Mary Whitehouse (1910-2001) was a British moral crusader fighting for Christian family values and against the depravity of society. She became famous—or perhaps ‘notorious’ would be more appropriate in this case—for her campaign against ‘blasphemy, bad language, violence and indecency’.
Ironically, Mary Whitehouse was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire better-known as George Eliot’s place of birth. Eliot was indeed not really a standard-bearer of irreproachable conduct according to Victorian moral values.
As a young arts teacher, Whitehouse joined the Moral Re-Armament mouvement where she met her husband, Ernest Whitehouse. She then became a housewife and mother of 5 but after having raised her children she returned to teaching. Whitehouse taught sex education. That is where it all started. We are in the early 1960s. The liberal mood at that time was that sex was pleasurable ; the invention of the pill allowed sexual liberation and freedom, especially for women. In this permissive context, Mary Whitehouse became particularly concerned about the « declining moral standards » in the British media, especially on the BBC. Hugh Greene, the BBC’s Director General, became her whipping boy.
The lower-middle-class housewife from Nuneaton started her Clean Up TV campaign in 1964. The first meeting was a huge success and led to the creation of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. Mary Whitehouse led a 30-plus-year-long crusade against the ‘poison being poured into millions of homes through television’. She was not alone in this. The association prided itself in having more than 400,000 supporters from all levels of society. Coachloads of followers attended the meetings and over 500,000 signatures were collected in favour of the « Clean Up TV » campaign.
Mary Whitehouse’s range of criticism was very broad : from the Benny Hill dancers over Monty Python’s Flying Circus to the satirical comedy Till Death Us Do Part. She also felt offended by the use of the word bloody and was even more concerned about the violence in Tom and Jerry cartoons.
The Wolverhampton schoolteacher who harassed Downing Street, Buckingham Palace as well as the BBC became a target of criticism herself. One publisher of pornographic magazines even named a magazine Whitehouse. For years she had to endure abuse, stink bombs and pies in the face.
Mary Whitehouse was a zealot, a fanatic. She passed away 10 years ago but her association still exists and has been re-named Mediawatch-uk. It recently tried to prevent the release of the Wii game MadWorld. If only she knew how mad the world has become !