On this day in history : 13th June 1910 – The birth of Mary Whitehouse, the educator, conservative activist and co-founder of the ‘Clean-Up TV’ campaign….
Whitehouse was born Constance Mary Hutchison in Nuneaton, Warwickshire and after finishing school she trained to become a teacher…. At the same time she became involved with evangelical Christian groups, such as the Student Christian Movement…. She qualified as a teacher in 1932….
It was at a meeting of the Oxford Group – a Christian organisation later to become known as Moral Re-Armament – that she met Ernest Raymond Whitehouse…. They married in 1940 and were to have five sons (two of whom died in infancy)….
In 1960 Whitehouse was working as a teacher in a school in Madely, Shropshire and was given the responsibility of sex education…. She was to be totally shocked by the lack of morals amongst many of her students…. It was at a time when sex scandals seemed to dominate the news headlines – particularly the exploits of Christine Keebler and Mandy Rice-Davies…. Whitehouse blamed the media, especially the BBC for exposing the nation to ‘such filth’….
In 1963 she wrote to the BBC asking for a meeting with the then Director-General, Hugh Greene…. But she had to make do with his deputy, Harman Grisewood – who she felt was sympathetic because he had good Catholic values…. However, she was to remain dissatisfied with the content she saw on television, so in 1964 she teamed up with vicar’s wife Norah Buckland and they launched the ‘Clean-Up TV’ campaign…. Appealing to the women of Britain they held their first public meeting on the 5th of May at Birmingham Town Hall…. Around 2,000 turned up, including several coach loads….
Whitehouse was to become a thorn in the side of Sir Hugh Greene…. According to her, he was ‘the devil incarnate’ and responsible for the moral collapse of the country – with its promiscuity, infidelity, indecency, violence, blasphemy, bad language and drinking…. She made some 300 speeches across the country each year – and the BBC, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace all received a bombardment of correspondence from her….
She became General Secretary of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association in 1965, an association with over 400,000 supporters including many professionals such as senior police officers and bishops….
Just about every programme shown on British television came under her scrutiny…. One of her absolute pet hates was sitcom ‘Til Death Us Do Part’ – and particularly Alf Garnett’s love of the word “bloody”…. Another one she had it in for was Benny Hill…. Comedian Dave Allen fared little better, who she described as ‘offensive, indecent and embarrassing’…. However, comedy writers began to turn the tables, seeing her as potential material for their humour…. The Goodies devoted a whole episode – ‘Gender Education’ – in 1971, purely with the intention of irritating her….
She even turned her attention to popular music…. She unsuccessfully tried to get the BBC to ban Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ – but had a better result when she managed to stop Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ from being aired…. He responded by sending her flowers – as he was convinced it was this that helped his record reach the No.1 spot in the British charts….
Even family favourite ‘Dr Who’ attracted her wrath – which she referred to as ‘teatime brutality for tots’…. She objected to its violence! And within a week of Channel 4 launching in November 1982 she was having a go at the soap ‘Brookside’ for the amount of swear words in it….
Whitehouse retired in 1994….but even from her nursing home she still had plenty to say…. In her book, ‘Whatever Happened To Sex’, she explained, that as a happy family woman, she had nothing against sex itself – but was against its exploitation in the media…. To some Mary Whitehouse was a champion of Christian family values – indeed in 1980 she was awarded a CBE…. To others she was just an interfering busy body…. She died on the 23rd of November 2001 at the age of 91….