Magazine article The Spectator

Whitehouse Effect

Magazine article The Spectator

Whitehouse Effect

Article excerpt

'Stupid old bat.' That's what my father always used to say when Mary Whitehouse appeared on the screen, and the older I grew the more I agreed with him. What right had this ghastly woman with her horn-rimmed specs and silly hats and Black Country accent to stand between me and 'the torrents of filth' I would happily have watched on TV all day and all night?

But Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story (BBC2, Wednesday) wasn't going to let us off so easily. It opened up in one of those picture-perfect villages from the past we'd all like to live in -- the steepled church, the well-tended hedges, the working post office, grown-ups smiling greetings to one another on their bicycles, boys in blazers and caps who were probably at the local C of E and getting the sort of unashamedly rigorous education you now only get at private schools . . .

'Now see here, ' it seemed to be saying to people like me. 'This was the England the old bat wanted to preserve. Can you really condemn her for trying?' A few scenes later we had the counterargument. Mrs Whitehouse (an on-topform Julie Walters) is musing aloud to her long-suffering husband Ernest. 'Oral sex, ' she says, in bafflement and disgust. 'Now, really, what sort of person would want to do a thing like that?' Ernest (beautifully played by Alun Armstrong) runs a tongue thoughtfully over his lips, and keeps his counsel.

You know exactly what's going through his head.

On the face of it, Mrs Whitehouse's bêtenoir Sir Hugh Carleton Greene was a much more attractive figure. As played by Hugh Bonneville, he came across as an amusingly potty-mouthed, caustic bon viveur with a sound appreciation of foxy blondes, cricket and fine wine and a hatred of paperwork and cant. His initial response to Mrs Whitehouse was to commission a portrait of her with seven bare breasts.

He also had all the best lines, notably his bravura rant when the BBC chairman Lord Hill tried arguing that Mrs Whitehouse should be heeded. 'If she had her way, ' spits Greene, 'all we'd show would be Andy bloody Pandy. And she'd stop him climbing into that basket with Looby Loo, let alone Teddy, lest some innocent child be corrupted by the whiff of puppet troilism.' Just when you thought you'd got everyone measured, though, Amanda Coe's fizzing script and Andy de Emmony's sharp direction pulled the rug from under your feet. …

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