Mary Whitehouse, a Christian decency activist, became known as anti-liberal prudery or censorship. But more than twenty years later, are her diaries revealing a woman who was ahead her time in warning of the destructive effects of internet pornography upon society? Samira Ahmed.
She is not something that many people younger than 40 will ever remember. But Mary Whitehouse's letters and diaries from 30 years reveal valuable lessons for modern Britain.
Mary's greatest campaign was against obscenity, mainly pornography. Paul, her eldest son, inherited her diaries and said that he heard the stone rumbling in his mother's grave when she turned over.
Mary persistently lobbyized MPs and ministers for legislation to be written. The 1978 Protection of Children Act made it illegal to make indecent images of children. The 1981 Indecent Displays Control Act controlled sex shops as well as the display of pornographic material at newsagents. The 1984 Video Recordings Act was passed to regulate the exploding sale of extreme content in the Wild West of home VCRs.
Mary Whitehouse was strongly allied to the Conservative Party's right-wing wing. But pornography brought out her Marxist side as she correctly identified that the industry was driven by big business and exploitation (she used "sexploitation" instead of freedom of expression). She said that pornography was the "dirty face" of capitalism many times.
She wrote in 1974: "The young today feel more pressured and are being exploited than ever." I am fighting for their rights not to be exploited.
Mary warned technology not to get out of control while speaking at a Rome conference on computer industry technology in November 1975.
In her speech, she stated that "may I first share with you my concern that technology is exceeding itself." It seems to me that computer technology has the potential to make man incapable of arresting those he has freed.
She could have been referring to the effects of porn on today's school-age children. Campaigners and MPs have accused Pornhub and OnlyFans of failing to address abusive and exploitative material, including upskirting and revenge porn, according to an Ofsted report from June 2021.
Whitehouse's relationship with Margaret Thatcher is well-known. John Major, Mrs Thatcher's successor was also involved in Whitehouse campaign to prevent online harm as digital technology advanced rapidly through the 1990s. He recognized a friend.
He says, "Mary was... an outsider facing a powerful establishment with courage. I admired that." "Pornography, the exploitation and exploitation of children were dangerous and growing, and Mrs Whitehouse wasn't a friend." These issues were important to me and I fully supported her."
Whitehouse's work is a reminder that there is no substitute to the hard work of passing legislation through parliament. Her life's goal was to tighten up obscenity laws.
Private members bills were used by Whitehouse to try and bring in a laundry list of prohibited acts. This was mocked but the cross-party alliance that made non-fatal strangulation a criminal offense under the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act seems to be a targeted application of Whitehouse’s thinking. It is possible to identify acts that are of concern. This is why the ubiquity and widespread use of porn to choke women is recognized as a problem. This act specifically prohibits the use of "rough sex gone terribly" defense.
Whitehouse's motivation was to make institutions more accountable to citizens and challenge their biases. Ofcom's origins lie in the 1988 Broadcasting Standards Council. This was the result of Whitehouse's decades-long push to ensure that ordinary citizens have an ongoing role monitoring broadcasting standards.
She wrote to the attorney general in November 1974 requesting that the law be changed to make juries 50% female.
She pointed out that "anything else is certainly out of sympathy with sex equality laws which are just coming in," a clever reference towards the new Sex Discrimination Act.
After being told by police that it was the "general strategy" in obscenity defense cases, she came up with the idea to oppose women jurors.
She stated that pornography is often used by women and that women are often harmed by men who abuse it. Law enforcement should allow them to control it. "If a defendant object to a specific woman juror, she should not be replaced by a woman but by a man."
Whitehouse would recognize that universities are not allowing controversial speakers to speak at their institutions. She kept a detailed diary that shows a hectic schedule. She spent much of the year traveling, speaking at student unions and arguing with notable names in the adult entertainment industry. Victor Lownes, the European director of Playboy Clubs, was one. She often helped to shape the language of the motions about pornography and indecency, so that the debate was more nuanced than censorship against free speech.
She faced death threats, verbal abuse and actual assaults. In one instance, students tied a rope around her neck. This was despite her remarkable sense of humor.
Whitehouse's diaries include accounts of late-night chats following debates and the most touching thank you notes from students. Some students wrote to Whitehouse years later to apologize for their aggressive behavior. While some still disagreed with her, others acknowledged that she had changed their minds.
Julie Bindel, a feminist academic and writer, was a young activist for lesbian rights when she attended Mary Whitehouse's lecture at Leeds University in 1980. Bindel strongly disagreed with Mary Whitehouse's views on homosexuality and obsenity. Mary was an evangelical Christian who believed homosexuality was a sin. However, she was impressed by her ability manage hostile crowds.
She said, "She was a brilliant speaker and formidable." "I can still remember thinking, "God, how did she do that?" "I remember sitting there, thinking, 'God, how does she do that?' You know her timing, her pace and her ability to engage the audience.
Mary, who was 91 years old, died in 2001. Despite her religious beliefs being out of tune with modern Britain, Mary died in 2001 at the age of 91.
Archive on Four: Disgusted Mary Whitehouse will be on Saturday, 5 March at 20:00 GMT BBC Radio 4