Mary Whitehouse revisited

 Tomorrow evening BBC2 will be screening: 'Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story' at 9pm. The programme examines how a schoolteacher from the Midlands became one of the most powerful women in broadcasting. Journalist Peter Jennings met her in 1972. He has sent us this interview - first published in Novena magazine. COURAGEOUS MARY Mary Whitehouse, unknown until a few years ago is now a household name. The 61 year old, prudish, puritanical rebel of the 1960's has become a national figure of the early 1970's. "This worries me, because at heart I want to remain a rebel," she told me. When she was still very young her parents moved from their native Scotland and the future Mrs Whitehouse spent all her school days in Chester. In 1940, she married Ernest Whitehouse and her first child, a son, was born the following year. In her autobiography Mary Whitehouse writes: "Since we hoped to have a sizeable family we were delighted when eighteen months later, we knew that we could expect twins. But this was the beginning of a sad and difficult time for us; I spent many of the following months in bed and we were warned that the babies were likely to be very delicate. As my health deteriorated the doctor suggested a medical abortion, but I wouldn't consider it. Though my babies did not live, I've never regretted the decision we made - they remain part of our family, and I am very grateful for what they gave me in courage and maturity." Now a mother of three sons and a grandmother twice over, Mary Whitehouse lives at Far Forest, near Bewdley in Worcestershire. She made her first broadcast in 1953. "A housewife's thoughts on the eve of the Coronation" went out live as the last item in BBC Woman's Hour on the afternoon before the Coronation on 2 June. Mary Whitehouse was a Senior Mistress and art teacher at a large, mixed secondary modern school at Wednesbury in the West Midlands, where she was also responsible for sex education for third and fourth year pupils. During the summer term of 1963, she became increasingly aware of the effect that television was having on the thinking and behaviour of the children in her care. "These children were being fed with a diet of depravity night after night," she told me some years later. Birmingham Town Hall was packed to capacity to hear Mary Whitehouse speak at a public meeting during 1964 and she became co-founder of the "Clean-Up TV Campaign". It was out of this campaign that the National Viewers'and Listeners' Association (National VALA) was launched the following year. Mary Whitehouse found it impossible to combine her teaching responsibilities and her work as Hon Secretary of National VALA. She reluctantly gave up teaching and devoted all her time and energy to the work of National VALA. At the time of writing, National VALA now has more than 10,000 individual members and the support of many Christian organizations representing over two million people. From humble beginnings National VALA has thrived without any financial backing, paid secretariat or public relations officer. This says a great deal for the remarkable and good humoured Mary Whitehouse at the helm. The National VALA manifesto states that it represents a substantial cross-section of people who, while appreciating the excellence of many BBC and ITV programmes, are increasingly concerned over the part played by radio and television in the undermining of moral values, social ethics and cultural standards. Mary Whitehouse has succeeded in capturing media attention and drawing public attention to the contents of a number of television programmes containing gratuitous sex and four letter words, broadcast by the BBC and ITV. In doing so she has performed an invaluable public service and sounded a warning note about falling stands of morality in Britain today. The programme makers, the producers and directors at the BBC might do well to take note of the words carved on the wall of BBC Broadcasting House in London. They read: "This temple of the Arts and Music is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting. It is their prayer that all things hostile to peace and purity be banished from this house ..." Throughout her campaign Mary Whitehouse, a devote Christian, has many times been pilloried and ridiculed without being given any right of reply by the media. "I always put my trust in God and pray daily to Him for His help and guidance when life is challenging and difficult," she told me. I have tremendous admiration for courageous Mary, whom I am privileged to know and count as a friend. Mary Whitehouse CBE, President of the National Viewers' And Listeners'Association, died on 23 November 2001, aged 91 in a nursing home in Colchester. This article first appeared in the April 1972 issue of "Novena", the Catholic monthly magazine, published by Redemptorist Publications, based in Hampshire. The Editor at the time was Fr James Casey, C.Ss.R.

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