ONLY men of a certain age, I suppose, will remember Whitehouse magazine. And probably few of them would admit it. Whitehouse was started in 1974 by David Sullivan, an economics graduate, current co-chairman of West Ham United and, in the 1970s (and for many years after), a pornography publisher.
Whitehouse was a headline that thumbed its nose at (read nothing in that sentence) Mary Whitehouse, moral campaigner and scourge of TV executives, movie executives, theater managers and odd pornographers
From the 1960s through the 1990s, Whitehouse regularly contributed to the nation’s cultural conversation, lambasting everything from Tom & Jerry to the National Theater in her self-proclaimed role as the nation’s moral guardian.
And probably every year since her death in 2001, her name has been brought up by a media commentator who, sparked by the latest egregious example of bad taste on TV (Naked Attraction on Channel 4, anyone?) will wonder if Mary Whitehouse was right. ?
Last Saturday, Samira Ahmed was the last to do so on Disgusted, Mary Whitehousethe last Archive on 4 (Radio 4), which examined the Whitehouse Archive at the Bodleian Library.
“I grew up with the idea of Mary Whitehouse as a disgusted Puritan harridan permanently obsessed with sex on television,” Ahmed explained at the start of this hour-long retrospective. However, after immersing herself in the Whitehouse archives, she said, “I want to show you a Mary Whitehouse who is not a harpy but a devout Christian Cassandra warning of a destructive tsunami of digital porn to come.”
What followed was a review of Whitehouse’s background, beliefs and, in particular, his pursuit of private lawsuits against Gay News and Michael Bogdanov, director of Howard Brenton’s controversial play The Romans in Britain.
Along the way emerged a picture of Whitehouse the human being rather than the harridan, a woman who enjoyed watching pool, tennis and darts on TV, who clearly liked being the center of attention and believed in her cause and was unaffected by death threats and the occasional need for police protection. She was funnier and smarter than her cartoon image.
But she was also a homophobic evangelist who saw moral rot in everything from Doctor Who to Pinky and Perky.
The defense case? Ahmed pointed out that it was Whitehouse’s lobbying of Tory MPs that helped create the Child Protection Act 1978, which for the first time criminalized the creation of indecent images of children.
However, Whitehouse’s social conservatism and evangelical Christianity also led her to suggest that “perverted homosexual practices” were a sin.
And her obsession with the permissive society meant she couldn’t see that the supposed pillars of moral authority – be it schools, churches or the law – were more than capable of moral rot. The lawyer who brought his blasphemy case against Gay News was himself, it turned out, a serial abuser of young boys.
Monday evening Andre Marr started his new show on LBC. Since leaving the BBC, the presenter said he has been looking forward to not having to adhere to the BBC’s strict guidelines for objectivity and speaking up a bit more. I’m not sure he’ll have the time if this first one hour program is anything to go by. So many articles, advertisements and trailers, and not enough time. With each interview, you feel like Marr is shaking things up to move on to the next one.
That said, at one point Marr asked John Sweeney in Kyiv why the journalist had decided to stay in the besieged city. “I’m 63…” Sweeney began. “You might not make 64,” Marr pointed out, which was perhaps a bit too far under the circumstances.
Listen: Our friends from the North, Radio 4, Thursday, 2:15 p.m.. Do we need a radio version of one of the greatest television series of the last 30 years? Let’s find out.