages from the BBC[65] and The Listener.[66] Whitehouse claimed she had a blackout at the interview's halfway point and her comments were not intentional.[67]

Whitehouse's supporters have asserted that her campaigns helped end Channel 4's "red triangle" series of films in 1986; claimed by Channel 4 to be intended to warn viewers of material liable to cause offence, the broadcasting of these films with the triangle had received criticism from opponents of Whitehouse. She was said to have had a role in the establishment of the Broadcasting Standards Council in 1988,[62] which later became the Broadcasting Standards Commission and was subsumed into the Office of Communications in 2004.[63]

In 1984, Whitehouse won a case in the High Court against John Whitney, director general of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, who had failed to forward the feature film Scum (1979) for consideration by other IBA board members to decide if Channel 4 should transmit it. Based on a then-banned BBC television play, the channel had screened the theatrical remake in June 1983.[59] The High Court decision was overturned on appeal when it reached the House of Lords.[60][61]

Within a week of the launch of Channel 4 in November 1982, Whitehouse was objecting to four-letter words in the soap opera Brookside and two feature films the channel screened, Woodstock (1970) and Network (1976). On 26 November she called for the resignation of the channel's chief executive Jeremy Isaacs over a scene in Brookside "in which a young thug had tried to force a schoolgirl to have sex with him", according to Dorothy Hobson in her history of the station's early years.[58]

Whitehouse criticised the ITV adventure/drama series Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986). Simon Farquhar, in an obituary for The Independent of the series' creator, Richard Carpenter, wrote that Whitehouse "objected to the [show's] relentless slaughter and blasphemous religious elements, but was deftly silenced by Carpenter in public when he introduced himself to her and the audience by saying "I'm Richard Carpenter, and I'm a professional writer. And you're a professional... what?"[57]

After 1980

She had described the serial Genesis of the Daleks (1975) as consisting of "teatime brutality for tots".[55] Philip Hinchcliffe later remarked, "I always felt that Mary Whitehouse thought of Doctor Who as a children's programme, for little children, and it wasn't... so she was really coming at the show from the wrong starting-point."[56]

The series' next producer, Graham Williams, was told to lighten the tone and reduce the violence following Whitehouse's complaints.[53] Senior television executives commented that at this time her views were not disregarded lightly.[54]

Following her complaint about The Deadly Assassin (broadcast later in 1976), Whitehouse received an apology from Director-General Sir Charles Curran. A freeze-frame cliffhanger ending to the third episode, in which the Doctor appeared to drown to death, was altered for repeat showings.[52]

Criticizing The Seeds of Doom (1976), in which the Doctor (Tom Baker) survives an encounter with a giant carnivorous plant monster, she commented: "Strangulation—by hand, by claw, by obscene vegetable matter[16][50]—is the latest gimmick, sufficiently close up so they get the point. And just for a little variety show the children how to make a Molotov Cocktail."[51]

The Doctor Who series met with her heaviest disapproval between 1975 and 1977 during which time Philip Hinchcliffe produced the series.

Doctor Who

The NVALA had around 150,000 members at its peak,[48] but claimed 30,000 in April 1977.[49]

Chuck Berry's novelty song "My Ding-a-Ling" was one of several pop songs to receive Whitehouse's disapproval in this period. She was unsuccessful in trying to persuade the BBC to ban it,[44][45] but her campaign to stop Alice Cooper's "School's Out" being featured on Top of the Pops was successful.[46] Cooper sent her a bunch of flowers, since he believed the publicity helped the song to reach number one.[47] Despite the connection, in 1977 the regular presenter of TOTP in this era, Jimmy Savile, won an award from NVALA for his "wholesome family entertainment" on Jim'll Fix It.[3]

Whitehouse criticised the work of Dennis Potter from Son of Man (1969) onwards, arguing that the BBC was at the centre "of a conspiracy to remove the myth of god from the minds of men",[41] and also A Clockwork Orange (1971). In the case of the violence in A Clockwork Orange, she rejected any attempt to show a 'copycat' correlation in academic studies, but urged its acceptance as a fact arrived at by common sense.[42] In December 1974, she wrote of the "deliberate propagation" of the idea that there is no proof of the effects of television on "standards and behaviour". To reject its effect, and its ability to "declaim or pervert truth, is to deny the potency of communication itself, it is crazily to question the ability of education to affect the social conscience and to train the human mind."[43]

Whitehouse was critical of comedians such as Benny Hill and his use of dancers; she described Dave Allen as "offensive, indecent and embarrassing" after a comic account of a conversation following sexual intercourse.[39] In return, comedy writers during this era saw her as possessing humorous potential. The Goodies comedy team created an episode ("Gender Education", 1971) with the principal objective of irritating her.[40]

[38] but the episode ends with the book being burned to exclamations of "Unclean, unclean".[37], and agreeing with every word,Cleaning Up TV is shown reading her book Alf Garnett Shortly after the court case was concluded she was mocked in an episode of the series entitled "Alf's Dilemma" (27 February 1967). [37][36]

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