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Mary Whitehouse

Mary Whitehouse (June 13, 1910 - November 23, 2001) was a British campaigner for traditional morals and decency, particularly in television and radio. She was founder and first president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association .

She was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and educated at a grammar school in Chester. She went on to do teacher-training at the county college, specialising in art. Her first teaching job was in Wednesfield, Staffordshire. She joined the Oxford Movement (later Moral Rearmament) in the 1930s. At MRA meetings she met Ernest Whitehouse, and they married in 1940.

While a teacher at Madeley school in Shropshire she became concerned at what she perceived as the declining moral standards in Britain, of the media, and especially of the BBC.

She began her campaigning in 1963 and among her first targets was Sir Hugh Carleton Greene; she claimed the director-general of the BBC was "more than anybody else... responsible for the moral collapse in this country". Greene ignored her concerns and from 1964 she began to gather wider support for her campaign; at her first public meeting in Birmingham over 3,000 people attended and the Clean Up TV Campaign was created. The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association was also formed in 1964. When Greene left the BBC in 1969 Whitehouse was quick to claim credit for his departure; other sources point to a more political struggle between the BBC and Harold Wilson, then prime minister.

Outside of television Mrs Whitehouse brought a number of notable actions including a private prosecution for blasphemous libel against Censored page in 1977, the first time the offence had been used since 1922 when the Old Bailey sentenced John W Gott to nine months' hard labour for blasphemy. The private prosecution concerned the poem The Love That Dares to Speak its Name by James Kirkup, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. It resulted in the editor of Gay News, Denis Lemon , being given a nine-month suspended jail sentence, and being told by the judge he had come close to serving it.

She also tried to privately prosecute the director of a National Theatre production, The Romans In Britain, under a sexual offences act for the offence of "procuring an act of gross indecency" an offence aimed at homosexual prostitutes and their pimps. The play had a scene involving (simulated) anal sex between two characters. Whitehouse withdrew from the prosecution and the proceedings were terminated by a nolle prosequi procedure.

Her attacks on A Clockwork Orange contributed to the film's withdrawal in Britain. From 1972 she campaigned for public decency and her efforts played a part in the passage of Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Indecent Displays Act (1981) and in 1984 she helped develop the outrage at "video nasties" that led to the Video Recording Act of that year. Her campaigns helped bring an end to Channel 4's "red triangle" series of films. She also had a role in the 1990 extension of the Broadcasting Act and the establishment of the Broadcasting Standards Council .

Some have claimed that she had an ability to be offended by almost anything, pointing to her complaints about the use of the word "bloody", her concerns about the T.V. character Alf Garnett, Doctor Who or the "Censored page" scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and claimed that she tended to take any sexualised activity on television or in the theatre as an affront. Whitehouse became an easy target for mockery and caricature. One publisher of pornographic magazines named a magazine Whitehouse, apparently in an attempt to annoy her. British noise band Whitehouse also named themselves after her, in mocking tribute. She is mentioned by name in the song Pigs (Three Different Ones) on the 1977 Pink Floyd album Animals. There was also a BBC TV and Radio comedy series The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

In spite of this, Whitehouse still had a deep base of support; for much of the 1960s and 1970s she had more than 250 speaking engagements every year and in 1980 she was honoured with a CBE. In the 1990s her activity was reduced by illness and a fall which damaged her spine in 1997. Her husband died in July 2000. She died in a nursing home in Colchester on November 23, 2001.

The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association was renamed Mediawatch in 2001 and Whitehouse retired as president in 1994; the current president is John Beyer. The organisation had about 150,000 members at its peak; current membership is under 40,000.

References

  • Geoffrey Robertson : The Justice Game, 1999, Random House UK. A memoir of a prominent barrister who, among other historic trials, successfully defended several of Whitehouse's targets in her private prosecutions.

See also


Last updated: 02-26-2005 13:18:49