Morals Campaigner

Mary Whitehouse

Say the name “Mary Whitehouse” to a Briton, and you’re likely to hear either a snigger or a groan.

Once called “The Most Dangerous Woman in Britain,” Whitehouse, who died at age 91 on Nov. 23, was a tireless campaigner against sex and violence on television. Though she was ridiculed mercilessly during her lifetime, she stuck to her principles and eventually gained respect from the British establishment.

Whitehouse began her campaigning career at the age of 53 when, as an art teacher, she noticed that some of her students were confused about a television program featuring premarital sex. Motivated by her strong Christian beliefs, Whitehouse launched the Clean Up TV Campaign in 1964, which became the National Viewers and Listeners Association in 1965.

Whitehouse’s choices of cultural targets ranged from the predictable to the bizarre. When she protested against the cult sci-fi show “Dr. Who” (claiming that it provoked nightmares) and the song “My Ding-a-ling,” she became an easy figure of fun. But she was also the first person to raise awareness of pedophile pornography in Britain, and she introduced the idea of public accountability in broadcasting. “Partly thanks to her, television is no longer run from on high by cloistered executives answerable, basically, to themselves,” wrote London’s Guardian.

But despite being pelted with eggs repeatedly and receiving numerous death threats, she stayed her course. Even a BBC spokesman, quoted in the Birmingham Post, acknowledged that Whitehouse “kept broadcasters on their toes....She will be long remembered.”