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Even at the time, I supported Mary Whitehouse: now, even on the Left, she has been vindicated. She was right, because she was motivated by her faith

She wasn’t afraid of being laughed at by the fashionable intelligentsia. Her passion for decency and her hatred of ‘filth’ were inspired by her love of God

By on Friday, 19 July 2013

Mary Whitehouse leaves the Old Bailey in London in 1982 (PA)

Mary Whitehouse leaves the Old Bailey in London in 1982 (PA)

One of the most interesting periods — for me at any rate — of my time as an Anglican clergyman (how very distant it all seems now, after 20 years as a Catholic layman) was the early 1980s, when I was attached to Pusey House, Oxford, and was the Bishop of Oxford’s chaplain to graduate students in the University. This led to fairly regular invitations to preach in college chapels (this was, to give a sense of the times, the heyday of the Goodies — you have to be old enough to understand this story — one of whom was the hairy ornithologist Bill Oddie: I remember turning up to preach at Pembroke College to find that a large poster outside the lodge gate, reading “Preacher at Evensong: the Revd Dr William Oddie” had been amended by the addition of the words “assisted by the Revd Dr Timothy Brooke-Taylor and the Revd Dr Graeme Garden”).

One of these invitations, to preach at Brasenose College, was from its then chaplain, now the famous Dean of St Alban’s, Dr Jeffrey John, to substitute for the anti-porn, anti-indecency-in-general campaigner Mary Whitehouse, inventor of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, who had had to cancel her agreement to preach at the last minute. Why me? I not unnaturally asked: well, he answered, you were the nearest thing in Oxford to Mary Whitehouse I could think of.

In those days, that wasn’t a comfortable reputation to have. These days, the extent of the volte-face over Mary Whitehouse (and even, ironically, over some of her snobbishly superior detractors, notably Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, Director-General of the then immune-from-criticism BBC, who turn out to have been dead wrong: how very different things are now) is truly amazing. For, Mary Whitehouse just got it absolutely right about the threat to our society and particularly to our children, of the dismantling of the traditional moral inhibitions of our culture, about the growth of what some called “the permissive society”, but what was also famously called “the civilised society” by that living embodiment of the French expression “de haut en bas” (that is, looking down on others from a deep conviction of effortless superiority), the notable Home Secretary Roy Jenkins.

When a book based on Mary Whitehouse’s correspondence, Ban This Filth!, was published last November, it was astonishing to see with what respect she was treated by the Left-wing press. As Andrew Anthony explained in the Observer, “while Whitehouse remained unwavering in her position, the ground around her shifted. When she started out in the 1960s a libertarian idealism suffused the arts and was making headway in society at large. Each new advance against censorship was seen as an unproblematic triumph over oppression. Then gradually some enlightened attitudes edged towards Whitehouse on issues like the commercial sexualisation of children and the sexual exploitation of women…. although Whitehouse was a true blue Tory, her view of the sex industry shared common ground with Marxist economic critiques. Hers was always the kind of small-mindedness that sensed a bigger picture. If she were alive today she would no doubt see the Jimmy Savile saga, and the panic it has unleashed at the BBC, as a vindication of her warnings.”

As the New Statesman’s reviewer, William Cook, asked, “now that every conceivable depravity is only a mouse-click away, you can’t help wondering if Whitehouse was on to something. Was the liberal intelligentsia wrong to mock her? Do we owe her a posthumous apology? Would an online version of her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association actually be quite a good idea?” (Actually, of its modern descendant, Mediawatch-UK, there already is one: see here).

Well, Cook, who is a genuine Lefty (he thinks the BBC is now a conservative, even Right-wing organisation, which needs a Mary Whitehouse of the Left) doesn’t want, exactly, to apologise. He sees that what motivated her was what he calls, with predictable hostility, her “Christian fundamentalism”. She believed, in other words, in chastity before marriage and fidelity within it. Her attitude to homosexuality was, says Cook, “similarly puritanical”. These beliefs derived from her faith and she believed that the state broadcaster should actively promote them, rather than airing material that undermined them. As she put it herself, “I was doing what I believed God wanted me to do.” She had noted that in the foyer of Broadcasting House there was a plaque, reading “This temple of the arts and muses is dedicated to Almighty God” (I wonder if it’s still there?) And quite simply, Mary Whitehouse expected the BBC to take this dedication literally. No wonder they all laughed at her.

