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on 27 November 2013
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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on 10 January 2014
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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on 10 February 2016
Mary Whitehouse was simply a clean living, traditionalist, who seemed very wise and down to earth.The broadcaster Joan Bakewell,her liberal progressive former opponent, recently admitted that Whitehouse was right to warn against the sexual liberation of the 1960s.

Her main motivation seemed to be that of a nurturing parent desperately trying to rescue errant children in order to retain their innocence and prevent them destroying their souls.From the late 1960's onwards Western culture started going down a weird path. This was due to our lawmakers adopting policies at odds with the ethical concerns which Christendom had long supported. The Liberal MP David Steel championed the Abortion Act into our legal system and then the contraceptive pill became widely available for women. Media influence then started up with intermittent, and later constant, anti-establishment messages via satirical TV programmes.Many of these programmes encouraged the viewing audience to be contemptuous of Mrs Whitehouse and her concerns.

The 'new' establishment wanted people to view her as a fool for tirelessly trying to diagnose what was happening to national standards,they were having a field day ridiculing religion and morality and they resented her perceived Victorian tea party interference.They would tolerate nothing less than uncritical acceptance of the new and preferred ideology.

She comes across as a lady with old school (right school) values who stood firm in the face of increasing perversion and wasn't respected for her efforts.I feel the author of this book has,albeit subtly,taken the well trodden and easy option of jumping on the derision mockery bandwagon.

"Subversive and committed,one doesn't close the book feeling Whitehouse was a crank,but instead wondering why no one else high profile has appeared in her place" The Catholic Herald.
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on 31 December 2012
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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on 22 March 2015
Mary Whitehouse was born with a maximal sense of outrage but a minimal sense of proportion. Showing how the comedy of this predicament played out is the burden of this volume. The editor, Ben Thompson, has pieced together an eclectic mix of letters drawn from Mary Whitehouse’s archive at the University of Essex. Thompson’s intent is to explain how the ‘Nuneaton Nostradamus’ rose to be a household name.

Early on, we are told that if Mrs Whitehouse and her ‘proper, Christian course’ had got its way, ‘our artistic heritage would have been immeasurably impoverished.’It seems easy to believe. Dr. Who, Whitehouse informed the world, was ‘teatime brutality for tots’. Pinky and Perky was no good – it encouraged bullying. All non-religious music encouraged anarchy. (Alice Cooper was kind enough to send Whitehouse a thank you after her protests about the song ‘Schools Out’ ensured its success.) People had the sheer disregard to say ‘bloody’ on national television; they went even further beyond the pale by referring to pre-marital sex. Some – the truly, utterly damned – not only referred to oral sex, but actually admitted it was rather nice. The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was so ‘filthy’ that Whitehouse pulled out all the stops to guarantee it was never broadcast on TV, and almost succeeded. The Kenny Everett Show was a dangerous ‘bridge’ that led people ‘from adult pornography to child pornography’. Everywhere, TV shows mocked the Christian religion through its dogged refusal to advertise for it. Even the news was no good - no matter what atrocity one faction committed, if they happened to be anti-Soviet, showing it would fatally sap the nation’s morale.

Mrs Whitehouse’s acolytes in the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVLA) are given their own time on the stage. They are certainly a plentiful source of mirth. As grimly funny as it is to see NVLA members campaigning for moral re-armament by sending death threats, say, or senior clergymen requesting samples of child pornography in the post, their pedantry is cringe-comedy at its best. A long summary written by a member after seeing The Exorcist is a comedy of errors. (‘He [Damien Karras] was seen visiting his aged Italian mother in a poor part of a city. I was at a loss to decide – both then and now – why his mother was in such poor circumstances and why she died later in a mental hospital’.)

The NVLA encouraged its members to watch television between certain hours and record their impressions of the programmes viewed. If you think the critics that count the number of swear words in James Kelman novels are uptight to the point of madness, try pages 198-200. Here’s The Day of the Triffids, seen through the NVLA filter:

‘14/3/84, 7.40 pm. One man beating woman with a stick, group of football supporters threaten young woman. One says “I want a woman.” Her defender gets beaten up. Looting. Whip lash violent attacks by triffid plant forms. Blind people hammering on occupied car – their attitudes menacing and frightening.’

Here’s classic comedy The Young Ones:

‘Some lines were funny, but unnecessary violence and vandalism, obscene phrases and gestures, childish references to excrement, phlegm, masturbation etc. made it extremely bad taste. An appealing [sic] thing for children to follow as an example.’

