Maybe Mary Whitehouse was right all along

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‘Looking at today’s world, there is virtually no regulation at all … ’

Considering what’s on the box today, should we have backed the Clean Up TV campaigns, asks Emma Cowing

A FEW weeks ago, MTV aired the final episode of the reality TV show, Crazy In Love. In it, a failed pop star named Kerry Katona – who throughout the series was shown smoking and drinking while pregnant, threatening her husband Mark Croft with divorce, defecating on a shop floor and swearing prodigiously – gives birth on screen, yelling the words “Oh my God”.

All things considered, might Mary Whitehouse have had a point? Had we paid more attention to her Clean Up TV Campaigns – which made her one of the most revered and reviled figures in television in the 1960s – it could all have been so different.

“Suddenly the pendulum is swinging the other way and people are saying, ‘well maybe she had a point after all,’” says Dr John Cook, Reader in Media at Glasgow Caledonian University.

“Looking at today’s world, there is virtually no regulation at all. We’ve started to see a great liberalisation in TV in the past ten years, particularly in sexual depiction, and the regulator that does exist has a very light touch.”

Whitehouse did make some pertinent points. Believing that television directly influenced antisocial behaviour she waged a war against foul language, sexual acts and violence on screen, which to the dismay of many, have become the stock-in-trade of reality TV shows such as Big Brother and Wife Swap, as well as most of our soap operas.

However, she often went to extremes -blaming shows such as Pinky and Perky for leading children astray and condemning the violence in Tom and Jerry cartoons. And the conservative Christian morals that lay behind a lot of her actions made many uncomfortable.

“We must never forget that Whitehouse was a leader of the Festival of Light movement, which was an attempt to move back to very traditional Christian values,” says Cook. “This is one of the reasons why Sir Hugh Greene, director general of the BBC at the time, refused to see her. There is a backlash now, saying that maybe that was wrong of him, but he felt he would be subject to a particularly vocal pressure group that in reality represented a small minority of opinion.”

Whitehouse’s views on homosexuality were extraordinarily prejudiced – she successfully launched a private prosecution against the Gay News in 1977 for a poem entitled The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name, which was written by James Kirkup, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The case resulted in a nine-month suspended jail sentence for the publication’s editor, Denis Lemon. She also held a deep dislike for the generally inoffensive and widely beloved Doctor Who.

No wonder then, that she was given a hard time by the more liberal press. A pornographic magazine was named Whitehouse, she provided endless comic fodder for 70s shows such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Goodies, and her name was still being taken in vain in the early 1990s with the comedians Rob Newman, David Baddiel, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis naming their radio and TV series The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

But many of Whitehouse’s concerns are still relevant, and not only in the heir to her National Viewers and Listeners Association, Mediawatch-UK. “There are still issues that exercise the public, such as violence and swearing, particularly pre-watershed,” says Cook.

Michael Grade, the chairman of ITV and a former BBC chairman who clashed with her regularly, perhaps summed her up best: “She was very witty, she was a great debater, she was very courageous and she had a very sincere view. But it was out of touch entirely with the real world.”

Dear TV viewers of Britain,

YOU may have thought you had got rid of me. You may have thought that I had faded to black and left you to continue down an ever-more hideous path of moral corruption, obscenities and sexual goings-on. But I am back! And I am DISGUSTED – of course.

I have been forced to return by rumours of an appalling new film purporting to be about me. I have not seen it, but I am sure it is appalling. My sources – who have unfortunately been unable to stem the tide of sewage sweeping across our once-great nation without my help – tell me that it even contains … I can hardly type the words… a scene of the “actress” supposedly playing me engaged in an act of a sexual nature with the gentleman playing the vile Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, one-time director-general of the BBC. Need I assure you that this never happened? Not only did I regard him as the chief culprit in the moral collapse of the country, I would never have abandoned myself to such depravities in any circumstances.

But while I have been away, I see that the problem of filth has spread much further than the BBC. No channel – and there are more than I could ever have imagined when we sat down as a family to enjoy the simple pleasures of Watch With Mother – is free from sleaze.

Take, for example, a programme on the fifth channel billing itself as Strange Love. Strange indeed! For the love, if one can use such a word, is between a man and a car! And not in the innocent way that my husband Ernest enjoyed his vehicle, but in a deeply unnatural fashion, all fully depicted on screen, as the man actually engages in sexual relations with cars, her chosen mode of transport.

And what justification does one of these perverts give for the making of such a film? He claims that it is aimed at “other people with similar strangeness in their love lives or sexuality” and that seeing programmes like this may “make them more comfortable with themselves”.

Exactly! Condemned from his own mouth, indeed! This is the kind of communist “anything goes” philosophy that leads to the promotion of all sorts of depraved behaviour.

I had thought that BBC2 was the lowest that the corrupt corporation could sink to, but I am horrified to learn of something called BBC3 which delves to even deeper depths with Glamour Girls in which self-confessed “models” blatantly discuss their appearance in nude photographs!

Another immoral-sounding programme is scheduled well before the watershed, which was one of my greatest achievements (although unfortunately my original suggestion of 3am as the cut-off time for family-friendly entertainment was rejected): Loose Women.

The title says it all. These hussies, who were recently photographed at an awards ceremony in states of blatant drunkenness while flashing their underwear, exemplify all that is wrong with broadcasting and indeed Britain in the 21st century.

And that is all just from one night’s viewing. Later in the week, there is the horrifying prospect of Jonathan Ross, whose mucky chat show is nothing but an excuse to swear and talk about sexual matters.

His guest John Barrowman has become a regular figure on British television. I do not know whether I am more upset about the fact he is “married” to another man or that he is the star of Torchwood, a TV programme which is derived from that most violent and horrible of television programmes, yes, I’m talking about Dr Who. In the so-called comedy Peep Show, the two male characters are shown having sex with women and taking drugs, without any consequences other than comical ones.

Though who’s laughing? Not me, I can tell you! As for those hotbeds of sin that are EastEnders and Coronation Street have, unfortunately, not improved since my time, showing extramarital affairs, single parents and crime.

What a picture of Britain these programmes portray. Some may say that they are only showing the country as it is, but I say that television is not here to be a mirror but an uplifting guide to how to lead a good Christian life.

Programmes should show us as we aspire to be, not as we – or rather you – may be.

How you could all benefit from a new leader with the strength of vision of my good and admirable friends Maggie Thatcher and Enoch Powell.

Yes, I am disgusted. Filth, as this shamefully inaccurate portrayal of my life is called, is only the tip of a very dirty iceberg that is waiting to sink our society.

Together let us fight back, to take control of the broadcasting ship once more and steer it clear of all that is depraved and corrupt.

Now, enough explaining. Let’s get complaining!

Yours indignantly,

Mary Whitehouse (Mrs)

• Mary Whitehouse’s organisation, the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, which she founded in 1965, sought to highlight perceived regulatory failure on harmful and offensive broadcast content including portrayals of violence, bad language, sex, homosexuality and blasphemy. Whitehouse remained its president until 1994. After her death in 2001, it was renamed Mediawatch-UK, and is currently run by John Beyer, who took over from Whitehouse when she retired.