Mary Whitehouse was a teacher who became aware of the profound effect television was having on the moral values of the girls in her care. What they consumed was undermining family life, social cohesion and attacking Christian values. The message that young people were hearing from the new generation of opinion formers and pop stars who littered the media, was one of ‘free love’ and ‘if it feels good do it’.
Motivated by a profound Christian faith, Mary Whitehouse believed that something must be done about the damaging influence of the media. The ‘Clean Up TV Campaign’ was launched in 1963 and a nation-wide petition organized soon after. Half a million signatures were presented to the Governors of the BBC that year, but sadly programming did not improve as a result.
The next day, the Times reporting on the meeting said: “Following Mary Whitehouse’s rally, about 2,000 supporters of a campaign to ‘clean up’ BBC television decided to ask the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh for their support”
They were asked to give “encouragement and support to our efforts to bring about a radical change in the policy of entertainers in general and the Governors of the BBC in particular. In view of the terrifying increase in promiscuity and its attendant horrors we are desperately anxious to banish from our homes and theatres those who seek to demoralize and corrupt our young people.”
Mary Whitehouse appealed to sympathizers to ask their parliamentary candidates to come right out into the open with their views on the campaign. The Times report concluded: “Perhaps never in the history of the Birmingham Town Hall has such a successful meeting been sponsored by such a flimsy organization”.
The first ‘Clean Up TV Campaign’ newsletter on the 15 May 1964 said:
“What a wonderful experience the evening of the 5 May was! The sight of the packed hall and the singing of the National Anthem were unforgettable. Everyone must have been tremendously heartened, and it will have given great satisfaction to those who worked so hard and came so far to register their support.
Delegations came from all over the Midlands and from as far away as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, London, Devon and Mid-Wales. There were many personal messages of support that were backed by the 120,000 signatures already appended to the Manifesto.
The National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association
Although not everyone agreed with her, Mary Whitehouse was widely respected for her courage, sincerity and transparent honesty. She met regularly with politicians, various secretaries of State and broadcasters in an effort to secure good entertainment that would benefit society as a whole rather than simply the narrow interests of programme makers and film producers.
In 1977 Lord Annan, speaking in a House of Lords debate on the Future of Broadcasting paid this tribute:
Engaging the Public Debate
Mary Whitehouse made many campaign trips around the world, attending meetings and conferences to discuss the effects of the media on global societies and advise appropriate action. She debated at universities all over the United Kingdom, and although she didn’t always win, she provoked lively discussions among the students. She appeared on many television and radio programmes, discussing many moral and social issues. She was also the subject of major production ‘Person to Person’ which was broadcast on by the BBC in 1979.
Mary Whitehouse wrote six books and these books provide an insight not only into the compassionate and caring person who wrote them but also into the revolutionary changes that were being foisted on an unsuspecting society. In 1980 she was awarded the CBE, which she felt gave the cause official recognition.
In the years before she died, Mary suffered a fracture to her spine while gardening, which caused debilitating physical pain. She always maintained a passion for her public work, and her determination to protect children from exploitation and the media’s imposed and distorted maturity endured.
Most recently, an increasing number of commentators have come to acknowledge that her views about violent and sexualised broadcasting are poignantly relevant to our modern generation.
In 2004 Roy Hattersley wrote:
“Forty years ago I dismissed Mary Whitehouse as a bad joke. Foolishly, I believed that broadcasters, acting with little or no restraint, would produce an ever-improving quality of programme. The reverse has happened. One of the hard facts of television’s decline – a painful fact to swallow for unapologetic libertarians – is that liberty, far from producing an improvement in quality, has produced a continual deterioration in standards.”
After decades of battling against her views, Dame Joan Bakewell has also conceded that Mary Whitehouse may have been right all along. In a remarkable U-turn, Dame Joan has suggested the results of sexual liberation in the 1960s may not have had a positive effect for a later generation.
Writing in The Radio Times in June 2012 she said:
Mary Whitehouse CBE died in November 2001. Part of her continuing legacy is our work here at Mediawatch-UK