Mary Whitehouse

In my today’s Facebook feed there was an article by the Christian Institute titled: “Columnist: Mary Whitehouse deserves an apology”. It begins: “A newspaper columnist has said that the world might now be a better place if Mary Whitehouse’s views had been taken seriously. Writing in the Daily Mail, Sarah Vine said Whitehouse, a devout Christian, “deserves an apology” for the “liberal snobbery” she endured. Whitehouse rose to prominence in the 1960s for taking a stand against the declining moral standards on television and radio”. It comes on top of another article (lost somewhere in the ether) where another “well known” columnist recalled the time when Mary was against all the things he liked on the TV when growing up (something which resonates), down to something fairly innocuous like “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, for the violence it depicted, but over the years he has come to see that Mary was at least a lot more right than he thought at the time.


Quoting yet another celebrity to come out later in support of Mary, from the article referred in the afore mentioned article: “Back in 2010, Dame Joan Bakewell – a long-term opponent of Mary Whitehouse – said Whitehouse’s concerns about the sexual liberation of the 1960s may have been justified. Writing in the Radio Times, Dame Joan criticised the commercialisation of sex and the sexualisation of the nation’s children. “I never thought I would hear myself say as much, but ‘I’m with Mrs Whitehouse on this one””, it all got me thinking about the legacy left by a woman who was a well known personality, in the Margaret Thatcher league, in my formative years (mid teens to early thirties) although usually as a figure of fun or, for the less generous, of revilement. As one that was becoming deeply influenced by religion, I was sensing even then the nation, post (probably before) Swinging Sixties was losing its moral compass, and no-one was more prolific in challenging that tendency, notwithstanding her “obsession” with sex and violence.

I was studying in London when the Festival of Light happened and it became quite a talking point at the time: “The Nationwide Festival of Light was a short-lived grassroots movement formed by British Christians concerned about the development of the permissive society in the UK at the end of the 1960s. Its leading lights included the clean-up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge and a number of leading clergymen. The British pop star Cliff Richard was a leading supporter. The movement was opposed to what they saw as the growing trends in the mass media for the explicit depiction of sexual and violent themes. Its culmination was a pair of mass rallies in Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park, London in September 1971”. As for Mary, she was rarely far out of the news for a number of years around then, and while she had her band of supporters, often silent, many prominent personalities had a go at one who was seen as a judgmental killjoy, a taker away of liberties, as well as an easy target.

According to Wikipedia: “Constance Mary Whitehouse, CBE (née Hutcheson; 13 June 1910 – 23 November 2001), better known simply as Mary Whitehouse, 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 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.” Checking out her bio, along with these and other reports and issues not so dissimilar today, all got me thinking about what is was Mary Whitehouse did that stirred folk.

Reading another article, which was a realistic assessment written by her son a few years back, “Mary Whitehouse: Sometimes I denied she was my mother”, he deserves the last word (almost – ed): “Mary Whitehouse was a fun and loving parent – until she started her moral crusade. Her son Richard tells Elizabeth Udall how his admiration turned to misery … I respect my mother’s single-mindedness and resilience, that she maintained the courage of her convictions and inspired so many people. I enjoyed the fun person my mother could be. But even then, we were never left in any doubt that there was something much more important to her going on elsewhere. If the choice was between family or the campaign, the campaign would win every time. My mother let it take her and I never really got her back.”

Going back to the article I couldn’t re-discover, the author made the salient point that the organization she headed up, besides criticizing the long list of media output Mary Whitehouse disapproved off, also commended those who were involved in the sort of wholesome family entertainment she wanted to see more off. One award was to Jimmy Saville! Yet despite poor judgment, a debatable set of issues to be fought and a questionable set of priorities at times, there is little doubt in my mind, seeing where the culture is presently heading (and it could be worse if Mary hadn’t spoken up), that she did leave a worthwhile legacy. For her courage of convictions, despite cruel opposition she had to endure, she is to be admired.


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