Mary Whitehouse - Moral Crusader Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Mary Whitehouse - Moral Crusader

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Mary Whitehouse on TV.
If Mary Whitehouse hadn't existed, broadcasters would have had to invent her.

Mary Whitehouse occupied a curious position. Although widely reviled and constantly satirised - even to the point of having a pornographic magazine named in her honour - there was always the feeling that as long as she existed British broadcasting was, ultimately, safe from descending entirely into sleaze and prurience - with the possible exception of Channel 5.

Mrs Whitehouse's self-appointed crusade began with her founding the Clean Up TV Campaign in 1964, which became the National Viewers and Listeners' Association (NVLA)1 in 1965. She continued to lead the organisation for 30 years, finally stepping down in 1994 at the age of 84.

Her campaigning style was vigorous and outspoken but generally good-humoured, and she was usually the first person called upon to give a suitably disgusted reaction to some new televised excess. The fact that her opinions were not shared (or even understood) by substantial sections of the community, never appeared to bother her. She had the wonderful gift of complete confidence in her right to hold the view she did and was brave enough to stand up for what she believed, against a tide of permissiveness which saw TV move from couples always sleeping in twin beds, to full frontal nudity and sex acts (but always, of course, 'in the best possible taste'2).

Ultimately she felt that the broadcast media should promote morality; a view completely at odds with the way the medium was developing, tending to reflect - and some would say lead - a perceived decline in public morals. Of course, even the most cursory examination of the truth of Victorian morality and behaviour reveals that the middle-class view of public morals always has been at odds with reality.

Many in authority hated her, but, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said on her death:

In reminding broadcasters and others of their obligations in respect of taste and decency she greatly enriched the public debate about media freedom and responsibility.

Mrs Whitehouse died on 23 November, 2001, aged 91.

1Now called mediawatch-uk.2This catchphrase of Whitehouse hate figure, Kenny Everett's creation Cupid Stunt, was always ironic, and very clearly implies the precise opposite.

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