Well, I didn’t, even then. She wasn’t always right: she simply missed the point about some programmes: the plays of Dennis Potter, Till Death Us do Part, even, for heaven’s sake, Doctor Who. All the same, as Cook admits, “she was no fool. She had a coherent philosophy – that the moral values of the BBC (and other broadcasters) were out of step with the silent majority whom she presumed to represent. Before cable and satellite, a handful of terrestrial channels set the agenda for the nation. For her generation, TV wasn’t a matter of choice. A lot of her protests were wrong-headed and deserved to be rebutted but it was fitting that these trendsetters were challenged to justify their output.” He complains that her opinions were reactionary and that her complaints always came from the Right, rather than the Left. But she wasn’t a Lefty like Cook, what do you expect? And he admits, that ironically, “by the time her provincial doppelgänger Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, radical feminists had adopted her as an unlikely heroine.”

I thought she was a great woman, even at the time. I supported her private prosecution of Gay News for blasphemous libel (even though it was opposed by two of my literary heroes, Bernard Levin and Margaret Drabble), an initiative which contrary to common belief actually succeeded. If you doubt that, look here. As the BBC reported, “She objected to a poem and illustration published in the fortnightly paper last year about a homosexual centurion’s love for Christ at the Crucifixion. After the jury gave their 10-2 guilty verdict at the Old Bailey Mrs Whitehouse said: ‘I’m rejoicing because I saw the possibility of Our Lord being vilified. Now it’s been shown that it won’t be’.”

However ridiculous she may have seemed to bien-pensant intellectuals, she was motivated always by her love of God. And I still thank God for her witness and for her achievements, including the still functioning and still invaluable NVALA, now Mediawatch-UK (for link see above). May she rest in peace.


  • Declan Kennedy

    Another interesting post.

    Agree with what you are saying, except about political parties holding diverse views. There seems to be a lot of consensus and not a lot to choose between them. Edward de Bono wrote some interesting stuff on that about thirty or forty years ago about when you vote you are assumed to support the manifesto but usually you disagree with quite a bit but have to choose the one you disagree with the least. Further, the similarity between the so-called “far left” and “far right” is very disturbing, as is the use of language to block certain ideas from even being discussed. Your point about new data is totally correct, but if a politician changes their mind in the face of new data, they get pilloried for doing a “U-turn” or being inconsistent. Having said that, I notice that I am using “their” instead of “his or her”. I’m not being politically correct, I’m just being Irish.

    I’m very amused to see you talking about attacking the symptoms as that is what I asked Mrs. Whitehouse forty years ago. Her response was that you had to attack both the symptoms and the cause.

  • Julian Lord


    How exactly is an article about a woman who denounced the increasing public obsession of the atheistic mass media and their viewing public with sex and sexuality incoherent with my observation that it’s mostly atheists and heretics that keep ranting on about it all the time ?

  • $20596475

    I think that is obvious to just about everyone except those totally unable to see what stares them in the face, if it does not match their own reflection.

    Those who take the opposite view to Mrs Whitehouse, and do not defend her actions, are NOT obsessed with sex and sexuality.They just regard it as something normal and don’t get excited about it being shown or discussed. Before you start to rant and rave again that is not to condone pornography, violence, abuse or anything else which harms people.

    It is those who don’t regard sex and sexuality as a normal and natural element of our existence who are obsessed with it.

    If we all concentrated on that which harms, and celebrated that which uplifts and sustains, we could make much faster progress. The present moves by the Government to try to limit the access of children to inappropriate internet content is exactly the right approach.

