It was in 1963, that Mary Whitehouse was motivated to start the Clean up National TV campaign. She was shocked at some scenes she was seeing on dinner time TV. At school, she also worked as a sex education adviser, and she felt the permissiveness of the media was having an adverse influence on young minds.
The first big event for the Clean up TV campaign was a meeting at Birmingham town hall in front of 2,000 people. Although there were a couple of hecklers, it was considered a success and brought the issue to the wider attention of the media. In the early 1960s, she directed most of her fury and displeasure at the BBC and the director general, Sir Hugh Greene. Hugh Green, in turn, was dismissive of the ‘crazy old ladies’ and he was opposed to any, of what he called, censorship. Sir Hugh Greene, in fact, had committed himself to brush away the cobwebs of the old ‘gentrified’ BBC. Although rather ironically, he was keen to censor Mary Whitehouse and fought any decision to giver her airspace on the BBC.
The cleanup TV campaign attracted over 500,000 signatures and was delivered to parliament in 1965; at the time this was a record for any petition. After the successful delivery of the petition, Mary formed the National Viewers and Listeners Association.
Mary attracted much criticism from within the media, whom she tried to criticise. She was subject to numerous satires and hate mail. Mary Whitehouse, become a household name and was synonymous with conservative values, especially on TV. In the 1990s, a satirical young person’s programme called ‘The Mary Whitehouse experience’ was shown on BBC.
On a number of occasions, she successfully sued publications for lewd and indecent behaviour. This included ‘Gay News’ 1977 (Whitehouse vs Lemon) for blasphemous libel.
Supporters of Mary Whitehouse claim that she was successful in changing some attitudes and was influential in the formation of the broadcasting standards commission, which oversees the appropriateness of tv and video.
Mary Whitehouse died in 2001 aged 91.
The life of Mary Whitehouse was dramatised in a broadly sympathetic BBC production Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, written by Amanda Coe. It portrayed Mary Whitehouse in a rather noble role, fighting the slightly unbalanced Sir Hugh Greene. Although they added a lovely comic touch, suggesting that the initial name for her group was the Clean Up National TV campaign until her husband pointed out what the initials stood for.
Famous English people – Famous English men and women. From Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I to Henry VIII and Winston Churchill. Includes the great poets – William Shakespeare, William Blake and William Wordsworth.
Great Briton list – Top 100 famous Britons as voted by a BBC poll. Including Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, Thomas Cromwell and Queen Elizabeth I.
- Mary Whitehouse at BBC