Mary Whitehouse

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Mary Whitehouse (1910-2001), born Constance Mary Hutcheson, was a British campaigner for moral standards in broadcasting.[1] In 1964 she launched the Clean Up TV campaign, renamed the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association in 1965; she remained its president until 1994. The organisation was again renamed mediawatch-uk in 2001.[2]

As a student and young teacher, she was a member of the Student Christian Movement and later of Moral Re-Armament, and met her husband, Ernest Whitehouse, through MRA. After marriage (in 1940) and motherhood, she returned to teaching and was responsible for sex education at a Shropshire secondary school. Her experience there convinced her that the moral standards of the nation were in decline, and that this decline was in part the result of low moral standards in British broadcasting.

Her campaign against 'video nasties' (extremely violent horror films which could not get licences for public showings but which were available on video) helped bring about a new law to introduce classifications for the sale of videos, and she was a frequent and vociferous protester against swearing, nudity and representations of sexual behaviour on television. Her efforts were mocked in British comedy series' such as Monty Python's Flying Circus and Spitting Image. In 1977 she brought a private prosecution for blasphemous libel against the newspaper Gay News for publishing a poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, depicting the dead Christ in a homosexual act; the editor received a suspended nine-month prison sentence.[3] In 1982 she brought a private prosecution against theatre director Michael Bogdanov for 'procuring an act of gross indecency'. Bogdanov was directing the play The Romans in Britain at the National Theatre, London; the production included a scene of simulated anal rape of a Briton by a Roman soldier. The case collapsed.

Many of her efforts have since been regarded as prudish and frivolous. Monty Python's Life of Brian made its money back five times at the box office, despite her campaign to have it banned, which seemed to only increase the films popularity. Her complaints against Doctor Who and Tom and Jerry were regarded as particularly laughable.