  • Julian Lord

    It is those who don’t regard sex and sexuality as a normal and natural element of our existence


    So, who’s that then ? Who are these strawmen ?

  • aaglaas

    “I have been sexually abstinent for ten years” —Well no WONDER Jabba is so uptight and sanctimonious towards the whole world!!! This explains SO much!! Priceless!

  • aaglaas

    You truly are clueless about life in ancient Greece and Rome, aren’t you!? Homoerotic themes occur throughout the popular works of poets writing during the reign of Augustus, including elegies by Tibullus and Propertius, the second Eclogue of Vergil, and several poems by Horace. In the Aeneid, Vergil draws on the Greek tradition of homosexuality in a military setting by portraying the love between Nisus and Euryalus, whose military valor marks them as solidly Roman men (viri). Vergil describes their love as pius, linking it to the supreme virtue of pietas as possessed by the hero Aeneas himself, and endorsing it as “honorable, dignified and connected to central Roman values.”

    The association of homosexuals with democracy and the military was intense and widespread, extending from Harmodius and Aristogeiton, a pair of lovers who founded Democracy itself by overthrowing the last tyrant of Athens, to the noted generals Pelopidas and Epanminondas, to the great military genius Alexander the Great and his male lover Bagoas.

    Of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, no less acute a mind than Plato’s observed that: “Our own tyrants learned this lesson through bitter experience, when the love between Aristogiton and Harmodius grew so strong that it shattered their power.”

    For hundreds of years, larger-than-life statues of these founders of Democracy towered above Athens, as impossible to disconnect with the city as the Statue of Liberty is impossible for us to disconnect with New York.. and young male lovers from England to Egypt, and across the entire Classical world would journey there to pledge their faith and love to each other, underneath those statues.

    Gorgidas, the leader of Thebes created the Sacred Band, composed of 300 men, who were all paired lovers. They were known as the ‘sacred band’ because as Plutarch later explained, “even Plato calls the lover a friend inspired of God.”

    Philip of Macedon and Plutarch recounted how the greatest heroes in the Greek’s own history were all known to prefer other males rather than women: Meleager, Achilles, Aristomenes, Cimon, Epaminondas, Asopichus, and Caphisodorus.

    Even Hercules was famous for his male lover, Iolaus, who fought by his side. In Plato’s ‘Symposium,’ he noted the eagerness of the great warrior Achilles to join his lover and military partner in death as an explicit parallel to a wife’s being willing to die for her husband. Their bones were burned and mixed together in a gold amphora, as was done in the case of married heterosexual couples.

    Aristophanes said that “..males who prefer other males are the finest men because they have the most manly nature. Their behavior is due to daring, manliness, and virility, since they are quick to welcome their like.”

    Plato and numerous other classical authors attested to the military value of armies made up of lovers. When Epaminondas fell in battle at Mantineia, his lover died beside him. One of the most formidable and feared Theban warriors of the early Classical Era was Kaphisodoros, who was part of the Sacred Band.

  • $20596475

    They are not made of straw! They exist and can be found both here and in places occupied by the likes of Mary Whitehouse. Read the comments with a fresh and open mind and perhaps, just perhaps, it might penetrate. Unless you find that word offensive of course.

  • Julian Lord

    In other words, they are just the latest figment of your imagination.

  • Julian Lord

    What a “surprise” to read such a reaction from the newest troll-in-residence.

  • Julian Lord

    You truly are clueless about life in ancient Greece and Rome, aren’t you


  • aaglaas

    :-) What a ‘surprise’ to hear you pontificate on and on about what marriage and sexuality should be like, while it turns out you yourself know nothing about it. It seems that you want to inflict your own unhappiness with your life on everyone else and make them as uptight as you are..