To some, Whitehouse’s Christian evangelism made her a shining beacon in a fog of permissiveness. To others, it made her a rancid bigot who found corruption wherever she looked for it, often at the same time her media profile was taking a dip. One of the few genuinely shocking things in the volume is just how ingrained Whitehouse’s prejudices were. There was her racism, of course; more visceral was her seemingly fathomless hatred of gays. Accepting them, her followers learned, ‘was one of the avowed objectives of Communism’. Programs that showed gays as anything other than objects of pity or ciphers for the effects of bad parenting only encouraged the spread of AIDS.

Like many cranks before and since, Whitehouse was adept at spinning her bigotries into grand conspiracy theories. She seems to have genuinely believed there was a ‘homosexual/intellectual/humanist lobby’ , operating out of Oxford, intent on destroying the Christian religion and brainwashing the nation. More disturbing than this standard-issue paranoia is not just the number of people that bought it, but high up in society they happened to be. One letter quoted in full comes from the Scottish Free Presbyterian Church Synod, which applauds Whitehouse and her ‘unflinching stand against sodomites [...] The Synod appreciates your efforts and were glad that they were crowned with success.’ Our Lady of Censorship was so toxic it was a wonder her feet never blighted the grass they walked on.

Yet Thompson also asks us to see a different side to Mary Whitehouse. She had, we are assured, a drier sense of humour than commonly supposed, an even an artistic one. She indulged the occasional bout of creativity, producing poems and short stories, though never seeing them into print. From here, it gets strange. Despite her obsessive hatred of gays, Thompson assures us Whitehouse was ‘almost’ a ‘gay icon’. She managed to be not only ‘implicitly Marxist’, but also the woman who inspired Margaret Thatcher’s dress sense. Everyone from Jeremy Paxman to Mumsnet moderators, it turns out, has been influenced by her in some capacity. Whitehouse even found the time to become a kind of proto punk rocker. ‘Punk’, we may be surprised to learn, ‘was a kind of moral re-armament’, and Whitehouse’s poems, in truth, were ‘punk rock songs’. There’s taking a balanced view of your subject, then there’s taking a schizophrenic one.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Thompson’s prose, like some of his conclusions, rarely holds up to scrutiny. Concision seems beyond him. Like many skilled writers, he has a lot to say. Unlike many skilled writers, he tries to say it all at once. You wish a sentence like this had been prised apart beforehand, with the aid of heavy machinery if necessary:

‘When the Guinness Book of Records founder and Conservative campaigner Ross McWhirter (who within two years would be assassinated by the IRA after offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the gang, whose members ultimately killed him) managed to persuade three judges to place an injunction on the late-night ITV broadcast of an arts documentary – David Bailey’s profile of Andy Warhol – which none of those concerned had actually seen, new IRA boss Brian Young felt confident enough in Mary Whitehouse’s common sense to challenge the legitimacy of her attempts to drum up support for them.’

As a cure for insomnia, Thompson’s writing is useful. For imparting information and cleaving to the point of an argument, it is somewhat less effective.

G.K. Chesterton once said the reformer is not a brother but a supercilious aunt. It seems an apt summary of Whitehouse’s career. You wish the editors at Faber had given this text the same level of attention that she gave the media.
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In days of yore appearances by Mary Whitehouse on television complaining about this, that and the other (mostly the other) tended to be occasions for mirth and lampooning, but reading this splendid selection of her correspondence I found myself re-evaluating her legacy. This was, I suspect, the aim of this book which features chapters on most of her activities with themed chapters on her dealings with the BBC, the Porn Industry, the Film censor and so on. The volume is an eye-opener in more ways than one-it very clearly demonstrates that Whitehouse was a shrewd manipulator of the media and very happy to be in the limelight notwithstanding her ordinary housewife persona. Secondly it was disturbing to learn more about her backers in the NVLA and Festival of Light who had an agenda which went far beyond cleaning up the media being as they were far more interested in pushing an evangelical Christian message alongside right-wing politics. It is not surprising therefore to report that her views on homosexuality for example are repellent and woefully ill-informed. One can dismiss many of her objections to programmes as easily, but not all. Whitehouse for me had one grasped one essential truth -that the media is so crucial to our lives and our understanding of the world that we need to analyse it with great care and to be aware of the impact it can have on many levels. Hence I found myself in full agreement with her on the way in which pornography objectifies women and the way TV News programmes have become trivialised by their tabloid style items. In the Internet age this book is well worth anyone’s time and money-there is much food for thought here despite Ben Thompson’s sixth form humour which mars his otherwise useful commentary. Recommended.
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on 6 January 2014
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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on 24 December 2012
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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on 27 December 2012
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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on 8 January 2013
I bought this for a friend, I must say as I thought it would be quite funny given the focus on the correspondence. However I am told that whilst it wasn't as light in that respect it was very interesting. In particular I am told that she quite often saw controversial things that weren't there and her letters were full of freudian slips! Another aspect that is perhaps overlooked is how some of her warnings were arguably a portent of problems to come with light touch regulation of some channels.
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