Yes, There's Something about Mary

Article excerpt

The Week in Radio

I rather liked Mary Whitehouse. She would often ring me up in a previous journalistic incarnation to "draw my attention" to upcoming outrages. And when she did she was always polite, intelligent and firm, like the girls' school teacher she once was. If the tide of filth had already been broadcast, she would read out the profanities, "eight bloodys, two buggers and a Christ", in her special, taking-the-register monotone, which always enlivened a dull day. And while her repressive views on homosexuality and pre- marital sex were deeply unappealing, her biggest impact on broadcasting was not about sex at all. It was establishing the idea that listeners and viewers should have a say in what broadcasters provide.

Whether she would have liked her 100th birthday marked by one of her bugbears, Joan Bakewell, is debatable. But in the latest of an excellent run of Archive on 4, The Mary Whitehouse Effect, Bakewell took a measured look at her impact and managed to separate the prejudice from the principle. One of those who emerged least well was Hugh Carleton Greene, the director general, who would say, "Just had another 2,000 complaints and a letter from Mary Whitehouse. Well done, everybody!" He wanted her banned from the airwaves and considered her "persona non existent" - a cavalier attitude that no director general would get away with today. And while Mary's Clean Up TV campaign was undoubtedly fuelled by blinkered religious fundamentalism, at a distance other aspects, like her objections to the coarsening of society and her campaigning abilities, seem admirable. Geoffrey Robertson said he once told her of a gap in legal protection for 14-year-old girls, "and within three months she had achieved an amendment in the law."

It was her train-spotting approach to obscenity that made her a figure of fun. "Mr Hendrix made a number of obscene gestures with his tongue, slid his hands up and down the long neck of the instrument for no apparent reason, and made accelerating rhythmic actions as though simulating the sexual act". …