  • aaglaas

    Um… ‘yeah’..since you’ve exhibited quite clearly you know absolutely nothing about how they viewed homosexuality… bury your head in the sand a little deeper, why don’t you? :-)

  • Julian Lord

    The fact of the matter is that the Roman view of homosexuality is that it was tolerated in private, except that no Free Roman Citizen could legally engage in passive homosexuality, and no married man could engage in any kind of homosexuality at all, under pain of death. Public displays of homosexuality were punished by death. The Roman marriage Laws were of course utterly incompatible with any form of homosexuality.

    As for the Greeks, the so-called “Greek vice” had been promoted by certain intellectuals in their literature, though the general attitude towards it in the population was one of hostility.

    I’ve attempted to support this with extremely clear evidence, but the automatic moderation system disallows the contents.

    The attitude towards homosexuals in the Ancient World was very similar to that in the Western world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of tolerance, provided they kept out of public sight. You are delusional if you imagine otherwise.

  • aaglaas

    The only delusional one here is yourself when it comes to Greek and Roman history. The paintings on their walls, on their vases, in their poetry, and in their history is chock full of homosexual scenes and praises… you truly make yourself look ridiculous on this point, and so many others.

    Homoerotic themes occur throughout the popular works of poets writing during the reign of Augustus, including elegies by Tibullus and Propertius, the second Eclogue of Vergil, and several poems by Horace. In the Aeneid, Vergil draws on the Greek tradition of homosexuality in a military setting by portraying the love between Nisus and Euryalus, whose military valor marks them as solidly Roman men (viri). Vergil describes their love as pius, linking it to the supreme virtue of pietas as possessed by the hero Aeneas himself, and endorsing it as “honorable, dignified and connected to central Roman values.”

    Later, during the Byzantine empire, in Salonika, there lived a striking-looking cup-bearer, a slave whose beauty in the Roman symposia was much in demand, since he was eye-candy material. We don’t know his name, nor that of the great Charioteer who tried to seduce him one night. This Charioteer was famous; he was the Lewis Hamilton of his day, and his presence in the Hippodrome of Salonika was enough to draw a crowd of thousands. Pagans, of course: Christians wouldn’t partake in such appalling spectacles as sports. The Olympic Games were about to be banished a few years later.

    Famous the Charioteer might have been, but we don’t know his name either. We do however know the name of the cup-bearer’s lover. He was Buterrich, the city governor. He was the head of a Goth contingent which Theodosius had tried to amalgamate with the Roman army. The Goths were stationed in Salonika in charge of the peace – and were unpopular with the locals who, quite rightly, considered them barbarians. (They certainly fitted the definition. )

    Buterrich threw the Charioteer into the deepest dungeon of the city.

    Just before the chariot games..

    Next day, as the mob was gathering in the Hippodrome, the news broke out: their hero was languishing in prison. So, the enraged Salonika mob stormed the prison, freed the Charioteer and killed Buterrich and his Goths.

    Emperor Theodosius seemed to have swallowed the bitter pill, for he promised the citizens of Salonika a new games, where the popular Charioteer would once again show his skill. On the appointed day, everyone flocked into the Hippodrome to cheer their idol, the Emperor and the demise of the Goths.

    But once they were in, Theodosius’ army closed the gates and massacred all 7,000 of them, for the Emperor’s wrath was severe and his revenge was pitiless. It took three whole hours to kill them all.

    The point is that the ‘crowd’ didn’t care at all that their hero was homosexual… you truly know nothing on this subject Julian.

  • Julian Lord

    chock full of homosexual scenes and praises

    In reality, a very small number of such items has been exaggerated in their actual importance by homosexuals.

    Bottom line — gay pornography has a history of over 2000 years. So what ?

  • Julian Lord

    it turns out you yourself know nothing about it

    This is even more risible than your usual trash.

    your own unhappiness with your life

    Another bizarre notion.

  • aaglaas


  • $63841295

    Forgive me for the account-based chaos, I just append this (as I will to any posts I can remember) to say I don’t retract this (or anything else I have written) and, in fact,would say it with double vigour.

