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Ban This Filth!: Letters From the Mary Whitehouse Archive [Hardcover]

Ben Thompson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2012

In 1964, Mary Whitehouse launched a campaign to fight what she called the 'propaganda of disbelief, doubt and dirt' being poured into homes through the nation's radio and television sets. Whitehouse, senior mistress at a Shropshire secondary school, became the unlikely figurehead of a mass movement: the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association.

For almost forty years, she kept up the fight against the programme makers, politicians, pop stars and playwrights who she felt were dragging British culture into a sewer of blasphemy and obscenity.

From Dr Who ('Teatime brutality for tots') to Dennis Potter (whose mother sued her for libel and won) to the Beatles - (whose Magical Mystery Tour escaped her intervention by the skin of its psychedelic teeth) - the list of Mary Whitehouse's targets will read to some like a nostalgic roll of honour.

Caricatured while she lived as a figure of middle-brow reaction, Mary Whitehouse was held in contempt by the country's intellectual elite. But were some of the dangers she warned of more real than they imagined?

Ben Thompson's selection of material from her extraordinary archive shows Mary Whitehouse's legacy in a startling new light.

From her exquisitely testy exchanges with successive BBC Directors General, to the anguished screeds penned by her television and radio vigilantes, these letters reveal a complex and combative individual, whose anxieties about culture and morality are often eerily relevant to the age of the internet.


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Ban This Filth!: Letters From the Mary Whitehouse Archive + Behind the Scenes at the BBFC: Film Classification from the Silver Screen to the Digital Age
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (1 Nov 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571281494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571281497
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.6 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

A splendidly entertaining book... finds the morality campaigner comically wrong on many matters but impressively prescient about pornography and paedophile TV personalities.' --Mark Lawson, Guardian Books of the Year

Hilarious but timely selection of letters for the Mary Whitehouse archive. -- The Sunday Times 'Must Read'

A fascinating time capsule from an age gone by. --Mail on Sunday

Book Description

The filth and the fury from the Mary Whitehouse archive! The birth of British pop culture and the swinging sixties told through outraged letters and angry campaigns.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this filth! 27 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mary Whitehouse loomed large over my childhood by forever, it seemed, trying to ban my favourite show - Doctor Who. As I sat there blissfully unaware of the detrimental effect of viewing "obscene vegetable matter" or a particular freeze frame of Tom Baker drowning, Mary Whitehouse was on the case. She bombarded anyone who would listen (and many who would not) with letters of complaint. This book collects some of the most amusing and although she often condemns herself in print (particularly in her early days of activism when she could be viewed as both racist and homophobic) this book is not a hatchet job. Some of her criticisms carry a greater weight today - in particular there is a piece early on about Gary Glitter lyrics which, in retrospect....well, you get the picture. I would highly recommend this book as an amusing, eye-opening read about cultural history and a window into a world of everyday activism which, at once, seems almost impossibly distant in time but very relevant to today.
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Format:Hardcover
The title 'Ban This Filth!' of this 2012 book ('Edited by Ben Thompson', published by faber and faber) is misleading. Page 66 helpfully lists 'objectionable programmed features':

Sexy innuendoes, suggestive clothing and behavior
Cruelty, sadism and unnecessary violence
No regret for wrong-doing
Blasphemy and the presentation of religion in a poor light
Excessive drinking and foul language
Undermining respect for law and order
Unduly harrowing and depressing themes.

Other themes included promotion of abortion, sterilization, premarital sex, promotion of pornography, and homosexuality.
...

Looking a bit deeper: cruelty and violence of course was progressively introduced into TV and cinema. There's an instructive letter (p 154. 1974, from Jeremy Isaacs) on the 'grim detail of Nazi murders'. Whitehouse disliked an episode of 'The World at War' entitled 'Genocide'. She had no answer to Isaacs, knowing nothing of Jewish mass murder in the USSR. She disliked the few news items showing violence: she of course had no idea that the BBC routinely covered up mass murders: violence and cruelty on a scale completely outside her conception. I doubt if she ever wondered why the BBC has such a lot of people with odd names: Winogradsky (p 134) explaining why some Christians are racially prejudiced, and therefore he wasn't 'making a mockery of the Christian faith'. I doubt if Whitehouse knew anything about Talmudic tribal racism; and was therefore a safe mild critic. There's a brief dismissive (1979) letter (p. 156) from Richard Eyre. 'Law and order' is perhaps a preoccupation of some people who've known dangerous times; in those naive times, the words were automatically coupled. It was assumed the police will be on the side of the citizenry.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ban This Filth 31 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fantastic purchase, and a facinating insight into British social and moral history. Bought a second copy as a birthday gift for a friend.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outraged! 27 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Highly entertaining read for those who lived through Mrs Whitehouse's era of letterwriting...possibly an insight into a lost world for the email-only generation. A tad wordy in its style (the writer loves his complex sentences...) but a thorough and sometimes biting overview of an uptight, Daily Mail-reading woman who was already thirty years too late by the time she wrote her first letter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Cultural history at its enjoyable best 10 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like a lot of people who grew up in the 1970s, I have always felt that Mary Whitehouse was a prudish, fun-hating bigot on the wrong side of just about every issue she got involved with. I can't say this book changed my mind about her, but I was left with respect for the fact she stood up for what she believed in, and never gave up her point. She comes out of the book as a more complex character than one might have thought, but hardly more likeable (although some of her antagonists were supercilious and patronising to the extent that there were a couple of instances in the book where I felt myself cheering Mary on). The irony is that while Mrs Whitehouse was getting aerated about what was being broadcast, we now know that far worse was going on behind the scenes of British light entertainment, and probably had been for some time.

Anyway, this is a highly entertaining read which tells you a lot about the state of British culture in the 70s and 80s, about the British right of the same period - and about just how ghastly some of the bien pensant cultural panjundrums of the era could be.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An OK read 6 Jan 2014
By traveller TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this quite a difficult book to 'get into' but otherwise it provides an insight into how Mary Whitehouse and her organisation came to prominence, and the concerns they raised about TV content. It also reflects how society changed from the 1960s to the 1980s and beyond regarding TV programme content.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting collection of correspondence. 24 Dec 2012
By Matt W
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Certainly provides insight into the changes in what's viewed as 'acceptable' in popular culture over the last couple of generations. Finished the book with a feeling we have become more tolerant in many ways (for the better) but much more 'moralistic' since the end of the 20th Century with regard to aspects of ethics that were of no concern to the subject.

She really was an interesting character.
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