  • aaglaas

    You’re the one that keeps highlighting your dismal knowledge of ancient Greek culture… so if you find it tedious and cannot handle well-known archaeological fact, and find links to major universities’ historical departments as merely ‘propaganda’..then stop replying.. I believe you earlier said ‘ta-ta’ to me, and yet here you are again..

  • $20596475

    You clearly have not re-read the comments with the fresh and open mind I suggested, for the lack of penetration is obvious.

    I don’t need to imagine anything. They are there for all, but the totally blinkered, to see.

  • whytheworldisending

    “Was the liberal intelligentsia wrong to mock her?”….”However ridiculous she may have seemed to bien-pensant intellectuals.” If Mary Whitehouse had a fault it was that she was too polite. Christians don’t value the opinions of degenerates, and that is putting it mildly. It’s ultimately about God and money. We despise the values, the thinking, the behaviour and the attitudes of those who would cause the downfall of children. MW was, like all prophets, ignored, and when prophets are ignored, judgement follows. When the corrupt Jewish rulers deserted God and refused to listen to Jeremiah they got the Babylonians, but this is more like the plagues sent to the Egyptian Pharoah – AIDs, STD’s, soaring abortion, divorce, family breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health problems and an NHS so ludicrously over stretched and burdened with the financial cost of all these self-inflicted diseases rooted in selfishness and immorality, that it can’t afford to treat the elderly and vulnerable with dignity. Hence the push for euthenasia to be legalised and the indecent haste with which those who value life are being excluded from hospitals and registries of births, marriages and yes – deaths. The Same Sex Marriage Bill paves the way for state sanctioned suicide, by side-lining, in advance, all people of faith. Someone once said that when someone mocks a good person, it is really the Devil laughing at the mocker, whose soul he is after. All those people who mocked Mary Whitehouse…where are they now?

  • whytheworldisending

    “…..who presumes to tell people what they should think and believe and how they should behave.” That’s what the gaytheists are doing.

    “…true moral outrages.” True of course meaning what coincides with your opinion.
    Moral relativists can never justify imposing their personal opinions on others.

  • prakash

    Sex and sexuality are normal and and natural to all of us: but it is private too. So, why so much of sound bites?

  • prakash

    aaglass, if you don’t like the pontification why take the trouble of coming in here?

  • aaglaas

    Because there are actually reasonable, polite, friendly, and intelligent people here such as majorcalamity, Jbyrne, Nocastus, and a few others who are nothing like the constant bias, prejudice and loathing Julian exhibits towards gay people, and who I enjoy speaking with and reading their comments. I originally came here when I saw an article online attacking gay people, so as long as those type of articles are published on here, I will comment on them, since I am a gay man. Other than that subject, I have no interest in the Catholic Church.

  • $24570317

    If you imagine that (moral) relativism is that which identifies “true moral outrage” as the neglect of the poor, hungry and deprived, the homeless (and poorly housed) and the starving, the thousands dying daily from war and easily treatable (by what you might call “artificial” methods – viz medicines) conditions……….etc, then I would applaud moral relativism.
    Surely you can see the statement that it is a true moral outrage that these matters continue, maintained and exploited, is not simply my “opinion”. Relative to this it is absurd to fuss about how many clothes people should wear or of how consenting adults should behave in private. I think “the gay theists” are quite happy for you to do your own thing. Perhaps you should “return the compliment”.

  • $24570317

    Talking of adopted French expressions, Mrs. W well-illustrated the meaning of “de haut en bas” — she looked down on others, from what she supposed was a lofty moral position, with a shallow and stubborn belief in her own unquestionable righteousness.

    It’s farcical that you lay the blame for the inadequacies of the NHS on the failure of our society to follow the guidance of Mrs W.

  • $20596475

    Of course your personal sex and sexuality are private. Perhaps you could convince all the other posters here of that fact.

    That though is not what Mrs Whitehouse and her like get excited about. They see “filth” everywhere, and seek to censor even the mildest references. If they had their way we would return to the Victorian era. No bare flesh on display, especially female. No sexual references in literature, or art, in the cinema or on TV.